Destination Antarctica 3015 (Part I)

Destination_Antarctica_3015PART I: New Beginnings

Presidio Point, San Francisco Isles — The sea mists landed gently on my face, tickling my nostrils as I rounded the sedum-lined path. It was an atypically foggy morning at Presidio Point, with only a hint of sun piercing the billowing haze. Behind me, the last towering remnants of the once-mighty citadel broke through the clouds. I heard a growing murmur up ahead as I came closer to the lighthouse. I must not be the only one with the same idea.

And then I saw them: a crowd before me unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. The pier was packed with onlookers, all jostling back and forth along the ropes. People streamed onto the docks like army ants, just to catch a glimpse of it. What “it” was, I wasn’t exactly sure. All I’d heard was that a giant seafaring vessel was coming in before noon, bringing wealthy traders, craftsmen, and other folk from faraway lands. Quite a few swindlers too, no doubt.

I was mostly just curious. As of yesterday, I’d finally finished a major rigging job over on Sutro Isle for the island master’s security fleet. So I had some time to kill. Master Jin’s a paranoid pain-in-the-ass — and a low-balling cheapskate at that — but I can’t turn down two steady meals a day, plus a private dorm for myself and my sweet. A small ship of my own would be nice someday, but I knew that wasn’t happening anytime soon.

Jin would no doubt flog me if he knew I was here. “Don’t ever think you can get a better deal working for some other master ‘round here,” he’d always say. He was probably right, but I couldn’t help but wonder. Thankfully, he was out sailing to Merced Shores right about now, and wouldn’t be back ‘til nightfall. He’ll never even know I was gone.

The throngs roared as I elbowed my way onto the main walkway. And then I saw it: its soaring masts catching the morning gales as its massive bow sliced through the waves with barreling fury. Well over a dozen windows lined its starboard side just below deck, signaling that this was no ordinary passenger ship. Eventually, the sea colossus slowed, came to port, dropped anchor, and extended a wide ramp down to the pier’s edge.

I kept my distance, waiting patiently for what everyone had come to see. After a few minutes, four security guards emerged, decked out in full-plated armor, each carrying a broadsword and shield. Two-by-two, a parade of men, women, and others followed, some dressed in leather vests and pants, others in elegant earth-toned robes. Almost all of them were adorned with jewels. Around a dozen porters carried chests, burlap sacks, and boxes of varying sizes. These folks expect to make a killing. They’ll probably be disappointed.

With some help from the pier patrol, the security guards cleared a path for the well-heeled visitors, and began escorting them up the embankment to their horse-drawn chariots. Halfway down the line, one man stood out from the rest. Outfitted in sleek deck clothes and a sailor’s cap, he carried himself with a youthful swagger and a confident smile. He scanned the crowd intently as he strode up the walkway toward me. Admittedly, I stand out a bit, being one of the last remaining islanders whose ancestors hail mostly from West Eurasia.

“Hey friend, where can I find some knock-out ale ‘round here?” he asked, pulling on his cap. “Not the new stuff. Those good ‘ol brews you West Islanders are famous for!”

“Are we now?” I asked. I hadn’t heard that one before. The guy’s got good taste though.

“No question.” His smile widened, revealing several golden teeth. “You all have a few centuries on us. Where I’m from, so many different folks are brewin’ all sorts of new crap. It’s hard to find anyone who’s perfected the art.” He held out his hand. His palm was weathered and dry. He must already have a couple decades of experience on the high seas.

“Nice grip,” he said. “You’ve done some sailing yourself, am I right?” He looked at me intently now, his smile widening even more.

Maybe I should keep quiet. Word could get back to Jin. So I punted: “Well, I can hold my own at the helm, but not like the guys ‘round here at Presidio. Far more experience than I.”

“Name’s Dredge,” he said, laughing under his breath. “First mate of this fine beauty. Brought her all the way from Antarctica along the Western shores. And who might you be?”

“Jorel,” I offered, though not my real name, of course. Better safe than sorry.

“Nice to meet you, Jorel” he said. “Turns out, my crew’s looking for a new helmsman. Not anyone too cocky. You strike me as a humble, honest fellow. We could use a man like you.”

Taken aback, I tried to mask my excitement. “Well, I’m just a local rig hand, and well-tended to by my master. My meager skills are being put to good use.” Those words were hard to say. I’m one of the best in these parts, and most sailing folk ‘round here know it.

“I’m sure all that’s true,” said Dredge, sizing me up from head to toe. But this time, the smile faded. “And yet, here you are, with no master around, sniffing out opportunity.”

He had me there. “Well, it’s not often that we see such a magnificent sight pulling into Presidio Harbor,” I said. “If you really want some of that ale, I suggest you make it out to Sailor’s Lair at Land’s End. But hurry. Their stock won’t last past sundown.”

His smile beamed now, his eyes meeting mine with an eerily familiar gaze. “Thanks friend,” he said, patting my shoulder as he darted further up the path to rejoin his entourage.

I’ll admit: I haven’t felt that tempted in a very long time. I’d best be back to meet Yasmin before she starts wondering where I’ve gone off to.

 §   §   §

She peered at me with scorn and worry as I entered our tiny bungalow. Even with her frowning lips and furrowed brow, Yasmin was still the most beautiful being I’d ever laid eyes upon. Her face bore smooth, golden-brown cheeks, pearly whites in perfect order, and fiery, auburn eyes. Of course, none of that compares to her graceful, yet powerful demeanor, which has held me captive since the moment we met.

“Where’ve you been, love?” she squawked, tying her wavy, silky black hair behind her back.

There was no point in lying. She could see right through me. “Across the sound,” I said. “Up Presidio way. Heard there was a trade ship coming in. Bigger than usual.”

I saw her upper arms tense up and her jaw tighten at that. A reminder of her masculine side. Yasmin, it should be said, is not fully female. She’s a feminine “third,” as most call them in these parts. Definitely a woman in appearance, voice, and manner, but not born with the same set of parts you’d normally expect. Other thirds can be mostly masculine as well, and some have found a way to straddle the line, expressing a range of both genders in one. No third has ever given birth — a source of great sadness for Yasmin. Me too, truth be told. Apparently, all the chemicals and toxic soup left behind by the Tech Ancients spoiled the land and water so much that thirds became commonplace. Incredibly beautiful people, if you ask me, but the end-of-the-line for each and every one of them, at least reproductively.

“Why?” she screamed, clasping her hands over her head in desperate confusion. “You couldn’t wait for one minute after finishing a job to go traipsing off? And for what?”

Oh no. Here we go again. I’ve got to reassure her somehow. “Sweetheart, there’s nothing to worry about. No one saw me. And here I am, back early to see you before Jin returns.” I stepped closer, reaching my arms out to embrace her.

She turned away, her backside facing me in defiance. It was hardly a punishment, however, and she knew it. I continued my approach, resting a hand gently on her shoulder. She turned to face me, revealing a small tear escaping from the corner of her eye. Her sobs were hard to take. I curled my arms around her and guided us to our bed.

As we lay side by side, her eyes met mine. “I can’t bear the thought of losing you, Guth. You’ve seen what the masters do to disloyal hands.” It was a truth I’d buried deep within me, mostly to cope. I held her tight, caressing her arms and wiping her tears.

I sighed, and said what needed to be said. “I’m sorry, Yasmin. I know you’re right. Curiosity got the best of me. It won’t happen again.” I held her tight, praying for forgiveness.

Eventually, the sobbing stopped, and she turned to look me in the eyes. “Promise me?”

“I promise,” I said, planting a kiss on her cheek. She came at me with full force after that, her tongue darting for my mouth. Our bodies slid into heated rhythm soon afterward, and it wasn’t long before we were writhing back and forth beneath the sheets. Thankfully, I’m able to hold my own for longer than most men I know, which is no small feat with Yasmin. Nothing beats resolving an argument with sexual abandon.

We fell asleep in each other’s arms, exhausted from our passions. An hour later, we awoke to the sound of our front door bursting open and several dishes smashing to the ground.


One of Jin’s henchmen charged into our room, brandishing a club in one hand, and a long wire whip in the other. Behind him, Jin entered slowly, arms crossed. “GUTH!” he roared, looking at me with an angry, piercing stare. “Where have you been? I scored a big job this afternoon, and had no rig leader to introduce our new client to. You made me a fool!”

The henchman smashed several candle pieces and plates on our table, then stomped over to the bed, lashing his whip. Yasmin clutched me from behind, covered in blankets. I’ve seen Jin upset many times before, but he’s never brought a punisher. I took a deep breath.

“Jin, you know I’ve served you well. I was merely taking a break after a hard day’s work so I’d be in prime condition for our next job. I had no idea it would come so soon.”

His eyes narrowed as he grunted in response. “You know, part of me thought you would be wiser than to lie to me. I was so hoping we could continue to trust one another.” He looked over to his henchman. Then came the sharp, searing pain of the whip as it sliced deeply into my right leg. Blood splattered onto the sheets. Yasmin screamed, and quickly backed away. I bit my lip, and covered the gushing wound, hoping to stop the flow.

Jin leered over me, calmly watching my suffering. “My Presidio watchman had you at the docks right around noon, longingly peering at the southern trade ship, and then chatting up its first mate no less. Pardon me if I find your tale of innocence less than convincing.”

Another look. Another lash. And the rest was mostly a daze. Except for one thing: Yasmin had stepped over to the prep counter and grabbed two of our sharpest and longest knives. She’s defended herself quite well in the past, and today was no exception. Before a third lash could come my way, each of those knives found its way squarely between the eyes of Jin and his henchman. They both dropped instantly. And so did I.

