Gyroscope

By Tyree Campbell

 

Dear Towhomit,

I dove headfirst off the cliff this morning in what looked like a suicide attempt. A strong wind swept me up and deposited me back on the grass, several meters from the precipice. The others were aghast, of course; my father, especially. I’m the Heir to the Throne, so to speak. If there’s going to be a Throne left. Why am I even here? It’s my duty to

 

The flap to the tent opened. Without turning around, Paul Barrow knew it would be his father. He stopped writing and waited, knowing the old man would gather himself first, letting his anger steamroll into an outburst. But he closed the diary and placed the pen beside it. Waiting.

A faint whiff of something fragrant graced Paul’s nose, and he realized someone else had entered the tent behind his father. Not his mother; she left discipline and recriminations to the old man. The only other viable options were Liza Talbot or her daughter, Alexandra Sinclair. Unless, of course, one of the men had a secret he was willing to reveal, now that the hunting party was isolated and lost. Alexandra, then, Paul concluded. But why?

His father cleared his throat, and muscles knotted in Paul’s shoulders. At forty-four, the old man was not really that old, but he was so called around CommEarth corporate headquarters in Atlanta. Paul even referred to him obliquely as the old man, although a sneer sometimes accompanied the reference. After another coarse “ahem,” the question reverberated throughout the tent like thunder.

“Just what in the hell did you think you were doing?”

Still Paul did not turn around. “I should have thought that would be obvious,” he said, his soft voice a sharp counterpoint to his father’s inquiry.

“You scared the shit out of me,” said Barrow. “Your mother as well. What were you trying to do, kill yourself?”

Paul knew it would do no good to respond with the truth, but he made the attempt anyway. “I was trying to prove a point,” he replied, and now stood up and turned around. As tall as his father’s six-foot, but with far more brown hair, Paul had inherited most of his softer looks from his mother. Though he hardly looked effeminate, and certainly was nothing of the sort, his father continued to regard him as a creature of a weaker species. Even now, in the dim light of the tent, Paul felt the weight of his disrespect and disgust. You’re going to succeed me as president and CEO? the old man seemed to be saying by his bearing and attitude.

Not if I can help it, Paul thought. But he had yet to summon the courage to say as much to him.

Behind Barrow and to one side stood Alexandra Sinclair, tall and slender and aloof. But now the expression in her dove-gray eyes was hard for Paul to read, in the shadow of his old man.

 

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Kale

By Dan Rice

 

I was born in 2035, the year the last gas-powered car rolled off the assembly line. That was the second year of The Great Drought, although no one living in the Pacific Northwest expected the well below average rainfall to stretch on for nearly two decades. By the time I turned eleven, the drinking water supply for Western Washington had been at critical levels for five years.

That spring Mount Rainier’s once mighty glaciers withered to skeletal fingers. Rivers fed by unprecedented glacial melt flooded. By late spring the high waters receded and by the summer streams were dry and rivers were drying up. That year the Legislature enacted the Water Conservation Act, resulting in limiters installed on every residential water meter in the state and, among other things, made showering more than once a week a crime. Yeah, the B.O. got pretty bad.

When June of that fateful year rolled around, I wanted school to be over. The air conditioning failed two weeks earlier, making the classrooms stiflingly hot. The teachers opened the windows, propped open doors, and brought in fans, but those measures didn't stop me from sweating until my shirt stuck to my back.

“Maybe we’ll have class outside tomorrow,” I told Gwen, my classmate and best friend, as we walked home after school down a cracked sidewalk that radiated heat. “I heard Mrs. Collins taught her class outside.”

“Jennifer told me that Nate Dryer got a bad sunburn yesterday and his mother called the school,” Gwen said. "The principal visited Mrs. Collins today. No more classes outside.”

“Well, shit,” I said, quoting a phrase I often heard my father use. “Only Nate Dryer is dumb enough not to wear sunscreen.”

I kicked a pebble down the sidewalk. The small stone skipped over the concrete and came to a rest on the dusty yard of a run-down house with white paint peeling off the siding in long jagged strips.

“I don't like it when you curse, Theo.”

“Sorry,” I said. Sometimes Gwen sounded like my mother.

“Nate isn't stupid. He’s just poor. Jennifer told me he's on reduced lunch.”

“Did your dad finish xeriscaping your backyard?" I asked, anxious to change the subject.

