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Showing posts with label peak oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peak oil. Show all posts

Thursday, November 01, 2012 9 comments

On the Georgia Road 6 (#FridayFlash)

With some of the things my online friends up north are dealing with this week, I got in the mood to write another one of these.

Earlier installments in this series:

#1: the commuter
#2: interstate patrol
#3: lake property house-sitters
#4: Relocation Center
#5: college campus

“The State DNR’s Tourism division has announced that their third annual Fall Color Tour is scheduled for the week of November 8th. The day trips run all week, and wind through the north Georgia mountains. Buses leave the North Springs MARTA station at 10 a.m., and return by dusk. Lunch is included, and travelers are encouraged to bring a small cooler and snacks. The overnight trip leaves at 10 a.m. Saturday, includes accommodations at Amicalola Falls State Park, and returns to North Springs mid-afternoon on Sunday. All meals are included, and each passenger may bring an overnight bag. For details and reservations, see the DNR website at the bottom of your screen.

“The mountains are beautiful, but the people who live there aren’t watching the leaves—they’re getting ready for winter. In tonight’s segment of ‘On the Georgia Road,’ Sean McKinzie travels to White County, where local residents are busy this time of year. Sean?”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, woods. Chainsaws snarl in the background. Sean raises his voice to be heard above the noise. “Hi, Marcia! When you have to depend on your own resources to make energy, wood is the Number One choice! It literally grows on trees, after all!”

Cut to: exterior, people stacking firewood. Sean voiceover. “Residents tell me their first frost came early last week, and that’s lending a little urgency to the winter preparations. With gardening season officially over, the focus has mostly shifted from food to fuel.”

Cut to: exterior, local road. A large tree lies across the road. Man in foreground, talking to Sean; men and women in background sizing up the tree. Title: Johnny Long, local resident. “Our host, Johnny Long, put things in perspective for us.”

Fade to: Johnny Long, gesturing toward the fallen tree. “What do you see there?”

Sean: “A tree down, across the road.”

Johnny: “Yeah. Well, we see enough firewood to keep a house warm for half the winter. It’s blockin’ the road, too, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is we get this cut up and stacked.”

Sean: “Where do you get the fuel to run your saws?”

Johnny: “We got a little motor-sickle. We take it down to Gainesville and bring back groceries and a couple of five-gallon cans. That’s plenty for saws.”

Fade through: sequence of clips. Tree being cut up and removed, shrinking with time. Sean voiceover. “In less than two hours, a fallen tree became several stacks of firewood, plus a few large sections of trunk. While two people cut it up, others were hauling away cut pieces, splitting what needed to be split, and stacking the rest.” Cut to: Sean carrying an armload of cut wood. Continue voiceover. “We got pressed into service as well, and maybe we helped more than we got in the way.”

Cut to: interior, small barn or large shed. Women and men working at long tables, preparing food, setting up jars. Sean voiceover. “The focus is mostly on fuel, but there is still some food to put away.”

Cut to: interior, woman. Title: Sarah Adams. Sean voiceover: “This is a neighborhood cannery, and everyone pitches in. Sarah Adams explains what we’re looking at.”

Sarah: “Today, we’re doin’ the last of the apples and pears. Now that we’ve had a frost, the persimmons are sweet enough to use, so we’ve gathered a couple bushels for jam. We had a pretty good year with the scuppernongs—”

Sean: “What’s that word?”

Sarah, laughing: “Scuppernongs. They’re a domesticated muscadine. It’s a kind of grape. We’re doin’ those today, too.”

Cut to: baskets of fruit. Sean voiceover. “Ms. Adams says that a month ago, during the height of the garden harvest, the cannery was running full-tilt from morning into the night. Come winter, stews and soups will nearly always be on the dinner table in Unincorporated areas. Empty a few jars of meat and vegetables into a Dutch oven, and set it on the woodstove in the morning. By noon, you have a hot meal.”

Cut to: exterior, firepit made of concrete blocks. Rebar forms a grill across the top. Pots on the grill. Sean voiceover: “For safety’s sake, cooking and sterilizing happens outside. They burn pine in the firepit, saving the oak for heating the houses. Cooked food is taken back inside and put in jars, then the jars come back outside for final processing.”

Cut to: exterior, house. Solar panels on roof, windmill standing idle. Sean foreground. “Ms. Adams let me know that they were not self-sufficient, as far as food goes. Hunters might bring in game through the winter, but they don’t or can’t produce items such as flour, coffee, beans, citrus, and so on. So, they make grocery runs on occasion, and visit the library. There, they check out books, or load their readers with eBooks over the wifi, to keep them occupied through the winter.

Cut to: exterior, Sean close-up. “And so we learned that, with a little foresight and a lot of teamwork, it’s certainly possible to survive—even thrive—through a Georgia winter.” Camera zooms out. Sean holds an armload of firewood and several full quart jars. “On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012 3 comments

Here Comes the Sun

The guts of the system (plus some load)
Solar panels, I’ve been told, now cost about half of what they did a year ago. And it’s true — for less than $200, you can build a charging station for your mobile gadgets from off the shelf parts. Just add one sunny window, or take it with you on camping trips to run lights and a radio.