I awoke gasping in pain. Lucky for me, Yasmin had stopped the blood flow with tightly wound rags just above my knee. They covered a gash nearly a half-foot long. Feels like a half-foot deep as well. “You all right, love? Can you move?” she asked, caressing my hair.

I grabbed her hand and pulled myself up. Pacing around the room, I tested my stride. It’s not too bad, actually. Thank the maker! Looks like I can walk just fine, as long as I’ve got a helping hand to steady me. I glanced over at the two lifeless bodies on our floor. I had never imagined it would come to this. We’ve got to get out of here. And quickly.

“My sweet, I know you did what you had to. Thank you for that. But the island masters won’t let this go.” I sighed and said: “They’ll have my head for this.”

Yasmin’s eyes met mine. A look of determination and acceptance came over her. “I won’t leave you Guth!” she exclaimed. “We can finally get out of this forsaken place. Start a new life somewhere.” The idea had always held some appeal, and now it had powerful urgency.
My thoughts quickly turned to Dredge and his offer. Was he serious? Would he really just let me join his crew? Could Yasmin earn passage as well?

“I know it was reckless, but my visit to Presidio Point may have bought us the ticket we need,” I explained. “The first mate of that big ship practically offered me a helm job this morning.” I went on to describe our encounter and the potential opportunity. “Of course, I have no idea if the guy was serious, or where we’d end up.”

Yasmin examined my leg, adding another layer to my dressing. She kissed me and said: “At this point, mister, I’m ready for whatever. Let’s get out of here.”

That’s my Yasmin. Always ready for adventure. It’s hard to describe the love I feel for her.

“Okay then,” I said, managing a smile. “Let’s hide these poor fellows in the cellar. That’ll buy us maybe a day or so. And grab what you need. We’re heading to Land’s End.”

 §   §   §

Sailor’s Lair was bustling and rowdy as usual. Rig hands like me often outnumbered helmsfolk or upper ranks, which was why I liked coming here. I only hope Dredge is as much of a drinker as I pegged him to be. Yasmin and I scanned the place from front to back, but to no avail. Friends and mates patted me on my back or nodded their heads as we wandered through. I grabbed us a couple sunset mixers and found a cozy nook across from the bar.

Yasmin has only joined me here maybe a handful of times, mostly due to her own demanding schedule, but this time felt particularly liberating. I was first to say so: “Why do I feel so damn excited right now?” I should feel scared shitless.

She grabbed my hand, and guided it slowly to her cheek, glowing in the lantern light. She peered at me lovingly and whispered: “Because you’re finally free, my love. We both are.”

Crash! Clank! Thud.

I turned around to see Dredge’s limp body attempting to sit up, from what must have been a pretty hard fall. Two fellow rig hands from South Sutro were angling for another blow, clearly incensed with my newfound friend. I shot over to them before Dredge’s face became a bloody pulp. “Gents, please!” I shouted, as I held out my hand to block their advance. “I’m sure this cocky mate gave you good reason to be angry, but he and I have some dealings to work out. Let me take him off your hands.” They grunted in agreement as I pulled him over to our table. Dredge was smiling the whole way, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth.

“I’d advise you to watch yourself,” I told him. “These guys don’t take kindly to off-islanders starting brawls on their turf.” We all plopped down on the benches, facing each other.

“Who says I started it?” he responded, smiling through his bloody teeth. He straightened his collar and tipped his cap to Yasmin, eyeing her with obvious interest. “But seeing as how you rescued me from a nasty beating, I suppose I should say thank you.” His brow furrowed with curiosity as he leaned forward. “Kinda surprised to see you here though, Jorel.” The smile widened. “I thought you were such a busy, ‘well-tended-to’ lad.”

I bristled at the presumption, but couldn’t blame him for calling me out. “Let’s just say I’m now quite interested in your offer,” I said, hoping to refocus the discussion.

“Glad to hear it!” he yelped. “But I can’t help wondering, ‘What’s changed?’ Your master catch wind of your wayward ways?” His smile lingered. I tried not to let it bother me.

Should I tell him the truth? And jeopardize our chances? I opted for a half-truth: “We’ve had a falling out. I’m no longer in his service.” I grabbed Yasmin’s hand and continued: “My partner and I are both seeking a fresh start. Somewhere we can both apply our skills where they’re truly appreciated. You seem like the kind of guy who could offer that.”

From the look on his face, Dredge was pondering all this very carefully. He turned to Yasmin: “And why would a lovely lady like yourself want to leave one of the most beautiful, bustling island sanctuaries in the world? This guy really worth hitching your future to?”

I was half-tempted to punch him myself at that. But Yasmin calmed the mood: “Not only is he worth it. I’m worth your while every bit as much. My defense skills as head of security for several island companies will no doubt come in handy as pirates threaten your vessel.”

Dredge raised his eyebrows. “We could definitely shore up our defenses. Encountered a nasty pirate ship on our way up just past Santiago. Killed two of them myself.”

“All we’re looking for is safe passage, and room and board,” I said. “In exchange, we’ll both work under your command. Diligently and loyally.” Yasmin and I shared a hopeful glance, knowing full well that we could make good on our promise.

Dredge leaned forward again, and looked us both squarely in the eyes. “You do understand we’re returning to Antarctica? The new land as far south as you can go. It takes two years.”

I remember him mentioning that before, but the length of time it would take hadn’t dawned on me ‘til then. Yasmin’s nod gave me her assent, but I was still processing what it all meant. I knew Antarctica had opened up over the past several centuries as a new realm with uncharted possibilities. Its once-vast ice sheets had mostly melted into the sea, and its glaciers had receded, unveiling spectacular mountain landscapes, fertile hills, and valleys. “But what would we do in Antarctica?” I asked. “You’d need us for the whole trip?”

“Yes, the entire journey. What you do when you get there’s entirely up to you,” Dredge said. “It’s a free land with no masters, no servants, and plenty of open space for wide-eyed couples to start a new life. Granted, it’s become a popular destination for all sorts of scoundrels, refugees, and opportunists from far and wide. But so long as you’re willing to put in an honest day’s work, you two’ll do well for yourselves.”

It sounded like a dream. I’d spent all my days growing up, fishing, boating, and rigging all over San Francisco’s main islands, never imagining I would leave. But my time had come. Our time had come. Yasmin was giddy with excitement. We’ve been given a second chance.

We shook hands with Dredge, promised our allegiance, and made way for a nearby inn. As we headed out the door, he called out: “We load up at mid-day tomorrow. Don’t be late.”

Google: Renewable Energy Won’t Stop Climate Crisis

Google Renewables Won't Save UsIt should go without saying that there’s no silver bullet solution to the climate crisis. Indeed, it’s simply too late in the game for anything resembling a “solution” at all. Industrial civilization’s slavish devotion to economic growth-at-all-costs, coupled with its fossil fuel-strapped infrastructure, have already dealt a body blow to our atmosphere’s stability — promising centuries of harrowing conditions ahead for humanity and countless other species on Earth, regardless of how we respond.

The latest climate news has only confirmed the worst fears of scientists. Weather Underground bloggers reported last week that Antarctica hit a record-breaking high of 63.5 F (17.5 C).  Even more disturbing is a recent discovery by an international team of scientists who found that the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica is now melting. The Totten, it turns out, is the last line of defense against the melting of a vast catchment of ice that would raise sea levels by more than 11 feet. And that’s on top of a 10 feet rise predicted by another finding last year showing massive glacial thawing well underway in West Antarctica. To underscore what even a 10-foot sea level rise will mean for coastal cities, researchers at Climate Central have produced a jaw-dropping interactive mapping tool called “Surging Seas” that shows which coastal areas and cities will be flooded with alarming clarity. Their findings demonstrate that the United States would lose 28,800 square miles of land, which is home today to a mere 12.3 million people. Among the most threatened cities: New York, New Orleans, and Miami.

Since global climate protection summits have thus far produced more photo-ops than agreements, it’s understandable that many would pin their hopes on technological advancements in renewable energy systems, along with their scaled-up deployment, to stave off catastrophic climate change. It’s become something of a sacred belief among mainstream environmentalists that if only we could shift society’s investment in dirty fossil fuels toward cleaner, safer energy that all would be fine in the world, and we could all continue to happily consume our way to industrial nirvana, powered by solar, wind, and geothermal electrons, of course. All that’s needed, it is typically argued, is massive education about the problem of climate change, and a massive redirection of funding and policy favoritism away from the bad stuff toward the good stuff.

Well, despite their own deep-seated belief in such a vision, a well-funded team of researchers at Google have concluded that even if we could muster enough momentum toward a future powered by renewables, clean energy systems simply cannot and will not save us from devastating climate impacts. Known as RE<C, Google’s initiative launched in 2007 with the aim of developing renewable energy sources that could generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants through a combination of investments in clean energy start-ups and its own internal R&D program. By 2011, however, as it became increasingly clear that RE<C was not on track to meet its stated goals, Google shut down the initiative, according to program engineers Ross Koningstein and David Fork.