“He did,” Gwen said, her eyes sparkling. “Do you want to see? I know. We can do our math homework together at the table. Don't worry, there's an umbrella to keep the sun off us. You'll love it. It's fab.”

“Sure. That sounds great.”

We turned off of 12th Street onto North Monroe. Gwen lived half a block up the street and my house was one block beyond hers. We walked in silence, just enjoying each other's company. That's one thing I always liked about Gwen, the silences between us were never uncomfortable.

 

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The Last Polar Bear

by Melanie Rees

 

From her warm den, she emerges. Even though it was a short winter, the sun is a stranger. Above the snow-speckled slopes, an enormous bird hovers. Its loud chopping squawk is like no gull, eagle or falcon she has ever heard.

She stands guard over her den as the strange bird flies over the white plains. The snow has already started to melt. Her stomach grumbles. No time to waste. It is time to feed.

*

The helicopter veered towards the chequered pattern of roofs flanked by snow. Aiden gripped the handrail, taking deep breaths.

“Look! Polar bear.” Mick propped his sunnies on top of his head and peered out of the window.

“Where?” said Aiden, letting go of the handrail.

“Down there.”

Aiden looked directly below. The roofs of the town were tiny coloured squares amongst endless white smothering the ground far far below.

Aiden clasped his mouth. “Oww! I think I’m going be sick.”

“Polar bears?” The pilot had been silent during their journey but turned his head abruptly. “Didn’t think you youngsters were serious?”

“Sure. Quick expedition before uni starts,” said Mick. “We know we probably won’t see one, but you never know.”

“What! You mean there wasn’t a polar bear down there?” Aiden growled at Mick.

“Sorry.” Mick slapped him on the back. “Couldn’t help it.”

The pilot chuckled and took the chopper lower. Black Spruce bowed under the force as they descended upon the outskirts of town.

Aiden’s boots sunk deep into the snow when he disembarked and the feeling of ground beneath his feet calmed his stomach.

“Here you are boys,” said the pilot, hauling their hiking gear from the underside of the chopper and dumping it on the snow. “3D cameras, tranquilizer darts? You’re optimistic.”

Aiden ignored the pilot’s goading tone and squinted at his surroundings. Rusty train tracks peered through the snow; signs dangled from their hinges; shops were boarded up with planks; and between two train carriages, the lake glistened with a reticent gleam.

“It’s awfully quiet,” he said.

“Yeah. Tourism market crashed back in the 2050s. Don’t see many folk travelling this far north no more,” said the pilot, scooting back into his chopper. “But best of luck to ya. Polar bears,” he muttered to himself. “Oh, my.” The pilot laughed and took off.

Aiden and Mick ignored the pilot’s lack of optimism and set off around the lake. Aiden walked in a daydream. The extended daylight hours played havoc with his sense of time but eventually the sun lost interest in the world. The glaring white plain became a silver glow and Midas came out of hiding and turned every rock and blade of grass to gold.

 

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The Perisphere Solution

By Robert J. Mendenhall

 

The frozen terrain that was once Chicago flashed past the flyer’s forward canopy in lengthy shadows, a ravaged wasteland of eviscerated buildings and eroded skyscrapers. Jagged spikes of brick and steel jutted at random angles from scabs of glacial ice like so many tombstones. The day-time sky was a perpetual gun-metal gray, sometimes a shade lighter, sometimes darker, but always a thick veil between ground and sun. Nothing moved down there that wasn’t blown by arctic wind. Nothing. And somewhere in the frigid fog, beyond the dead city, languished Lake Michigan, its water frozen over for more than three hundred years.

The sight depressed me, as it always did. It depressed me in ways few could imagine, because so few were allowed outside the confines and controlled environments of the city-spheres. Fewer still were permitted to venture this close to urban ruins and see, first-hand, the devastation wrought by a global climate crash—Mother Nature in her fury. As a Federal Agent, I was one of those few.

I banked the flyer in a wide arc until the desolate countryside completely filled my field of vision. The seat-bucket’s restraining field secured me against the forces of inertia. I completed my turn and leveled off, heading straight south and away from the ruins.

“Warning. You are approaching restricted air space.” The voice that droned from the flyer’s control console was androgynous, with a monotone delivery that shouted A.I. “Descend to three thousand feet and pair with North Am City 4-17 Terminal Approach Control.”

