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:

EMERGENCY SUMMONS: PLEASE DESTROY AFTER FULL REVIEW

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.”

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