In the words of Koningstein and Fork: “At the start of RE<C, we had shared the attitude of many stalwart environmentalists: We felt that with steady improvements to today’s renewable energy technologies, our society could stave off catastrophic climate change. We now know that to be a false hope — but that doesn’t mean the planet is doomed.” They’re right, of course. Even though climate instability will make life increasingly difficult for us humans — as droughts, storms, killer viruses, creeping deserts, tsunamis, and floods devastate population centers and force tens of millions to migrate to more welcoming climes —  most will learn to adapt, improvise, and devise new lifeways in the face of chaotic conditions. The most successful will learn to reconnect with this magnificent world’s vibrant, life-giving rhythms and cycles, and ever more deeply with one another, perhaps even without — gasp! — more and more high-tech, energy-intensive devices.

And the planet? Doomed? Nah. It will simply adopt a new “normal” of an increasingly warmer climate and tumultuous water cycle, balancing itself back to a recalibrated equilibrium. Eventually, even the excess carbon that we’ve so carelessly ejected into our atmosphere will filter out of the skies and return to the oceans, the land, and subterranean realms. In the process, industrial civilization will become yet another layer in the fossil record of geological time.

Of course, in all fairness to the Google research team, their project was doomed from the start. The underlying assumptions were that industrial society will grow forever using ever more energy (thus requiring the replacement of finite fossil energy with renewables) and that some sort of “radical” technological breakthrough can save the day (thus demanding ever more investment in clean energy R&D). It was never imagined that industrial society must face up to its own end, dependent as it is on cheap and abundant fossil fuels — fuels which just so happen to be declining in quality, quantity, and accessibility each and every day. No, the Google team’s efforts never stood a chance against ecological or geological reality, much less the deep-seated denial that pervades the industrial mind.

And yet, they deserve praise for making such a bold and gallant effort. For through their failure, they’ve helped to illuminate a critical blind spot in our thinking about energy: that no matter how much we may wish to believe in the value of renewable energy systems (I, for one, am a strong proponent), they’re not our saving grace. We are.

Weathering the Storms, Planting the Seeds

plant-in-handThe recent mass marches for climate justice in New York City and around the world were truly historic. It’s no small feat to inspire 400,0000+ Americans to take to the streets for anything these days, much less global climate change. Spearheaded by and an incredibly diverse range of environmental activists, labor organizers, indigenous peoples, and social justice advocates, these actions represented a watershed moment for the climate protection movement.

For social change artist and CultureStrike co-founder Favianna Rodriguez, the People’s Climate March was unprecedented in the ways that immigrants, youth of color, and women took on leadership roles in shaping the message and connecting social justice issues to the growing call for climate sanity. “Climate change is inextricable from social issues like feminism and immigration policy,” she recently told Time Magazine. It’s deeply heartening to witness this evolution of climate change activism. Indeed, it offers real hope for a more promising future.

And yet, a haunting question remains: “Isn’t it too little, too late?” Despite the momentum that organizers have built in recent years, it’s not yet strong enough to win the grand prize: binding commitments by the largest polluting nations to make the deep emissions cuts needed to stop global warming — at least 80% by 2050 — let alone slow its predicted impacts. Despite the massive demonstrations worldwide, the current round of climate talks scheduled to yield a new global pact in Paris next year have thus far shown little prospect of curbing emissions enough to stabilize the climate. Indeed, the much-talked-about position of the European Union to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 is still, in the end, woefully inadequate. “The EU 2030 target is 10 years too little and too late,” said Claudia Salerno, chief climate negotiator for Venezuela.

What’s more troubling is that few funds are materializing to help our economies transition from fossil fuels to clean energy or to protect people in harm’s way from the worst climate impacts. Of the $10 billion promised by the end of 2014 for the Green Climate Fund, a UN bank to finance efforts by developing countries to address climate change, only $2.3 billion has been pledged. What’s really needed is more like hundreds of billions annually.

Let’s be real: climate instability is already here with a vengeance in the form of ferocious storms, extreme droughts, rising sea levels, supercharged diseases, mass migrations, and drowning communities. Of course, we can and must build on growing popular momentum to help stave off even worse conditions, but the reality is that we’re simply going to have to weather the storms. Those storms are gathering strength on the horizon just now.

Gathering Storms on the Horizon

The situation in Iraq and Syria has become particularly precarious, as Islamic State forces terrorize local communities, seize control of northern oil fields, and advance ever-closer to Baghdad (frequently, with U.S.-made vehicles and weaponry). President Obama has been forced to ramp up military involvement yet again, exposing the oft-repeated lie that the U.S.-led invasion there has done anything to stabilize the region. Indeed, the real goal of ensuring long-term control over the planet’s second largest proven oil reserves remains as elusive as ever.

Here in California, the state’s punishing drought is entering its third consecutive year (see NASA satellite imagery of worsening conditions), prompting massive cutbacks in water use by agriculture, municipalities, and industry. Some Central Valley communities are now literally running out of water, resorting to portable toilet service and relying on subsidies for bottled water just to survive. State officials warn that even if significant rainfall returns this winter, drought conditions would remain for most of the state. A high-pressure ridge off the West Coast is preventing most rain from making landfall, the same phenomenon that occurred during an even worse regional drought in 1934, according to atmospheric scientists.

As if these challenges weren’t enough, the specter of ebola spreading far and wide now haunts the modern world, with near-panic conditions setting in among some American cities. And while the average Westerner’s chances of contracting the disease are currently slim to none, the virus in its present form nonetheless has a gruesomely impressive death rate, killing around 70% of those who contract it. According to the World Health Organization, there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week in west Africa as early as December. It doesn’t help that the virus is constantly mutating and adapting, or that nearby war-torn landscapes are suffering from inadequate sanitation infrastructure and broken health systems. Some countries, most notably Nigeria, have made impressive progress against ebola’s trajectory, but if it spreads to Egypt or other major international population epicenters, the prospect remains that the current outbreak could very well become a global pandemic.

Hospicing the Old World, Planting Seeds for the New

“How do you stay positive with all that’s going on?” asked a close friend of mine recently. We were sharing some quality time with our giddy toddlers after dinner in a local park by the lake, painfully aware that the serenity we now take for granted is by no means guaranteed in our sons’ futures, much less our own. Both of us are long-time environmental and social justice activists, so we’re no strangers to the horrific devastation being wrought against our planet’s life support systems or the violence and gross inequities still plaguing our world.

Still, it’s a fundamental question, and one for which I have no easy answer. My friend and I both know the old, fossil-fueled industrial world is dying, but that there are critical things worth saving along the path to laying it to rest. As she so eloquently puts it, we have to “hospice what’s left of the system we’re leaving behind, while planting the seeds for the future we’re building.” For me, it’s the planting part that holds the most promise.

By planting seeds, I mean far more than gardening — though that act alone can be a profound act of resistance to the buy-consume-discard economy that’s severed our once-sacred relationship to land’s natural rhythms. Even in the face of knowing that much trauma awaits us — personally, socioeconomically, ecologically, and yes, civilizationally — there is still so much we can do to create joy, justice, and possibility in our world.

I used to think that activism wasn’t worth doing if it wasn’t focused on making large-scale impacts. Now that I see macro-level challenges bearing down upon us faster than we can effect, I actually take strange comfort in knowing that the smallest, most localized actions may now be the most vital. From lessening your dependence on fossil-powered machines, learning new permaculture skills, to even something as simple as meeting your neighbors, there are innumerable changes we can all make in our day-to-day lives that will help prepare us for the turbulence ahead. In their own right, such changes can also have a powerful effect on our outlook, our health, and our fundamental happiness.

Coupled with a commitment to working with others toward common cause, possibilities abound for building a more resilient, hopeful future. In the short time that I’ve lived in my diverse, economically distressed neighborhood in Oakland, I’ve witnessed incredible commitment to strengthening neighbor-to-neighbor ties and improving community life. Local parents have formed vibrant learning and activity centers and daycare coops for their children. Each of the corner medians that border my block are now spiritual sanctuaries adorned with ornate Buddhist shrines, flowers, and altars — creating a sense of calm, respect, and beauty in an otherwise drab sea of concrete. Several entrepreneurs have tapped into their own culinary skill sets to start up delightful new establishments specializing in Filipino comfort food, Burmese cuisine, and delicious baked goods. Groups have formed to organize community picnics, launch greening projects, plan neighborhood cleanup days, host public forums on local elections, and run workshops on rainwater harvesting and installing greywater systems.

Will such efforts be enough to meet the combined impacts of an unforgiving climate, a dying empire, and a viciously unequal economy? Not even close. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll allow us the space to reconnect, to reimagine, and to rebuild the kind of communities we truly yearn for in our hearts. In the end, those that can let go of fear and face the future with honesty and poise will be the most able to weather the storms — and best positioned to plant the seeds for a new world. That’s easier said than done, of course. But it’s a path that keeps me positive, each and every day.

Top 10 Signs of U.S. Empire’s Passing

Lady_Liberty_UnderwaterIt’s not fashionable to talk about American empire these days, much less our empire’s coming demise. Our status as the world’s preeminent superpower remains largely unquestioned (at least domestically). Politicians and media pundits still portray our military as the world’s last great hope against tyranny and global terrorism.

And yet, despite the U.S. military’s clear planetary dominance — its hundreds of thousands of troops deployed in more than 150 countries, its growing interventions in Africa and the Middle East, and its vast network of bases and installations across the globe — our empire’s days are indeed numbered. Like other past empires, the unraveling of our empire is shrouded in denial, masking the fraying foundations of our once-prosperous nation.

Ironically, the seeds of America’s decline were planted with its founding, marred as it was by the brutal conquest of the native population, the rapacious destruction of the natural environment, the shameful enslavement of African peoples, and the hypocritical disenfranchisement of women and non-property-holding immigrants. These traumatic beginnings have echoed through the centuries that followed, in the form of aggressive military interventions, deepening social divisions, and ecologically ruinous relations to the country’s land, air, and water. Together, these festering dynamics now threaten to upend the great American experiment.