Relinquishing my control of anything was something I did not do willingly. But, if I ignored the robotic directive, there was a good chance I might be shot down by defense turrets from the city-sphere’s prime Trylon. Or I might fly right into a PTB--Power Transmission Beam--and sizzle to a crisp. I found neither scenario appealing.

I descended as instructed and reduced my speed accordingly. A few keystrokes and my flyer’s navigation logic paired with Terminal Approach Control. I lifted my hands mockingly, as if something magical had happened rather than something digital, and sat back in my padded pilot bucket. I felt the flyer nudge slightly as the TAC air traffic logic adjusted my course, and I frowned at the implied criticism of my navigational skills.

The scarred ground continued to race past me, mile after mile of frigid misery.

North Am 4-17 was the official, sterile designation assigned to the spherical city by the Council on Climate Survival of the Unified Nations. It accurately reflected the city’s continental location, regional position on that continent, and UN charter sequence. Unofficially, we simply called it Peoria.

As the flyer slowed on final approach, the sight ahead renewed me. As it always did. I felt the despondency within me decant away, and I smiled in appreciation at the contrast between the cadaverous landscape and the geometrically perfect, artificial structures which defied nature, declaring with certainty that man would not be subjugated by it.

 

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Kia Manawanui

By Tyree Campbell

 

She gazed out at Lake Rotomahana as if for the last time. Each year for the past decade she had spent two weeks here in the national park on New Zealand’s North Island, staying at the lakeshore cottage left to her by an uncle with the understanding that she would see to its upkeep. There was nothing specific to prevent her from returning next year, should she choose to do so. But the state of the planet was in flux.

Here, in her real life, she was Victoria Elizabeth Chambers, a distant relative of one of the explorers of New Zealand’s South Island. Named for two queens of England, she invited a very few to call her Vickie, and several others to shorten the full name to Victoria. In her bill-paying life in the United States, where she worked as an environmental specialist for Ecotect, her colleagues opted for Kiwi, which she loathed, but which had stuck to her like a lamprey to a trout. But the bill-paying life was illusory at best; she was not working to pay the bills, which in any case were few. She was working to save the planet. Worse, she was working to save it from itself. And it did not want to be saved.

Or so it seemed.

Cries filled the morning air; somewhere nearby, a flock of birds had taken off. Some fifty meters away, on the lake, a black swan glided by, haughty and graceful. Victoria sighed softly. Oh, she could stay here, here among the great conifers, like the totara trees with their paperlike flaking bark and the hard wood that the Maori used for their finest carvings. Catch rainbow trout stocked in many of the country’s lakes. Breathe fresh air. Water in streams so clear you can count the smooth dark rocks on the bed. It never got old.

What, thought Victoria, have we done?

Vegetation clutched at her hiking shoes. She liberated them, wondering whether she was freeing the plants or herself. It was not an idle question. Independence might coexist with interdependence, provided there was respect on both sides. The plants meant her no harm, and vice versa. But.

Again she sighed. But.

In the very moment of her indecision, to stay or to return, she heard something heavy crash through the wild shrubs several meters off to her left. Fear gripped her momentarily; New Zealand had few indigenous fauna of a size to be worrisome, but some dogs had gone wild. Presently she saw it, and stared. A kakapo? How was that possible?

Vast numbers of the ponderous, flightless parrot had been whittled down to a hundred or so, all in protected sanctuaries. This one, clearly, lived in the wild. It seemed to have no fear of her. The size of a small turkey, it lumbered up to her as if to greet her, its beak worrying at a nut. Victoria did not move. The kakapo paused before her for a few seconds, as if debating whether to share its prize. Then it continued on, to vanish into the thick forest west of her cottage.

She took the clumsy bird as a sign. If the kakapo could survive the predations of humanity, then so might humanity itself. She had to go back. But as a species, the kakapo, despite perhaps a few still living in the wild, remained on the verge of extinction. Should she therefore stay?

 

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The Wrong Kind of Ship

By Gustavo Bondoni

 

“What in the world is that?” Nico said. The transmission was scratchy, distorted and completely unintelligible.

“I have no idea. The AI is analyzing it. So far, it’s managed to tell us that the message repeats every 45 seconds, running on a continuous loop,” Melisa replied. She closed her eyes and communed with the implant in her forehead, her curly brown hair swaying as she moved her head. “It also says that the speech pattern doesn’t conform to any of the languages that we brought under with us.”