I bought most of the pieces for my system at Amazon and a local auto parts store. Here’s a list of similar items (links go through my affiliate account, so I’ll get a few cents if you buy them through the links). Prices shown were current at the time I typed this in. More about these items below.

Stuff you need:
Left to right: solar panel +/-, battery +/-, load +/-
The heart of the system, obviously, is the charge controller. The controller that comes with the solar panel is a dirt-cheap single-chip design, and is good for 3A at 12V — sized perfectly for one 30W panel. I was expecting the controller to simply provide regulated voltage, and was planning to hack a UPS I had laying around. But when I looked at the instructions, I found that it has a built-in charger circuit, and you just have to attach a 12V battery using the furnished alligator clip leads. Sweet!

The solar panel itself is pretty basic. It has an aluminum frame and a power cable coming out the back. You should cover the leads and the panel itself until you have things hooked up — bare wires touching metal on a bright day can make an impressive spark! (How do I know this?) There are optimum positions for solar panels, but hanging it in a south-facing window (preferably not shaded) is sufficient. It will produce power from dawn to dusk.

Speaking of the battery, you want an appropriate size. Too big, and you spend a lot of money for no gain. Too small, and you’ll be out of juice too soon at night. Since the USB charger I have is rated for 1A, and most gadgets only take a couple hours to fully charge, anything between 8Ah and 12Ah should work very well. Unless you’re only using the system outdoors (like on a camping trip), or installing the battery in a ventilated basement, always use a sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery for this system. Car batteries vent hydrogen gas, which could cause havoc inside your house.

If you’re willing to hack your car charger, you can skip the auxiliary power outlet (also called a cigarette lighter socket). On the other hand, it does provide a clean way to disconnect the car charger if you need to break the system down (like if you’re moving it around). Car chargers are also fused, which provides some protection if you overload it or short it out.

Finally, the power delivery. I personally wouldn’t fool with a USB car charger that isn’t capable of delivering 1A or more — large tablets (like an iPad) won’t charge with anything less, and you want to have some juice left over for your other gadgets. A charger that provides one or two USB jacks and two or three cigarette lighter sockets is a good way to go: the lighter sockets provide a convenient way to plug in your cellphone car charger, and you could run a fan during the day while the solar panel is holding up the battery.

The nice thing about this setup is, the only tool you need is a small Phillips screwdriver. Attach the battery (using the clip leads, don’t forget that red is positive!), then the solar panel, then the auxiliary socket. Plug in the car charger, then plug in your gadgets.

Now this, of course, is just the gateway drug. Eventually, I hope to upsize the system to provide enough power to run the laptop and the network (DSL/router) gadgetry, along with a few emergency lights. I think 100W should be sufficient, but prices continue to come down… and the wife would be thrilled if it could run the TV and DVD player…

Friday, February 03, 2012 16 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road 5

Our reporters go pick up a loose end from a couple installments back.

Earlier installments in this series:

“MARTA is offering free rides to anyone returning from the Volunteer Fair, going on this weekend at the Georgia World Congress Center. Just show your ticket at the Centennial Olympic Park station to ride for free, and you’ll be given a voucher for your next trip as well. If you’re looking for an organization to help out, representatives will be there to let you know what you can do.

“Not every group that needs help is in metro Atlanta, though. Sean McKinzie is ‘On the Georgia Road,’ returning to Cherokee County, to spotlight one of them. Sean?”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, freeway shoulder. Unincorporated Area sign in background. “Hi Marcia. You may remember when we went up to Lake Arrowhead a while ago. Cut to: exterior, college campus. “We drove by the Reinhardt University campus on the way there, and we said we learned some interesting facts at the time.

Cut to: Sean, exterior, brick buildings in the background. “Reinhardt was established in 1884 as an all-ages school, training students for teaching and ministry. Both the student body and educational diversity grew over the years, until Reinhardt College became Reinhardt University in 2010.”

Cut to: stock exterior, students on campus. “When the Emergency Services Preservation Act designated all of Cherokee County as an Unincorporated Area, in 2015…” Fade to: empty campus. “enrollment rapidly dried up. The few students that remained, nearly all from Unincorporated Areas themselves, were not enough to maintain a viable college program in Waleska.”

Cut to: interior, cafeteria. People gathered. “But that wasn’t the end of Reinhardt. The college was originally founded by what was then called the Methodist Episcopal Church, now the United Methodist Church. Reinhardt called Cherokee County home from its inception, and the church answered the call. Rev. Steve Pollen tells us about it.”

Cut to: interior, office. Man speaking. Title: Rev. Steve Pollen. “The county needed assistance with educational facilities, especially north of Canton. Furthermore, the college has a long history of excellence in performing arts, with wonderful facilities. Many professors, both active and retired, chose to stay and help us.”

Cut to: Sean, interior, classroom. “The school has had several names over its nearly 150 year history: Reinhardt Academy, Reinhardt College, then Reinhardt University. Now, it is Reinhardt Mission School, reflecting a partial return to its roots as an all-ages educational facility. Full-time enrollment is much smaller than it once was — roughly 300 students — but that doesn’t mean the other buildings are going to waste. Far from it.”