Of course, they’ve also provided the backdrop against which most Americans have struggled to secure their place in the social order, their human rights and dignity, and the protection of their precious lands and watersheds. America’s central animating ideal of “liberty and justice for all” may have been poorly instituted in practice, but the hopeful movements it inspired have gone a long way toward creating a more equitable and democratic union.

Today, as compound stresses and fractures undermine the foundation of U.S. empire, the central question remains: will the forces of hate and domination prevail, hijacking today’s crises to justify an authoritarian state and continued aggression? Or will enough people and communities willingly abandon the vision of empire, and reassert America’s cherished values of freedom and democracy?

The answer to that will depend on how we respond to the multiple signs of empire’s passing that are increasingly coming to a head. Here are ten (in no particular order) that are especially worth noting:

1. SKYROCKETING INEQUALITY: It’s now a popular truism that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. President Obama often derides the fact that the middle class is shrinking, that average wages are barely keeping up with inflation, and that more and more American children are going to bed hungry. But neither he nor his allies in Congress have been able to halt these trends, much less slow them. According to a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, most recent economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent, who took home more than half (53.9 percent) of the total increase in U.S. income over the past several decades. “Over this period, the average income of the bottom 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers grew by [only] 18.9 percent. Simultaneously, the average income of the top 1 percent grew over 10 times as much — by 200.5 percent,” stated the authors. And that’s just income. Distribution of total wealth when one includes stocks, property, and other assets has also widened to levels now resembling a new gilded age. Indeed, the wealth gap has become so obscene that billionaires themselves are starting to sound the alarms about the stability of American society. One tech billionaire recently wrote a scathing article in Politico arguing that unless something is done to redistribute wealth more equitably, we can expect everyday people falling between the cracks to foment a pitchfork rebellion.

2. DETERIORATING INFRASTRUCTURE: Decades of neglect and underinvestment have left America’s roads and bridges, its waterways and sanitation systems, its power plants and electrical grids (most of which are hopelessly outmoded and geared mostly to run on diminishing fossil fuels), and its harbors and transport hubs in severe disrepair. According to a report by The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), our nation faces an infrastructure investment shortfall of $1.1 trillion by 2020, possibly increasing to $4.7 trillion by 2040. If sufficient investments fail to materialize, Americans can expect increasing risks associated with using deteriorating infrastructure, lower standards of living due to rising costs, and a less and less hospitable climate for commerce, given that businesses also rely heavily on smoothly functioning infrastructure. Shifting even a fraction of the $500+ billion spent annually on the military would be a wise investment in our future.

3. HOLLOWED-OUT DOMESTIC INDUSTRY: It’s little surprise that high-wage U.S. manufacturing would suffer in a race-to-the-bottom, über-competitive global economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. manufacturing employment fell from 19.6 million in 1979 to 13.7 million in 2007. The decade of 2000-2010 was particularly devastating, according to a recent report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: “Not only did America lose 5.7 million manufacturing jobs, but the decline as a share of total manufacturing jobs (33 percent) exceeded the rate of loss in the Great Depression.” A misplaced faith in so-called “free trade” agreements that favor corporate offshoring of jobs while sacrificing much-needed tariff revenue has contributed mightily to this decline, along with a reluctance to boost training and skills-building among our nation’s growing underemployed and unemployed. The consequences of this “hollowing out” of domestic manufacturing are already being keenly felt in terms of wage stagnation, a shrinking middle class, and diminished consumer spending capacity. Perhaps even more tragic is the growing dependence Americans now have on imported goods, and the fact that we’re rapidly losing our capacity to make tangible goods of real value.

4. THE U.S. DOLLAR’S DECLINE: The status of the U.S. dollar as the global reserve currency is quickly eroding. Between 2002 and 2012, the dollar declined 54.7% against the euro, which coincided with a near tripling of the U.S. debt, from $5.9 trillion to $15 trillion. Meanwhile, rising powers like Russia, China, Brazil and other emerging economies are separating themselves from the dollar-based global financial system, either by trading in other reserve currencies or actively proposing replacements. All told, foreign countries own more than $5 trillion in U.S. debt, with China alone owning more than $1 trillion. If enough major debt holders started dumping their Treasury notes on the open market, this could cause a panic leading to a collapse of the dollar, and along with it a major decline in the standard of living for most Americans. At this point, the biggest holders of U.S. Treasury notes also rely on American markets for the sale of their products, minimizing the likelihood of any major dollar sell-offs. But with consumer buying power declining, infrastructure deteriorating, and America’s ability to repay debt diminishing, the U.S. dollar’s future standing as the global currency of choice is in doubt.

5. DOMESTIC ENERGY SCARCITY: As recently as 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) was predicting that the United States would overtake Saudia Arabia in oil production by 2020, and that North America would be a net oil exporter by 2030. Now, the world’s leading energy agency has done a 180 degree about-face, predicting in its latest report that the United States will have to rely more heavily on Middle East oil in the years ahead, now that North American sources are starting to run dry. Probably the most damaging news to the industry came earlier this year when the U.S. government’s own Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently downgraded its earlier assessment of the Montery Shale “tight oil” fields by a whopping 96%. Admittedly, U.S. energy production has had a “boomlet” recently, with much of it coming from oil and gas extracted from shale. But the IEA now says U.S. production will start to lose steam around 2020, putting more bargaining power back in the hands of OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia and diminishing our influence abroad. Sadly, the search for energy in ever-more remote and sensitive locations has also ravaged the environment, endangering sensitive waterways, gulf zones, the arctic, and even the stability of the global climate.

6. DIMINISHING U.S. INFLUENCE ABROAD: From the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War, U.S. imperialism moved into overdrive. Following the devastating U.S. nuclear bombardment of Japan, American presidents began using the “fight against communism” to justify interventions throughout the globe, most notably in China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, Guatemala, the Congo, Brazil, Cuba, Indonesia, Chile, Greece, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and Haiti, among others. Almost always, the actual “threat” was the desire of the local populations in these countries to decide their own economic destinies, rather than submit to open exploitation of their markets by U.S. or Western-based corporations. In recent decades, however, as U.S. debt has grown and popular uprisings like the “Arab Spring” and new populist movements in Latin America have gained traction, American influence has diminished. A resurgent Russia under President Putin has rebuffed U.S. attempts to encircle the country with new NATO members, bases, and pro-Western regimes — even brazenly annexing Crimea with only symbolic protest from a largely helpless United States. American empire is also waning in parts of the Middle East, especially in Iraq where previously deposed Sunni militants have taken control of much of the country’s northern cities and towns, and may even bring down the pro-Western government in Baghdad. The most recent presidential election in Afghanistan has also revealed the growing limits of American influence, with the losing candidate threatening to set up his own parallel government rather than honor the much-lauded democratic process the U.S. military spent so much effort supposedly trying to establish. But perhaps the most telling example is the growing instability in Israel, arguably the U.S. empire’s most beloved ally. In its grossly lopsided conflict with the occupied Palestinians, the Israeli government has increasingly defied attempts by Washington to sit down and hammer out a workable peace agreement, even though time and time again the terms are mainly in their favor. Instead, they use any provocation by Palestinians as an excuse to launch merciless air strikes and invasions of their territories, ensuring a nightmarish future for all concerned. Once the lavish U.S. military subsidies begin to dry up, the state of Israel will have a very difficult time maintaining peaceful conditions, much less its own survival.

7. DEMOCRACY FOR SALE: The high esteem that public officials once held in America seems little more than a quaint memory today, as democratic “contests” for seats from City Hall to the White House now appear more like auctions than elections. Recent Supreme Court decisions, most notably Citizens United, have undone even the most basic restrictions on special interest contributions to political candidates, opening the floodgates to private donors seeking special favors and legislation from candidates once they’re elected to office. Sadly, the trends are only getting worse. In 2008, spending on the U.S. presidential election almost doubled compared with 2004. In 2012, it nearly quadrupled compared with 2008. What’s worse is that as inequality worsens (see above), it’s largely the super-wealthy who are now providing the most donor power. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a mere 0.01% of Americans in 2010 accounted for one-quarter of ALL money given to politicians, parties and political action committees. Little wonder most Americans think the system is rigged.

8. THE RISE OF CHINA: Ever since it shook off its British and Japanese imperial chains and reunified under the banner of Communist revolution, China has been a resurgent global economic superpower. Under Communist Party rule, the country established universal education and health care, modernized its rural agrarian economy, and invested heavily in technology and infrastructure. Decades of internal development and policies that protected domestic industry combined to provide the foundation of modern China’s world-class economy, which has been averaging unrivaled growth rates of 9% each year. Of course, since the 1980s, China has also opened its economy to more direct foreign investment, privatized much of its industry, and slashed its social safety net, creating a new elite class of wealthy capitalists alongside an increasingly exploited class of landless rural peasants and urban poor. As the U.S. has encircled China’s borders with pro-Western governments (Pakistan, South Korea, the Philippines, etc.), China has largely taken a non-aggressive approach, favoring a strategy of developing ever-greater economic relations with countries around the world. Initially, it pursued investment mostly in developing countries for resource purposes, but has recently ramped up investments in industrial regions like Europe and North America. This still leaves China vulnerable to imperial attacks on its investments by the U.S. and other powers (i.e., the U.S./NATO military strikes on Libya, which forced the evacuation of 35,000 of its oil workers and engineers). In response to this threat, Chinese military strategists successfully called for a 19% annual increase in military spending from 2010 through 2015. And while this will still amount to a fraction of what the U.S. empire spends militarily, it foreshadows a new era in Chinese determination to back up its meteoric economic rise with increasing military muscle.