“So, maybe a Topsider tongue?”

“The Topsiders are dead. Even if they aren’t all gone, there hasn’t been a radio transmission on the surface in a hundred and fifty years.”

“This one isn’t coming from the surface. Our triangulation places the source about two hundred kilometers west of us.”

“Two hundred… there’s nothing out there.”

“There’s something out there, and it’s transmitting on in ELF. We only picked it up because we were scanning for solar activity that might affect our buoy antennas.”

They listened to the scratchy voice for some moments more. As they tried to make sense of it, Melisa’s face went slack, a sign that she was receiving info from Dinatta City’s central AI.

“It’s Chinese.”

“Chinese? Like from the old political entity of China?”

“Yes.”

“Amazing. Is there a City that speaks Chinese?”

“No. This dialect is called Mandarin and hasn’t been widely spoken since the late twenty-first. The only City that had been founded back then was Amsterdam after the sea went over the dykes. Amsterdam speaks Flemaise.”

“So, who is it? Some shadow city we’ve never heard of announcing its presence to the world? A submersible full of untouchables?”

“The AI says it can translate for us.”

Nico shut up and gestured for her to play the translation.

The sound, like everything generated by the AI, came through in a clear sexless monotone. “People of Earth, this is a distress signal. We are visitors to your planet who have arrived on a mission from the star you call Tau Ceti. We come in peace. An accident has rendered our landing craft inoperable and we have sunk in the ocean. Any assistance that can be rendered will be greatly appreciated. The integrity of our hull is compromised, and we fear it will not hold out too much longer. We come in peace.” Then there was a pause. “People of Earth, this is a…”

Their jaws dropped in unison.

 

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Pelagus

by Mike Adamson

 

People once said forty days and nights of rain was enough to flood the whole world, and today this makes us smile, because it’s been raining for forty years.

In the equipment bay I feed myself into a survival suit with the practice of many years. Brilliant orange, with breathing gear, floatation system, radio locator beacon, light. The name Lytton, K is stencilled at the breast--my suit, made for me, Kira Lytton, in the workshops below. The suit will keep me alive for 24 hours if I’m ever unlucky enough to be separated from this metal island on which we journey.

Drift Station Pelagus was built in the last generation before Earth became uninhabitable. She was conceived as a self-contained community of scientists with direct access to the planetary ecosystem at the most intimate level, while in permanent contact with the cities out at L5. She would drift forever on the oceanic gyre, wander the world without need of propulsion, send back data without pause, so that perhaps one day the supercomputers up there in space would understand the mechanism of the global balances well enough to repair them.

This was the plan, but plans don’t always work out. Oh, we’re wandering the world, we’re sending the data, but we were never supposed to be trapped here--isolated, a community cut off from the human race. Our third native generation will be born in the next few years, and the scientists and engineers who crewed this station when it was launched are now…well, old.

I’ve been coming up here to the flightdeck since I was ten years old. We all do, it’s a rule of the community--every day a small group of us go up top to see the world outside, to experience it; once a month for any individual. It terrified me then and it terrifies me now, but I understand the necessity and make myself do it. This is the planet Earth in AD2132, it is what our ancestors made of it, and we suffer the curse of their attitude.

The gentle motion of the vast platform is something we’re born to; our elders say if we ever leave Pelagus we’ll have severe disorientation until we adapt to a world that’s not moving. For though the platform weighs 390,000 long tons, the forces of the ocean cannot be resisted; the great swells of this endless storm exert terrible stresses upon the tremendous pylon that supports the habitation dome sixty meters above sea level.

I go up from the standby lounge with Kirby, one of the pilots who hasn’t flown his aircraft in twenty years: the weather was too bad for too long, and now the aircraft are unserviceable. With us go Kinsela, a biologist, and Delia, a kid my own age who has become a meteorologist. We all follow in the paths of our elders, there’s no option. Only in our spare time can we write or draw. The station that is our life consumes all else.

In the elevator, we double check our survival suits with their compact oxygen rebreathers. The air out there is now too poor in oxygen, too rich in carbon dioxide, to support human life for more than a few minutes. Forests are recovering all over the southern hemisphere at tremendous rate, and eventually they’ll correct the gas balance--but not without our help. The ocean, which was responsible for the majority of the process, has been largely dead for half a century.

 

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