Cut to: interior, office, Rev. Pollen. “Many people have difficulty coping with the loss of technological props that once seemed like their birthright. We’re uniquely positioned to help them: for one, we’re close enough for them to reach us, and vice versa. We use dormitories to house those in need, and devote classroom space to teaching them how to cope. Cut to: exterior, log cabins. The Funk Heritage Center is also here on campus, and we’ve turned it into a hands-on learning center. Many people in this area lived without electricity and cars not a hundred years ago. We show them first that it’s possible, then show them how to do it themselves.”

Cut to: exterior, campus. Rev. Pollen voiceover. “Many ‘graduates’ from the self-sufficiency program return to their local homes and even teach their families and neighbors the skills they have learned. Those who are physically or mentally unable to cope with the hardships either make their home here on campus, or are put into the relocation program.”

Cut to: Sean, interior, stage. “Performing arts are a major draw for many students. Television is a luxury when electricity is scarce, so live music and drama are becoming popular in Unincorporated Areas. When the school puts on a concert or play, locals pack the seats in the Falany Performing Arts Center. Popular performances can draw busloads from Canton or even Cartersville. The school requires its full-time students to participate in one of band, chorus, or drama, and are graded on their performance. Those who aren’t suited for the stage can nearly always excel backstage in some capacity.”

Zoom out. Performers enter stage from both sides, singing a capella. “Rev. Pollen tells me that a Reinhardt representative will indeed be at the World Congress Center this weekend. The school needs instructors, counselors, and support staff, and can provide housing assistance for those willing to relocate to Waleska. On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Cut to: anchordesk, Marcia. “Thanks, Sean. If you’d like to view earlier segments of Sean’s travels, or listen to more of the performance, check out our website.”

Friday, October 14, 2011 15 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road 4

If you missed any of the others in this irregular serial, they’re here:

#1: the commuter
#2: interstate patrol
#3: lake property house-sitters

“And now for your ‘Viewer Feedback.’ We’ve received a lot of email concerning Sean McKinzie’s ‘On the Georgia Road’ series. Most of the responses have been positive, and Keri B. of Decatur is typical:”

Cut to: mail animation. Paper springs from letter, text fades in. Marcia voiceover: “Please give my thanks to Sean McKinzie for such an informative series. We’ve been putting off our annual camping trip in the North Georgia mountains, since we’ve been concerned about safety, but it looks like there’s really nothing to worry about. Thanks again!”

Cut to: Marcia. “Those who gave our coverage a thumbs-down fell into two camps. Steve L. of Norcross is one example:”

Cut to: mail animation. Marcia voiceover: “This drivel is typical of the happy-babble that TV news has been for decades. Shame on you for trivializing the very real hardships that people in Unincorporated areas have to face every day! If you want to know the real story, you could talk to my brother. He and his family escaped, and are living with me now.”

Cut to: Marcia. “Bobby J. of Marietta was also negative, but for a very different reason:”

Cut to: mail animation. Marcia voiceover: “Count on the media to exaggerate problems. No government interference, and you get a $5000 tax credit on top of that? If someone in Unincorpated [sic] territory wants to trade places, get in touch!”

Cut to: Marcia. Ironic smile. “It’s good to know we haven’t lost our knack for simultaneously trivializing and exaggerating the issues. And now, doing two opposite things at once, it’s Sean McKinzie, ‘On the Georgia Road’ in Milledgeville. Sean?”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, trailer park. “Thanks, Marcia. Rather than venturing into Unincorporated Georgia, today we’re in Milledgeville, in the heart of the Georgia Quadrangle. Milledgeville is a boom town these days, due to the number of people relocating from Unincorporated areas.”

Cut to: view of trailers. Sean voiceover: “The Baldwin County Fairgrounds is now home to the largest Relocation Center in the state. Many people leaving Unincorporated areas move in with friends and relatives while looking for work, whether in Atlanta or any of the other metro areas along the corners of the Quadrangle. Those who don’t have that option often come either here or to a similar Center in Statesboro.”

Cut to: interior, office. Title: Kwame Grammer, FEMA Director, Milledgeville Relocation Center. “People choose to relocate for many reasons, but most of them boil down to either health or economics. People with chronic health issues need to be near stocked and staffed medical facilities. Others need work.”

“Understood. But why FEMA?”

“The federal government considers chronic energy shortages to be an extended emergency. After a natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane, resources are often unavailable — and in the Unincorporated areas, resources are nearly always unavailable.”

Cut to: stock shot, office workers. Sean voiceover: “Upon arrival at a Relocation Center, people’s skill sets are entered into a database and matched with open jobs. Most, of course, don’t find a match right away. But some skills, such as healthcare, have more positions open than people. In general, people with college educations can find work in their field while lower-skilled positions have plenty of people to fill them. But for some, jobs aren’t the primary issue.”

Cut to: interior, elderly woman. Title: Janice Pernal / relocated from Rome GA. “Even if there was gas, I haven’t been able to drive for a long time now. My church brought me groceries and took me places, and made sure I had firewood for the winter. But I got sick about when they stopped bringing fuel, and it got harder for them to look after me like they did just when I needed to see a doctor. The preacher-man talked me into coming here, and they brought me to Atlanta. The gov’mint folks carried me down here from there.