9. THE GROWING SURVEILLANCE STATE: In recent decades, with the dramatic advances in computers, communications, and information technologies, U.S. intelligence and security agencies have developed intricate systems of monitoring and assessing “threats” to American assets both at home and abroad. A shift is happening toward increasing surveillance of the U.S. domestic population, growing numbers of whom find themselves on the margins of society, whether through sudden unemployment, downsizing, or existential angst in a meaning-starved, conflict-ridden materialistic age. Much of what the security apparatus was actually doing remained shrouded in secrecy until very recently, when the heroic actions of former National Security Agency specialist Edward Snowden helped reveal the full extent to which Americans’ civil liberties were being routinely violated. Perhaps most disconcerting among these revelations was the indiscriminate, sweeping process by which virtually every citizens’ phone records, e-mails, purchases, and other important data were being collected, analyzed, and vetted – not solely to assess potential “terrorist” activity, but also to target those deemed “radical” by the NSA. According to The Huffington Post, the NSA recently hatched a plan to discredit a group of “radicalizers” who merely held “extreme” views based on their Muslim faith, a tactic that FBI and NSA officials have employed over the decades against civil rights leaders, environmental activists, and labor organizers. Clearly, the security state is getting nervous. The fact that increasing sums of taxpayer funds and expertise are being used to spy on U.S. citizens doesn’t bode well for the future of American democracy.

10. APOCALYPTIC DREAMING: Rarely does a summer blockbuster season now pass without several mega-budget motion pictures hitting theaters that feature catastrophic, apocalyptic, or wrenchingly dystopian themes. Almost all of the recent super hero flicks have seemingly required that major U.S. cities be bombarded, thrashed, or completely devastated, almost with a feeling of cathartic glee. The zombie genre has also made a powerful comeback, with scores of films released in the last decade alone, including such widely popular flicks as 28 Weeks, I Am Legend, and World War Z. Fantastical, supernatural themes have also been accompanied by increasingly realistic accounts of a world in chaos. Children of Men depicts a world experiencing a plummeting human population due to sudden universal infertility, Contagion tells of a merciless virus that kills millions upon millions in only a few days’ time, and Elysium portrays a world divided where the wealthy elite have fled the earth to live on a luxury satellite while the rest of the planet wallows in squalor and environmental devastation.

All of these signs of U.S. empire’s passing may, at face value, seem deeply disturbing. To be sure, most Americans will face increasingly hard times as the disproportionate wealth that now flows freely through military force to our shores finally begins to slip from our reach. There will be demagogues (indeed, there already are) who will call for more campaigns to reclaim our imperial birthright. They will conjure tales of lost glory to enlist us in more futile wars to maintain our “rightful place” as the world’s greatest superpower. We must ignore their call.

The passing of empire affords us all with an incredible opportunity to reclaim those values that once inspired America to true greatness, and lifted the spirits of all who call this beautiful country our home. Virtues like self-reliance, democratic self-government, and conservation of our land. Current and future generations deserve much better than being saddled with crushing debt, being conscripted into wars in the Middle East and beyond, or wasting away in meaningless jobs hawking more and more needless consumer products. Our nation harbors a wellspring of talented, hardworking, and passionate souls who yearn for the chance to do right by their families and their communities. Rather than bemoan empire’s loss, we can rebuild our cities and towns to work with nature’s cycles rather than against them; we can reforge lost arts, crafts, and industries that were so carelessly discarded in the rush to globalization; and we can revitalize our local democratic institutions and practices that were once the lifeblood of community life, ensuring that everyone has a voice in the great transformations ahead.

We can create a better future. It won’t come without serious challenges. Indeed, it may only come through them.


Clash of the Citadels, Part III (Finale)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part three 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 was inspired by John Michael Greer’s cli-fi, post-industrial anthology, After Oil. Read Part I or Part II.

ImageMarch 15, 2115, 0530 Hours, St. Francis Citadel, San Francisco, California Autonomous Region

Bryce couldn’t sleep. Battle strategy was all he could think about. He was set to help lead the armada attack in a little more than an hour. He turned to his sleeping lover, tracing his index finger along his neck, down his spine, and slowly to his buttocks. Would he see him again? Bryce planted a gentle kiss on his neck, and rose to greet the dawn. He dressed and quietly exited his quarters, heading down the corridor to Main Defense. “Morning Chief,” he heard repeatedly from the stream of officers and soldiers he passed. He entered the central planning chamber where Premier Alito, along with more than thirty commanders and captains, had gathered for their final briefing.

All ears were tuned in to an East Bay radio program. The broadcaster said:

“… Some fear an attack could take place as early as this morning. In a statement released yesterday, Council President Nesalla Imani vowed to use all means necessary to protect East Bay residents. She praised Hayward Councilor Brandon Lee for rebuilding ties with Piedmont Citadel. Lee is widely credited for brokering regional water-sharing agreements between many of the Bay Area’s competing citadels, cities, and townships.

In an interview with Oakland Prime Radio, Lee extended his thanks to Piedmont Citadel Premier John Stewart: ‘The premier has not only committed ships to help protect our shores, he has vowed to release a quarter of his citadel’s water flow to East Bay communities in greatest need. We are deeply grateful for his partnership during this crisis. Now is the time for us all to unite in common cause to defend our coastland.’ The premier could not be reached for comment …”

Alara cast a menacing stare at Bryce. She was clearly incensed by this latest development. “Isn’t that sweet? Premier Stewart thinks he can buy his way into the hearts and minds of East Bay lowlanders,” she said. “What a fool. He and his fleet of latecomers are in for a big surprise.”

The SF Defense team poured over the details of their plan, double-checking their weapons inventories and cross-bay attack formations. Their hidden fleet of some 50 ships had already sailed from Baker Beach to Fisherman’s Wharf, where SF soldiers were boarding by the hundreds

“Is each frontline attack vessel fully equipped with bayonets and canon balls?” asked Bryce.

“Every one,” answered his fleet commander. “Once we’ve breached the weakest section of their wall, we should overwhelm them in less than an hour.”

“Just be sure you take out Piedmont’s so-called defense ships first,” said Alara. “We’ll stand watch at the overlook with the solar reflector ray, in case you need an assist.”

“To victory!” Bryce announced, signaling his command team to depart. They marched single file to the northern exit chutes, and caravanned to the waterfront to take command of their vessels.

A thick fog blanketed the wharf, providing a welcome cloak to their armada. Hints of sunlight began piercing the night as the fleet’s 3,000-strong contingent waited for their cue to launch. Bryce wondered what Piedmont Citadel’s new “partnership” might mean for them in the minutes and hours to follow. It was only a matter of time before their “unity” would prove too little, too late.

A deep, reverberating horn sounded from the shore. The pier lighthouse suddenly came to life, its radiant beam slicing repeatedly through the fog layer. It was time. They disembarked, sailing southeasterly in perfect V-formation, with their heavy attack vessels leading the charge. Sailing five ships behind the main attack cruiser, Bryce peered through his eye scope toward the eastern defense wall along Oakland Inner Harbor. Strangely, there was no sign of any ships.

Not in front of them anyway. SF’s lead attack cruiser was showered with flaming canon balls, a dozen of which slammed into the hull, ripping two gaping holes into its port side. Walls of fire consumed the main sails, while dozens of burning soldiers quickly jumped overboard. Bryce hadn’t anticipated such a maneuver: a group of six East Bay attack ships had been waiting for them under the bridge by Yerba Buena Island, and were in perfect position to bombard their offensive line. They continued their deadly volley, managing to sink several more SF attack vessels. Before long, however, return fire from SF’s front line laid waste to their small contingent.

By now, the sun began to rise above the East Bay hills, thinning what remained of the early morning fog. The SF attack fleet reinforced their frontlines, and Bryce lit a signal flare to continue their approach. Once again, he peered through his eye scope, scanning their northern and southern flanks for any more surprises. He refocused on Oakland Inner Harbor. Something was different this time. A hint of motion. And then he saw them: a fast-moving line of defense-class cruisers, sailing one-by-one toward their position. Piedmont Citadel’s fleet. He began counting. Surely, there couldn’t be more than 20, he thought. As the number breached 40, however, he knew the game had changed. They had clearly requisitioned more vessels from the inner delta. This would be a bloodbath.

Still, if they maintained formation, they just might be able to breach the wall. And if Alara can see Piedmont’s expanded fleet from her position, she’ll know to offer her assistance, he thought. They sailed on at full speed, veering northeasterly toward Uptown Harbor, which SF intelligence agents found had the weakest barrier walls. They also just happened to block off an underground “tube-like” corridor leading straight to Regional Hall. This would be their pathway to triumph.

Bryce started to make out the oncoming ships’ masts as their distance rapidly closed. In seconds, they would be within range of Piedmont’s catapult arcs, exposing their fleet to enemy fire. At this point, however, they had no choice. An instant later, Piedmont’s lead vessel was hit with a blistering circle of bright light. Its path cut a deep swath of searing heat through the ship’s central mast, loosening the ropes. They snapped free of the rigging, lacerating several crewmen on deck. The solar ray worked! The blazing circle adjusted itself, burning through the bottom crossbeam and bursting the mast and sails into flame. The ship slowed, veering sharply off course. The vessel directly behind crashed into its stern, starting a pileup of crashed ships. One by one, the solar ray seared through them, turning Piedmont’s frontline ships into little more than smoldering ruins.