“I get to missin’ my old home, though. They tell me I won’t live too long without healthcare, but I might just find a way home anyway. If I can pass away in my old place, amongst the memories I have there, I don’t think that would be so bad.”

Cut to: exterior, young man talking. Sean voiceover. “For most, relocating comes down to one thing: economics.”

Title: Ray Beckwith, electrician / relocated from Hiawassee GA. “Even with the tax credit, I wasn’t gettin’ enough work where I could drive around to the jobs. Some of us were pooling our money and takin’ a truck down to Gainesville once every coupla weeks for groceries, but the gas started costin’ more than the groceries. Then someone siphoned the gas outta the truck, and we were SOL. I got lucky, FEMA hired me on to take care of wiring here in the trailer park. The kids are catchin’ up with their schoolwork, and we got lights. You don’t know how big a deal that is until you don’t have ‘em for a while. The trailer’s about the same size as the one we lived in up in Hiawassee, so we got room at least.”

Cut to: exterior, middle-aged couple, Sean voiceover. “Rarely, some who leave their Unincorporated homes behind decide they were better off where they were.”

Title: Frankin and Sarah Burke, Toccoa GA. “Sure, it’s rough up there. Don’t hardly get no power, can’t find work, so we thought we’d come give this a try. Yeah, the lights come on and all, but we’re crowded in with a bunch of folks we don’t know and we still can’t find work. People in town look at you like you’re a bleep. The FEMA people helped get us a loan against our tax credit so we can get some solar things to run our lights. We got a good garden at home, we’ll get by.”

Cut to: exterior, trailer park, Sean. “The Burkes tell us they’ll invite us up some time, to see how they’re doing. Until then, in Milledgeville, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011 10 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road 3

If you've missed others in this irregular series:

On the Georgia Road 1
On the Georgia Road 2

“Lanier Fest runs Friday through Tuesday. If you’re short on gas — and aren’t we all? — MARTA is running shuttles from the Doraville station. The shuttles leave at 9 a.m. and noon, and return to Doraville at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. If you’re staying overnight, each passenger is allowed a bag as long as it fits in your lap or at your feet. Call the MARTA hotline, shown at the bottom of your screen, for further details or last-minute schedule changes.

“While Lake Lanier will be busy this weekend, many other Georgia lakes are all but becalmed, deep in Unincorporated territory. In today’s segment of ‘On the Georgia Road,’ Sean McKinzie visits Lake Arrowhead in Cherokee County. Sean?”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie, exterior, freeway shoulder. Unincorporated Area sign in background. “Hi Marcia. Located just a few miles north of Canton, Lake Arrowhead was one of Georgia’s most scenic planned communities. Many homeowners commuted to Marietta or even Atlanta, or had a second home and spent weekends on the golf course. That all changed with the ESPA in 2015, when all of Cherokee County was designated an Unincorporated Area. The homes are still there, and some are still occupied. We went ‘On the Georgia Road’ to learn more.”

Cut to: interviewee, interior. Title: “Andrew Kelly / Lake Arrowhead Homeowner” “It’s a really beautiful house. I couldn’t afford the commute, but I think one of my neighbors was going to try sticking it out. I’ve got a housesitter watching the place, and I keep thinking I’m gonna take a long weekend up there before summer runs out. My wife’s kind of afraid to go there, though. She thinks we’ll get shot the minute we cross the county line or something.”

Cut to: Sean, interior, moving vehicle. “While I-575 is technically incorporated, the Army leaves spur highways to local enforcement. The State Patrol took on the responsibility, and is giving us an escort to the old Riverstone retail district. From there, a Cherokee County deputy will take us to Lake Arrowhead.”

Cut to: deputy, exterior, abandoned retail strip in background. Title: “Roy Hart, Deputy” “Gettin’ cut off like this hasn’t been easy, but it ain’t all bad. It’s mostly peaceful here, kinda like the old days. People settle their differences among themselves, and they don’t get us involved. We got a task force down in Woodstock, keepin’ meth labs busted up and all; but up here it’s not too bad.”

Cut to: exterior shot, edge of college campus, shot from moving car. “This is what used to be Reinhardt University’s main campus, in the heart of Waleska. We took this footage for our business anchor, Reinhardt alumnus Isaac White, but we learned some interesting facts about the campus that we’ll cover in another segment. The south entrance to Lake Arrowhead is just a few miles past the campus.”

Cut to: exterior, guardhouse. “Lake Arrowhead was always a gated community, but now the gate security is armed. Fortunately, we were expected. Once inside, we saw bicycles and foot traffic, and only two other cars along the way.”

Cut to: exterior, lake house. “This is Andrew Kelly’s lake house. Mr. Kelly hired a local businessman, Jackie Barnes, to keep his house looked after and maintained. ‘J.B.,’ as his friends know him, watches — and lives — at both this house and the house next door.”

Cut to: exterior, housesitter, lakeshore. Kids splashing in the water, adults grilling or fishing on the shore or from rowboats. Title: “Jackie Barnes, Housesitter” “There’s been a few incidents, but nothin’ we can’t handle ourselves.” Cut to: hand patting holster, then back to J.B. “This ain’t some kind of impregnable fortress. The security folks do a good job, but they can’t catch every single fool who slips in cross-country. Gettin’ in is the easy part. The question is, when you come out, are you goin’ to jail or the cemetery?