Bryce regained his confidence, and his smile. Now they must move quickly to breach the wall.

*   *   *   *   *

March 15, 2115, 0800 Hours, Oakland Central Plaza, Oakland, California Autonomous Region

Desirae mingled among her newfound allies, doing her best to assure them that their bravery would make a difference. As Brandon had predicted, she had made significant strides yesterday, trekking around town from one community hub to the next, listening to people’s hopes and fears, and slowly bringing them into the fold. Once word of Premier Stewart’s water-sharing offer spread amongst the lowlands, people’s sense of optimism grew, as did the number of those willing to join their cause. By last count, over 2,700 citizen recruits had signed up with the defense corps, nearly a thousand of whom now stood guard in front of Regional Hall at Oakland Central Plaza.

Brandon dashed over to her, his CB radio blaring. “They’re breaching the Uptown wall!” he said. “Commander Dolman’s fleet has been decimated. Only about twenty of our defense ships are still in the game.” He took Desirae’s arm, and lowered his voice. “You worked miracles yesterday. I know it’s not easy to hear right now, but because of you, we may still stand a chance.” He kissed her cheek, and rushed off to consult with several field commanders.

The sound of gunfire roared in the distance. Why had SF forces chosen Uptown Harbor to make their way through? It made no sense. Desirae looked around at her comrades, wondering how many of them would survive this day. A feeling of pride overwhelmed her now, as she took in the faces of all the selfless, committed souls standing by her side. In the corner of her eye she saw something strange: a small plume of billowing smoke, rising from the far end of the plaza. The area appeared to be an abandoned stairwell. Where it led, she had no idea. She wandered over for a closer look.

As she came within yards of the stairwell, she noticed a crack in the sealed entryway from where the smoke was coming. “Desirae!” she heard Brandon yell from behind her. “Come back!”

But it was too late. A firestorm of flame, metal, and stone blasted towards her. A flying metal panel sliced into her lower torso, and the impact tossed her 50 feet from the blast zone. She laid under a tree bordering the plaza, wheezing from pain and losing blood rapidly. “Noooo!” she heard Brandon yell. Her vision was fuzzy, but she could make out his likeness moving towards her. Then came the shots, firing mercilessly toward the citizen soldiers assembled in the plaza.

“Focus your fire on the stairwell!” pleaded one of the field commanders. “They’re coming up from the old train tunnels!” Bullets whizzed past her through the air. She saw the SF forces emerge, seemingly in slow motion, as dozens stormed into the plaza, guns blazing. East Bay forces held their ground, showering the invaders with their own punishing fire. But SF soldiers were now half-way across the plaza, flanking the defense bunkers as they made their way toward Regional Hall.

It was too late now to stop more loss of life. But perhaps she could do something to stem the conflict. Desirae fought the pain as she grabbed the grenade from her belt. She held it to her mouth, pulled out the safety pin with her teeth, and threw it as hard as she could toward the stairwell. Metal clanked on stone, becoming fainter as the grenade bounced down the stairs. Moments later, she saw dozens of SF forces blown into the air, along with streams of rock, dirt, and metal. A deep rumbling sound followed as huge swaths of the entryway collapsed, blocking the flow of SF forces.

Desirae managed a slight grin, and slowly turned her head toward the plaza. Fighting continued, but SF forces were now on the run, vastly outnumbered by the East Bay defense line. Brandon ran towards her in shock, yelling something she could not understand. “Thank God you’re alive,” she finally heard him say as he approached. He leaned over her and checked her pulse. “You’re going to be fine, Desirae,” he said calmly, smiling as he took her hand. Several medics arrived to remove the metal section and dress her wounds. She had never known so much pain.

“How many did we lose?” she asked. He looked her in the eyes, trying to hold back the tears. One tear escaped anyway, cleaning a narrow line down his soot-stained cheek.

“Too many,” he said, caressing her shoulder. “But we prevailed. Alito will think twice about ever attacking these shores again. Who knows? She may even face new resistance on her side of the bay.”

“Councilor, are you there?” crackled Commander Dolman’s voice from Brandon’s radio. “If you can hear me, they’re retreating. I repeat, SF’s ships are retreating from Uptown Harbor!”

Brandon turned off his radio, and leaned forward to kiss Desirae’s cheek. She grabbed his neck and moved his lips to hers. They took each other in, soothed by the warmth and wetness of their kiss, if only for a moment.

As they looked around the plaza, they saw hundreds of people laying down their guns and embracing one another. Joy. Relief. Hope. Sadness. All these emotions and more flowed through the East Bay citizen defense corps. For now, the foreboding fear of a pending attack was over. For now.

Clash of the Citadels, Part II

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part three 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 was inspired by John Michael Greer’s cli-fi, post-industrial anthology, After Oil. Read Part I or Part III.

ImageMarch 14, 2115, 0900 Hours, East Bay Regional Hall, Oakland, California Autonomous Region

Regional hall was crowded like never before, bustling with scores of councilors and their aides from towns as far north as Pittsburg, as far east as Pleasanton, and as far south as Fremont. Everyone had been summoned with the same basic message: an attack by SF forces seemed imminent. But was an all-out conflict inevitable? Could anything be done to stop it?

Council President Imani slammed her gavel on the podium. Conversations ebbed, and everyone quickly took to their seats. The tension in the air was palpable. The president would have a lot of explaining to do. “This emergency session of the East Bay Regional Authority has commenced,” announced the hall guard. “Council President Nessalla Imani presiding.”

“Friends… allies… freely elected representatives of our united East Bay — I want to thank each and every one of you for making the journey to Regional Hall on such short notice,” Nesalla began. “You elected me president to look out for the best interests of our communities and to safeguard our common defense. As you know, access to our precious waters is vital to our economy and to all of us who call this land our home. Today, I fear we face the greatest threat we’ve ever faced: SF Citadel’s renegade premier, Alara Alito.” Approving cheers mixed with angry jeers rang through the hall.

Nesalla raised her arms, sending her commanding gaze throughout the room. Shushes and calming pleas brought the frenzy to a murmur. “I understand those are harsh words,” she continued. “But you all know her forces were caught sneaking through security at San Pablo Reservoir three years ago. And now, we have proof that SF forces with high-power explosives were patrolling inside the security perimeter only two days ago. Please shut the curtains.”

Darkness consumed the hall. A large projection image flashed above Nesalla showing several men carrying what appeared to be bundles of dynamite. “These three were spotted only yards away from one of the main aqueducts at San Pablo. If our security teams hadn’t seen them in time, who knows what they could have done?” She went on to outline the threat posed by potential sabotage, emphasizing how vulnerable East Bay communities would be if any of San Pablo’s flow were disrupted. “Each of these aqueducts serves over 50,000 people,” she said. “If we don’t come together with a defense plan — and soon — I fear we won’t just lose our water, we’ll also lose our freedom.”

The room remained uncomfortably quiet. People whispered to one another, assessing the evidence, wondering aloud what the appropriate response should be. Finally, Richmond Councilor Jerrod Jones stood up. “President Imani, you’ve made a compelling case. There is clear cause for concern,” he said. “But how can we be certain these infiltrators hail from SF Citadel? There seems to be a lot of assumptions being made here. Should we really be fanning the flames of conflict at such a sensitive time?” Since Richmond now had the most functional port in the East Bay, his town had a unique relationship with the citadel across the waters. Moving into defense mode might threaten that relationship. Still, his questions resonated with other councilors.

“Yes, with all due respect, president Imani, shouldn’t we confirm the identities of these men before doing anything rash?” asked Walnut Creek Councilor Sasha O’Reilly. Similar questions followed, creating a flurry of conversation in the hall. What had initially seemed a clear-cut case for action was quickly degenerating into furious debate about whether any action should be taken at all.

Sitting calmly in the far back of the hall, SF Citadel’s Defense Chief Bryce Morgan grinned. His disguise as a council aide was convincing, dressed as he was in semi-professional attire, and fitted with a wavy blond hairpiece. Earlier that morning, in a private meeting with Councilor Jones, he promised very favorable trade relations with the port town of Richmond, and assured the councilor that Premier Alito had no plans for aggressive action. The councilor harbored suspicions, but given the dire times facing his constituents, he managed to suspend them.

Nesalla surveyed the room, visibly flustered by the growing dissent. She pounded the gavel firmly three times, and took a deep breath. This would be her last chance to turn the tide. “Friends, it’s moments like these when I’m reminded why we’ve stood so strong together over all these years. While so many regions have devolved into little more than feudal states lorded over by fools and tyrants, we’ve built on our democratic traditions, holding fast as one of the last remaining freely elected regional authorities in California.” She paused for emphasis, hoping people would remember that other decidedly undemocratic district ruled by its citadel across the bay.

“I understand your hesitation, and I respect your call for clear evidence,” she continued. “What I haven’t yet told you is that our patrols were able to monitor the infiltrators’ movements after they left the scene. Upon reaching Richmond Inner Harbor, they boarded a schooner and sailed around Angel Island, veering south toward Fishermans Wharf, SF Citadel’s main harbor.” That clinched it. Only the most cynical in the room would doubt Nesalla now. Throughout her political career, she had sued for peace between and among the cities and townships of the Bay Area. And even with this clear case of attempted sabotage, she was only calling for a united defense plan, not retaliation.