“Yeah, the owners keep sayin’ they’re gonna come up and stay a few days or even a week, but we ain’t seen ‘em yet. If one ever does come up, we’ll just stay in the other house until they leave. I don’t think we’ll ever see both of ‘em up here at the same time though. But if it happens? Plenty of houses in here that ain’t bein’ looked after, you know. We’ll check ‘em out for free.

“A couple of the neighbors bring groceries when they go out. We eat lotsa fish too. Squirrels, groundhogs, rabbits if we trap ‘em. The mission brings canned goods, sometimes a little produce, out to the gate for people in here sometimes too. The golf course is shut down, so some of us have gardens on the fairways.”

Cut to: exterior, lake house. Solar panels and satellite dish on roof. Sean: “Mr. Kelly’s neighbor, Vikram Patel, is one of several homeowners who have succeeded in staying. Mr. Patel works for Marietta-based Trileo Communications as an engineer.”

Cut to: exterior, Indian interviewee. Title: “Vikram Patel / Homeowner” “It is very peaceful out here. I think I have heard a powerboat maybe… two, maybe three times all summer. Very quiet. I work all day, check in maybe two, three times. On Fridays, I drive to Marietta to my office. Sonali buys our groceries, and anything else we need, while I work. It is a very good arrangement. We get a large tax break for living out here, too.

“My sister conducts a home school for our children and some of the housesitters’ children. That works well, the children are in a good environment and nobody has to worry about gas.”

Cut to: exterior, Sean, close-up. “Like anywhere else in America, resourceful businesspeople are always ready to satisfy a need. Whether it’s property protection or simply transportation or food distribution — or even food procurement — commerce goes on, even in unincorporated areas.” Camera pulls back, showing Sean in a boat with a fisherman holding up a fish. “On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Friday, August 26, 2011 25 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road 2

The first one was received well enough that I figured it wouldn’t hurt to post another.

“Gas rationing has made the Great American Road Trip a thing of the past. But even in unincorporated areas, the interstates are still open. They may get only a fraction of the traffic they did in years past, but the federal government considers them vital. In today’s segment of On the Georgia Road, our Sean McKinzie has more.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie, exterior, freeway overpass. Below, an occasional car or motorcycle passes by. “Thanks, Marcia. It’s a little-known fact, but the interstate system was built partly as a defense project. It’s official name is the ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.’”

Cut to: infographic. INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM / Construction began in 1956 / About 47,000 miles long / Nearly 60% of the system lies in Unincorporated Areas. “Officially, the Interstate Highways are considered incorporated areas of the country. But in practice, while you might drive safely from Atlanta to Chattanooga and back, you aren’t likely to find any open gas stations along the way — and if your car breaks down, you’re on your own.”

Cut to: Sean in front of boundary sign. “In late 2015, a modern-day version of the highwayman began to plague the freeway system. Makeshift barricades caught unwary travelers, who lost their fuel — and sometimes their lives — to banditry. Stories have a way of growing in the telling, and recent polls show that three out of four people living inside the Georgia Quadrangle believe that venturing into Unincorporated areas is likely to be fatal.”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, military convoy. “But the military, charged with keeping the system open, has been patrolling since the spring of 2016. I-85 and I-185, the route from Atlanta to Columbus, get special attention. Captain James Galloway, of Fort Benning’s 75th Ranger Regiment, recently invited us to ride along with the patrol — On the Georgia Road.”

Cut to: Capt. Galloway, interior, office. “The biggest battle was in Congress. Representatives of Unincorporated Areas blocked our initial efforts, citing the Posse Comitatus Act, then made it very difficult to get the Act modified to specifically allow us to do our jobs. It took an Executive Order from the President to cut the red tape. After that, we began clearing the highways under strict rules of engagement. Those made life difficult at first, but by fall of 2016 we had re-opened all but the most remote sections of the system.

“At first, we would simply remove barricades by whatever means necessary. Then the bandits began using portable barricades, and we resorted to satellite surveillance to locate trouble spots until they caught on and used overpasses to conceal their activities.

“Nowadays, we use a vehicular version of the naval ‘Q-ship.’ Those were naval vessels disguised as merchant ships, intended to draw the enemy out from ambush. A decoy car takes the point position, usually with a crew of four: driver, data logger, and two armed guards. The car is specially modified with armor and gun ports, but is indistinguishable from a civilian vehicle until you’re right on top of it.

“Behind the decoy is one or more reinforcement vehicles, again indistinguishable from a civilian vehicle, carrying more troops. The banditry problem has all but disappeared since we began using this tactic.”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, roadside. Camera angle very low, showing a blimp far above. “In fact, this section of freeway is so secure, the Army now has tethered blimps to old billboard posts to do most of the watching for them. This has several advantages over satellites, including constant surveillance of the areas in question. While it is possible for a determined bandit to climb up and cut the tether, or punch holes in it from the ground with a high-powered rifle, the blimps have certain non-lethal defenses that were not explained to us for security reasons — and tampering with a blimp is certain to draw a forceful response. ‘De-tethering’ a blimp, as Captain Galloway describes it, does not disable it right away. It will attempt to hold its position and altitude as long as possible, usually long enough for a maintenance crew to arrive on-site.”

Cut to: Sean, interior, in vehicle, surrounded by soldiers. In the background, military radio traffic can be heard. “We are now in a reinforcement vehicle, on the way to Columbus. While this is officially a combat mission, the atmosphere is relaxed. Of course, that can change in an instant, depending on what the decoy vehicle sees.”

Cut to: exterior shot from moving vehicle. Several burned-out vehicles scattered on either side of an overpass, another nearly covered by weeds. “This is the site of the last action seen along I-85, over a year ago. Since then, we’re told, there have been only isolated incidents, usually after someone breaks down or runs out of gas — in other words, the same kind of thing that can happen along I-16 or I-20. Night patrols occasionally run into races, which are usually dispersed with warnings unless they run across contraband or repeat offenders.”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, Fort Benning. “We safely arrived at Fort Benning, so we’ll stay in Columbus for some amount of time before hitching a ride back to Atlanta with the next convoy. The patrols happen at random intervals, but always at least twice a week. We’ll bring you news from Columbus in separate segments until we head home. On the Georgia Road, at Fort Benning, I’m Sean McKinzie.”

Friday, August 12, 2011 17 comments

#FridayFlash: On the Georgia Road

This is the “crisis of confidence” story I referred to two weeks ago. After I thought it over, I decided to go with it. See (Late) Wednesday Wibbles (the previous post) for some details and an invitation to join the writing fun.

It’s a peak-oil story, similar to FAR Future, set in a slightly different alternate universe.

“As much as we like to complain here in Atlanta about fuel rationing and long lines at the gas pump, it’s good to remember that there are people just north and west of here who don’t even have that. Some of them even still manage to commute to their jobs downtown or in the suburbs. Sean McKinzie has more, in our first segment of On the Georgia Road.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie standing under a large road sign: CAUTION / UNINCORPORATED AREA / PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK / SERVICES MAY BE UNAVAILABLE BEYOND THIS POINT. “Thanks, Marcia. You’ve seen these signs before. You may have even passed one, for whatever reason. But people live behind them. Some of them pass these signs each day. On the Georgia Road, we’ll have a look at their lives.”

Cut to: empty retail strips, deserted housing developments, lonely roads, overgrown yards. Lights going out, huge stacks of firewood, horse-drawn wagons piled with hay. Voiceover: “The Emergency Services Preservation Act, or ESPA, defined what we now call the Georgia Quadrangle, bounded by I-75 on the west, I-20 on the north, and I-16 on the south. It includes the five-county metro Atlanta region as well as Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. Muscogee County, including Columbus and Fort Benning, is an enclave. These are areas that the federal government declared essential. The State of Georgia added Hall County to secure the Lake Lanier water supply, and extended the northern border to US-78 to include Clarke County and the University of Georgia. The rest is Unincorporated Georgia, nearly seventy percent of the state by area.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie in front of the sign. “Roughly a third of Georgia’s population now lives in the Unincorporated areas. Some of it may have gone wild and is dangerous to outsiders, but the old bedroom communities still have commuters. For our first segment of On the Georgia Road, one of these commuters was kind enough to open his house to us for a weekend.”

Cut to: Sean McKinzie, turned in a car seat to face the camera behind him. Beyond him, the camera points up a four-lane divided highway. A few cars can be seen going each way. “It’s Friday afternoon. In metro Atlanta, people are firing up their grills, planning a night on the town, maybe a day at the park. We’re on our way to the Unincorporated segment of Dawson County, to see how our fellow Georgia citizens spend their evenings and weekends.

“Our host and driver is Rich Grey, a senior IT technician who works in Alpharetta. He moved to Dawson County in 1988… Rich, could you tell us why?”

Pan to: Rich, driving. “I wanted a garden and some shade. I couldn’t get either one in most subdivisions, and land up here was relatively cheap.”

“Is it safe to live up here now?”

“Sure. The county still has a functioning sheriff’s department, and ‘400 east to the lake is still incorporated. It’s a lot like the ‘30s: services are spotty, not completely gone. I can’t say what’s going on up in the mountains though.”

Cut to: Sean standing in front of a large Cape Cod house, beige with white trim. The front yard is a garden. “Rich tells us he works with missions and charities who provide food, candles, batteries, and other essentials to people in need. They bring items to him, and he delivers them where they’re needed.

“An hour north of Alpharetta, you might think you’ve left civilization entirely. Rich tells us that they get two hours of electricity in the evenings — this time of year, from eight to ten p.m. To conserve resources, especially heat in the winter, there are three households living under Sean’s roof: his own, his daughter’s family, and a single mother: seven people in all.”

Cut to: Rich grilling, a young woman picking produce in the front yard. “But as Rich says, there’s more than one way to do it. We found the extended family coping quite well, and even finding some comforts and enjoyment along the way. By turning their lawn into a garden area, they don’t need to mow grass — and this time of year, getting produce simply means stepping outside. People cook outdoors during the summer so their houses don’t get even hotter.”