Hayward Councilor Brandon Lee rose from his bench, meeting Nesalla’s eyes for permission to speak. “President Imani, the people of Hayward — I dare say all residents in these parts — thank you for your efforts to protect us from this clear and present threat,” he said. “But given that Alito’s original plan has failed, I assume you believe we now face the possibility of a full-scale attack to seize control. If so, I fear we will need nothing less an army to defend our shores.”

“I agree with your assessment, councilor. And yes, we’ve acquired intelligence confirming that SF forces have stepped up military exercises in the Presidio, and that cross-bay rifle shipments rose sharply in the days leading up to the breach,” said Nesalla. “We’re going to need all the troops we can muster. That, and probably a several dozen large ships from the coastal marinas.”

Suddenly, the sound of people turning around in mass echoed through the hall. From below the rear balcony, about a half-dozen soldiers from Piedmont Citadel marched forward in perfect unison. Commander Torm Dolman motioned for them to halt. Looking squarely at Nessala, Torm said calmly, “You’ll have your ships. Twenty from Piedmont’s defense fleet, and however many more we can requisition by midnight.”

“Thank you commander,” said Nesalla. “Please send our appreciations to Premier Stewart.” Piedmont Citadel was making amends. Last time things came to a head over security issues, East Bay Regional didn’t hear a word from them, which didn’t help their standing with the low-lying communities. Clearly, they’ve come to see Alito as a threat to their own interests as well.

By this time, Bryce’s grin had long-vanished. His plan to sow the seeds of discord amongst the councilors had failed. Their unity under pressure was an alarming surprise, and now with Piedmont Citadel coming to their defense, there was little time left to prepare for a frontal assault. SF Citadel’s forces would need something more powerful to carry the day. As all eyes were on Torm, Bryce snuck out through a side passage. He had to get back to Alara at once.

Brandon, by contrast, was pleased by this turn of events. Still, it would take far more than a few dozens ships to change Alito’s mind. She would need to see thousands on the move, ready to take a stand. That made Desirae’s mission all the more critical. “President, I’ve put out a call for support from our friends in the Urban Water Guild and neighborhood assemblies,” he announced. “However, I strongly suggest that we call upon our local assemblies to set up recruitment centers, just in case.” Cheers of agreement filled the hall. The East Bay was truly coming together, Brandon thought. Now, if only he could get Premier Stewart to make a stronger gesture of support for the lowland communities. Then, perhaps only then, they might stand a chance to rally the support of the people.

*   *   *   *   *

March 14, 2115, 1115 Hours, Ferry Plaza, San Francisco, California Autonomous Region

Bryce became anxious as his shuttle boat approached the docks at the Ferry Building. He glanced up at the old clocktower. Time was not on their side, not with all the newfound unity being forged, minute by minute, amongst his enemies. Enemies. Is that what they were? The word came forth so easily in his mind now. Granted, most people he’d encountered in the East Bay were hard-working and honest, but their backward devotion to democracy, and meetings — constant meetings! — was exhausting. Good lord, it was enough to drive any normal person insane. And for what? So they can bicker and posture, make false promises to one another, and in the end, forge weak-kneed compromises where everyone loses just a little bit more of the dignity they once had.

Yes, those people were definitely his enemies. They may feel smug and secure now, but their fixation on process would soon be their undoing. The San Francisco Bay Area needs bold leaders like Premier Alito to restore the international glory it once had, he thought. As he strode through Ferry Plaza, Bryce surveyed the landscape. Or rather, the seascape. Most of the piers, the Embarcadero, and China Basin were now under water. But thanks to a major seawall and land bridge constructed to connect the Ferry Building and the foot of California Street, there was still a major point of embarkation on the city’s eastern waterfront. Keeping it safe was another matter.

His carriage entourage wended its way along the well-guarded waterfront streets, newly restored with perfectly laid bricks and lined with well-trimmed hedges. This sector, once known as the Financial District, now boasted some of San Francisco’s finest construction firms, SF Waterworks, locally-renowned breweries, and bustling butcher shops. A few furniture, textile, and carriage dealers were also tucked away amidst the cafes, groceries, stables, and tailors.

As they turned to begin their ride up Columbus Ave., Bryce was suddenly showered in white light. He looked up at the Transamerica Pyramid, where a repeating flash of sunlight beamed down upon him, reflecting off a hanging sheet of metal. Most of the upper floors had been gutted of useful materials, having long been abandoned due to their sheer height. Without electrical lifts, most of the upper towers had simply ceased to be useful, except to the birds. That piercing reflection of light though. Now that could be useful, if only it could be harnessed in battle.

They passed through citadel security at the Columbus and Broadway gate. Bryce leaned forward. Something was amiss. A dozen or so soldiers surrounded his carriage, pulled him abruptly from his seat, and escorted him to the main lift. “What’s going on?” he demanded. Silence. The workhorses began circling the lift turnstile. He gazed out toward the bay as he and four soldiers made their ascent. Those few minutes seemed like an eternity. What had he done to deserve this? Once they reached the eastern defense corridor, he was pushed out of the lift.

Alara stood facing him, arms crossed, clearly enraged by his recent East Bay adventure. “Leave us,” she said, waving the soldiers away. “I had half a mind to send an assassins party to come after you. What if you’d been captured? They could have assessed our plans straight from the SF Defense Chief himself! Wouldn’t Nesalla have thoroughly enjoyed that?” she laughed.

Bryce carefully considered his next words, knowing his future with the citadel was far from certain. “Premier, please forgive this oversight,” he said. “You’re right to be upset. I acted rashly.”

“Rashly?” she asked, flashing him a look of disbelief. “Foolishly is more like it.” She began to walk toward the main defense chamber. “Lucky for you, we’re on the eve of a major operation that requires your leadership, such as it is. And what did you learn on your secret journey?”

“They know we’re preparing for an assault,” he said. “But it’s clear they have little sense of the scale of our forces. Most coastal leaders appear committed to Nesalla. She whipped up quite a frenzy at Regional Hall. Her, and that damned peacemaker, Councilor Brandon Lee.”

“The water deal-maker?” asked Alara. “What a curious new role for him. Peacemaker turned warmonger. He must be up to something.”

“He’s definitely rallying to Nesalla’s cause,” he said. “Seems to think they’ll need an army to withstand us.”

“Well, he’s right about that. But it won’t be enough,” she boasted. “The armada we’ve amassed will carry thousands of our soldiers swiftly to their shores. They won’t know what hit them. No more water swindles from Regional Hall.”

Bryce was afraid to bring it up, but Alara had to know. “Premier, I’ve also learned that Piedmont Citadel has struck an alliance with Nesalla. They’re offering ships, at least twenty from their fleet.”

Alara fell silent. This was unexpected. “I never thought we’d reach this point,” she said, sighing in disbelief. “A clash of the citadels.”

At this, Bryce began pouring over their battle plans. Yes, they still had naval superiority. Yes, they had them outnumbered, at least in terms of battle-ready soldiers. And yet, he could sense that momentum was building amongst the people of the East Bay. A growing sense of unity and pride. As a veteran of many battles, he knew that counted for something. Indeed, it often makes all the difference in the world. SF Citadel must strengthen its hand. But how?

And then it came to him: the light. The painful, blinding light that rained down on him as he rode back this morning. “Premier, do we still have that large reflector telescope in the observation tower?”

“Yes, I think Proctor Gabriel has been using it to study sunspots and flares, or something like that,” she said. “Why are we talking about astronomy right now?”

“Let’s just say we’re going to have to commandeer it. It may just give us the advantage we need.”

*   *   *   *   *

March 14, 2115, 1230 Hours, Piedmont Citadel, Piedmont, California Autonomous Region

Premier John Stewart scanned the intel reports his defense team had drawn up detailing SF Citadel’s recent military buildup, its attempts to sabotage San Pablo Reservior, and Council President Imani’s increasing defense measures. Ever since the war for California Autonomy had ended, Piedmont Citadel hadn’t really engaged in military matters, leaving East Bay Regional Hall in the driver’s seat. The past couple of decades have seen mostly peace throughout the region, interrupted only by the occasional ground skirmish or gun battle between contending parties.

Now, however, with water reserves running low, and tensions running high, a crisis seemed unavoidable. John was a reluctant premier, having questioned the continued rationale for the citadel since secondary school. Now that last century’s food and water riots were largely over, and democratic rule had returned to most of the East Bay, why couldn’t Piedmont simply rejoin the rest of the region in shared governance and economic development? “They’ll always covet what we have,” scolded his father. “You can’t trust a lowlander. Plain and simple.”

What his father didn’t know at the time was that he was dating one of those “lowlanders” since he was 16. Maya caught his eye on one of father’s trade trips to the Oakland shipyards back in 2095. Her graceful poise, silky dark hair, and stunning smile kept him dreaming for days. Finally, when he journeyed on his own to the waterfront one fateful afternoon, they found joy in each other’s shared passion for bayshore hikes, rowboat adventures, and deep conversation. They fell in love. Now, with her and their two children by his side, the thought of possible war with SF Citadel made him cringe.

“Premier, Commander Dolman has returned,” one of John’s security guards informed him. “And he’s brought an elected from Hayward, Councilor Brandon Lee.”

“Please show them in,” said John. He gathered the intel reports, and took a seat at his desk.

Torm Dolman hurriedly entered. “Premier, my apologies. Councilor Lee insisted on meeting with you,” he said, clearly irritated by his tagalong visitor. Brandon entered, following closely behind.