Cut to: lights coming on inside, people moving quickly. “Suppers are often rushed, because nobody wants to be caught sitting when the power comes on. The dishwasher and clothes washer are loaded and ready to go, people get showers or baths, and most of all the indoor toilets are usable.”

Cut to: lights going out. For a moment, all that can be heard are katydids chattering. An LED light comes on to reveal Sean. “We’ve all experienced rolling blackouts, but in Unincorporated Georgia they’re constant, and take on a special quality. In the metro area, there are emergency lights and cars going by, and the sounds of the city are only dampened. Here… beyond the walls, only the sounds of nature are heard.”

Cut to: Rich in the dim light. “Nights can be lively in the fall or winter though. People have bonfires, play music, get drunk and loud. This time of year, it’s still pretty muggy at night and people either go to sleep or read.”

Cut to: Sean, exterior, creek. People playing in the creek. “On weekend mornings, after taking care of the essentials, days are spent at a nearby creek. They pack coolers with food and drinks, and stay until it starts cooling off. There’s a screen tent for when the kids need a nap, or someone just wants a little time to dry off.”

Camera pulls back to reveal Sean in swim trunks. “On the Georgia Road, I’m Sean McKinzie.” Lays down microphone, jumps in the creek.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 No comments

(Late) Wednesday Wibbles

I got no new followers this week, so I don’t have anyone to shout at. Spread the word, folks, I’d like to have 100 followers about the time I publish White Pickups so I’ll have a good excuse for a giveaway.

Not much writing got done while on vacation… but hey, it was a vacation, right? I really do need to get cracking on Pickups and Pestilence though. Other things, that will take a lot of effort, are beginning to draw my attention. I just may have to start serializing the thing to get the incentive-to-finish going.

Speaking of vacation, here’s a cute anecdote: Mason was very comfortable at Dad’s place — comfortable enough that he’d go explore odd corners on his own, well out of sight of the adults. We slept downstairs, where there was also a large TV. So one morning, we were minding our own business; Mason slipped up the stairs, into the kitchen, pulled a quart of blueberries off the counter (fortunately a snap-top container), then carried them back down the stairs. He came walking up to us: “Berries?” That kid could just about live off fruit and cheese… and meatballs. He loves him some meatballs.

I mentioned having a “crisis of confidence” about the Friday Flash that I didn’t post week before last. I thought of it at first as a Vacationlanders fan-fic, but that isn’t right either. After watching both parts of the first episode, which are all that have been posted so far, I found myself objecting to some of the key points.

First off, while I could see the feds cutting off services to regions — or entire states, as was done to Maine in Vacationlanders — I don’t think that what comes after is quite so drastic as is depicted in the first episode. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD On the other hand, I have to wonder if the film crew has been set up from the get-go. If the UTM were as lawless and dangerous as it seems, I would think they’d have heard about it and gone in prepared. END SPOILERS

Even if the Feds cut off the power grid and fuel deliveries at the border, 1) any local hydro and alternative facilities would still be available; 2) state and local governments would attempt to function and preserve order as much as possible, just to justify their continued existence; 3) you couldn’t cut off chunks of the country without some kind of quid pro quo for the affected citizenry or civil suits, probably both; 4) politics would exclude wealthy citizens from the Unincorporated Areas; 5) there would almost certainly be commerce along the border, perhaps even people continuing to commute from Unincorporated Outer Suburbia into Atlanta.

Back in 2009–2010 when there was a lot of talk from the right-wing losers about secession, I concluded that Planet Georgia could secede without hurting the rest of the country much, if at all. Seriously: what do we have here that can’t be produced somewhere else? No oil reserves, the gold was mined out decades ago, and the only strategic industrial pieces we have are concentrated in specific locations. So I created this map (click to enlarge), designating the Georgia Quadrangle where there are still full services, and Unincorporated Georgia. The corners of the quadrangle are the primary cities, with Columbus as a separate enclave, and a largeish rural “heartland” to supply food.

So here’s the writing prompt: think about your own area and whether it would still be “incorporated” or not, and conflicts should be many and obvious. Post links to your stories here so I’ll see them. If you use the graphics, copy them to your own blog so they stay available. I’ll post one of the flash pieces I’ve written on this theme on Friday.

Friday, July 01, 2011 28 comments

#FridayFlash: The One-Eyed God

This is another one of those stories I started long ago, didn’t quite finish, then came back to. Maybe I just needed more practice writing before I knew what to do with it. It’s a little teen romance, post-apocalypse…

The One-Eyed God

The family gathered in the living room for their evening worship. As always, Jason’s uncle Tom spoke the invocation to their one-eyed god:

“Oh SONY, hear our plea: be a light in our darkness, that you may return your light to our darkness. Awake, O SONY, and guide us as you did of old.” He ended the invocation with a snicker.

Jason gazed into the nothingness of SONY’s face, barely remembering when it last filled the living room with colorful images, before darkness filled the world. He was five then, seventeen now. His dad often said they were better off without “that idiot box,” yet come evening he sat in worship with the rest of the family. Jason’s mind, as usual, went wandering during worship time. Maribeth was… he’d begun to wonder if he really wanted her as his girlfriend, especially since this afternoon.