“Greetings, Premier Stewart,” Brandon said. “Deepest appreciations for your contributions to the defense of our shores. President Imani sends her regards.”

John took a moment to look upon him, a man whom he deeply respected. From what he knew of him, Brandon Lee was an honest broker, an idealist who put his people skills to the service of peace. And he produced results. He must be here for the same purpose, John thought.

“You’ve made quite a name for yourself,” he said. “I’ve watched your political career with a great deal of admiration, councilor.” He smiled at Brandon, stood up, and extended his hand.

“Thank you, Premier,” Brandon said, shaking his hand. “Your father was very helpful in the ’95 water accords. It was an honor working with him.” He paused, knowing that there was still an awkward feeling in the room. He had to ask: “Pardon me for my curiosity, but I can’t help but wonder: why is Piedmont Citadel now taking such an active role in regional military affairs?”

“The situation calls for greater involvement, don’t you think?” John said. He turned to walk around his desk toward Brandon. Facing him, he continued: “It’s been far too long that we’ve allowed our divisions to fester, letting our past get in the way of charting a new future together. Alito’s aggression has simply sped up that poorly tended possibility, I’d say.”

Commander Dolman stepped forward. “Premier, I’ve relayed to President Imani that we can add at least twenty of our coastal defense-class ships to their contingent. If I may, my team and I plan to continue seeking additional vessels in the event of an attack.”

“Please carry on, commander,” said John. “And thank you for representing us today.”

Brandon was intrigued by the premier’s collaborative tone. Obviously, he was willing to put serious resources toward their campaign. Still, he knew SF Citadel’s forces were far more numerous than the East Bay’s largely volunteer army, and far more experienced. They would need more than a fleet of ships and a rag-tag militia to carry the day. “Premier, Piedmont Citadel’s participation is truly a godsend. I had my doubts that we could resist SF’s formidable forces before Torm showed up at Regional Hall,” he said. “But I need to be honest with you. It’s not enough.”

John’s face turned quizzical. He looked down for a moment, pondering Brandon’s words. “What more would you suggest, councilor? Guns, bayonets? Perhaps commanders from our guard?”

“Yes, yes, all that would help,” Brandon replied. “But if Alito is serious about gaining a commanding foothold here, she must be readying thousands of her troops. Even if a sizable fraction of them broke through our defenses, what resistance would they meet? Hundreds of freedom-loving, courageous souls, to be sure. But not enough to withstand the power and number of her forces.”

“I see what you mean,” John acknowledged. “But even if we offered all of our commanders, soldiers, and field officers, that would only double, or at best triple East Bay forces, as I understand them.”

“True, true,” said Brandon. “But there’s something you can offer that’s even more powerful, premier.” He paused for emphasis, and said: “A share of your water flow as a gesture of good faith.”

John was taken aback. He couldn’t even begin to fathom the opposing cries from the Quorum, much less the protests he’d receive from the master gardeners, the metalsmiths, the chefs, or the bath, pool, and fountain stewards — the list of expected grievances seemed endless in his mind. But perhaps that was the point. If everyone sacrificed a little, that could add up to a major contribution.

“Despite appearances to the contrary, councilor, this isn’t a dictatorship,” John said. “I’d need to consult with the Quorum, our water chief, and forum of advisors. We’d need a compelling story to convince our ten-thousand-plus pampered cita-dwellers that it’s all for the greater good, you see.” He smiled at Brandon, and raised his eyebrows in search of suggestions.

“Well, if the prospect of a military occupation by a competing citadel at your doorstep doesn’t concern your people, premier, I don’t know what would,” said Brandon. “Thinking optimistically, it’s fair to say an offering of this scale would not only bring far greater numbers to our cause, it might go a long way toward healing the mistrust that has built up over the years.”

John reflected on Brandon’s words. Perhaps a new era was truly within reach. He walked over to a west-facing window on the far end of his quarters, and peered out over the bay toward SF Citadel. Its stone towers rose ominously above San Francisco’s aging skyline. The peoples of the Bay Area have a lot of healing to do, John thought. It was time for him to do his part to turn history’s pages.

He turned to Brandon and said, “It would appear I have quite a bit of leading to do this day.”


Clash of the Citadels, Part I (Enhanced)

by Aaron G. Lehmer-Chang

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is part three 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 was inspired by John Michael Greer’s cli-fi, post-industrial anthology, After Oil. Read Part II or Part III.

ImageMarch 13, 2115, 2330 Hours, St. Francis Citadel, San Francisco, California Autonomous Region

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. Thankfully, with recent reinforcement along the Eastern Wall, there’s little chance of outside forces breaching SF Citadel. It’s been an uneasy truce between the San Francisco and East Bay factions: a landmark water sharing agreement has held the peace for nearly 20 years now, even in the face of ever-drier winters. But now, with citadel citizens being forced to cut back on water privileges and lowland neighborhoods facing punishing shortages, everyone’s feeling a bit more on edge. Of course, political tensions are about to rise a few levels, now that Premier Alito has…

“See anything interesting, chief?” asked Alara Alito as she strode into the overlook antechamber. Her long white gown flowed freely in the night air, complemented by her waist-length silver braid.

Bryce gathered his composure before turning to face her. “Nothing out of the ordinary, premier. Mostly water scavengers 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 East Bay Regional Hall, or perhaps even someone from Piedmont Citadel.”

Alara frowned at Bryce, sighing in disappointment. “Well, whomever it was, chief, they’ve obviously gotten wind of our plans. And now, we have only weeks before their entire waterfront is walled 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 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.” She exited swiftly, clearly consumed by the challenges ahead. Bryce put on his overcoat, heading for the main lift. He needed to find out what was going on, and perhaps find a way to undermine the East Bay’s defense plans.

*   *   *   *   *

March 14, 2115, 0200 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 letter 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 letter, he read:


Dearest Brandon:

Sadly, I must inform you we’ve once again spotted SF forces at San Pablo Reservoir. Sources confirmed at least three SF infiltrators carrying what appeared to be explosives.

Don’t worry, nothing has happened. Not yet anyway. But we weren’t able to make any arrests. If these breaches say anything about their resolve, we have every reason to believe they’re now planning to threaten our very own primary water source.

Brandon, you know how much I’ve admired your efforts to keep the peace over the years by brokering water agreements between our region’s various factions. But we simply cannot let them jeopardize our rightful fair share of the Hetch Hetchy water flow. If they disrupt even a small portion of San Pablo, they could force us to relinquish our claim. You know the chaos that would ensue if that ever happened, 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. I know these moves might appear extreme, 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 as you can to an emergency security session at East Bay Regional Hall. We’ll begin proceedings at 0900 hours tomorrow morning. I’m confident we can forge a strong defense plan to counter Alito’s aggression.

Yours truly,

Nesalla Imani
Council President
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 would 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 here at the farm. It had 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 springtime highs would reach only into the 70s. These days, East Bay towns like Oakland were lucky to see highs lower than 90.

The way she tells it, there was also a lot more coastland back in her day. Alameda Island once had some of the area’s most beautiful neighborhoods and beaches. But as the sea crept inland, most of the island and West Oakland were lost. People tried desperately to save the port from the rising tide. But with every new sea wall built, the waters found a way around it. Eventually, the only portside remnants left were the rusting husks of the giant container cranes rising skyward from the water.

According to Granny, a vast network of winding pavement once carried busy Oaklanders to sit-down jobs in the old towers downtown and even across the bridge to San Francisco! That was before the energy rationing began, before waves of folks suddenly lost their jobs. By 2090, most had fled the East Bay. The half-million or so who stayed forged a new economy based on salvaging what was left. Today, Oakland’s mostly a mish-mash of poor and working-class neighborhoods, market districts, repurposed warehouses, and clusters of earthen homesteads and stables. Connecting them all are gravel roads, dirt pathways, and a few stone-laid central corridors.

Deep in the heart of East Oakland, Arroyo Viejo Training Farm’s bountiful gardens have become some of the lushest landscapes around. Since 2111, they’ve grown enough produce to feed more than 80 families while serving as a popular training ground for upstart growers who hope to carry their knowledge back to the eastern and northern farms. Of course, if it weren’t for the massive rainwater basins constructed decades ago, Arroyo Viejo wouldn’t exist. As head steward of this oasis, and elected leader of the Urban Water Guild, Desirae kept it all going, and everyone knew it.

“Sis, you have a visitor,” said Honor Greene, arguably the most slender of Desirae’s family, also known as Sly among the locals. “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 months, maybe three? Something serious must have come up for him to be here this early in the day. Something very serious.

“Please let him in Sly,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I promise not to get too caught up.” Sly opened the front gates, waving Brandon’s horse-drawn carriage into the main storage yard. Brandon approached her with diplomatic assuredness, dressed 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,” he said. “But this time it’s different. Seems the citizens of SF Citadel are screaming bloody murder over their recent losses. Nesalla thinks Premier Alito’s planning an all-out attack to claim 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 cita-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 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 our cities and townships 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 lives 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’ll be losses, painful losses,” she said. “And folks are still mighty pissed from the last time Piedmont Citadel turned its back on us. It’s gonna 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 an hour. I’ll try to whip up as much official support as I can, but we need the people to come together on this, Desirae.”

“All right, all right. I’ll check with the guild,” she said. “And put out the call to our friends in the neighborhood assemblies. Maybe Spirit Mount. But I can’t offer any promises.”

“No promises,” he acknowledged. “But if I know you, we’ll have scores of allies by nightfall.”