He’d been sitting on the sandy creek bank fishing, hoping to put a couple trout on the dinner table, when Heather Scott came walking upstream on the far bank. As suited anyone hiking the brush, she wore a loose shirt and sturdy jeans with boots, hiding a newly ripe figure.

“Hey, Jason! Catching any?” She swung an empty basket.

“Not yet. What’s up?”

“Just lookin’ for cress. You see any on that side?”

“I think there’s some here.”

“Good! Can I cross over? Where’s your line?”

“Don’t cross here, it’s too deep. Go a little ways upstream and you’ll see a place to cross. If you’re lucky, you won’t get your boots wet.”

“Okay!” She skipped upstream. She was fourteen, skipping was still allowed.

Staring at SONY’s blank screen, Jason guessed things would have been different if that trout hadn’t grabbed his hook just as Heather approached. She saw his fishing rod bend and ran to him, watching him reel it in. It was a perfect size, too: big enough to keep, not so big that he’d have to throw it back. She sat down next to him while he was distracted putting the fish in the creel.

“Ha, I’m good luck for you,” she said. Jason gasped; now he had to kiss her to keep the luck she gave him. In retrospect, maybe she’d played him like he played the trout. He thought, I can give her a quick peck on the cheek, no problem. Heather had other ideas, though: she wrapped her arms around him and locked her lips on his; in his moment of surprise, she unbalanced him. He fell back, with her on top.

What Heather lacked in experience (not that Jason was an expert), she made up in enthusiasm… and after a second, Jason decided he liked it. He embraced her and rolled her to his right, away from the fishing gear, so they were side by side.

A pillow caught him across the head, pulling him back into the living room. “Stop moaning,” his mom whispered.

Jason flushed, but nodded. He watched the blank screen and remembered.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” he told Heather.

“I don’t think it bothers you much,” she grinned.

“You started it.”

“I guess.” She sat up and tugged his arm; he sat up and she scooted alongside him. “Well, I won’t tell. Are you taking Maribeth Collins to the Summer Day fiesta?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I asked her, but she’s all maybe and I’m not sure and I’ll think about it.” He made a sour face.

“That ain’t right. Dad says say yes or no, and have done. If you asked me, I’d say yes. You’d have to talk to Dad though, he says I can’t have no skulking-around boyfriend.”

A rumbling noise: Uncle Tom snored, then jerked up and looked around before refocusing on the black glass that was SONY’s eye. Jason did likewise.

They got up; Heather found her cress before coming back and kissing him once more, but quick. “Thanks,” she said, wiggling her basket.

“Yeah. Thanks for the luck.” He grinned, then his second fish took the bait.

After worship, Jason hurried at the dishes; it was his evening to wash. “You must wanna go somewhere,” said his mother. “That Maribeth girl?”

“No. Not her.”

“Good. She’s just stringing you along.” She smiled. “Go do what you need to. I’ll finish this up.”


Jason found Mr. Scott fixing his old ethanol tractor, Heather passing him tools. She looked up and grinned. Her dad gave him a curious look.

“Can I ask you something, Mr. Scott?”

“I don’t have no extra work.”

“It ain’t that.”

“You want something to drink?” asked Heather. They both nodded and she sauntered up the yard to the house.

“Bring him what I’m having!” Mr. Scott yelled. To Jason, “What brings you then?”

“Um… Mr. Scott, I want to take Heather to the fiesta tomorrow. Is that okay?”

The farmer looked him over. “You don’t run the rabbit around the tree. I like that. You ask her yet?”

“No, but she said she’d say yes if I did.”

Mr. Scott reached into his tractor. “Damn fuel filter again.” After a minute, he pulled it out. “That’s Heather, she gets right to the point too. Well, consider all the my-precious-daughter sh– junk said. You know that spiel, right? Yeah. I mean it all, even if I don’t say it. Understand?”

Jason stood thinking for a moment. “Yessir. I think I do.”

“Good. Now your dad and me know each other, and whatever gets back to one will get back to the other. Right? Right. Well, here comes Heather. You walk her down to the mailbox and ask her. It’s a big deal, gettin’ asked to the fiesta, even if you know what she’s gonna say.” He grinned. “Then you walk her back up here and we’ll drink a toast.”

Jason came home, and saw the glint of SONY’s single eye in the dim light. He placed a hand on its dusty curved top. “Thanks.”

Friday, June 10, 2011 28 comments

#FridayFlash: The Last Journalist

Is it ironic that this story is 911 words?

The Last Journalist

Today, Greg wrote by the late afternoon sunlight streaming in, for the first time I heard rumors of cannibalism. He jotted June 14 above, then continued. The last National Guard food truck came a week ago. Three weeks since the first riots, and the Land of Plenty has become just another failed state. It seems longer, though.

He put down the pen, took Vanessa’s picture out of his shirt pocket and smiled. “You doin’ okay, babe? Bet it’s hot down there in Sarasota with no air conditioning. Sure is hot here in the ATL.” As always, she said nothing but gave him her sexiest smile, looking back over her bare shoulder at his camera.

He sighed and turned back to the notebook.

Nobody knows why, but everyone has heard something or another. Food trucks can’t get through for hijackers, seems to be the most plausible explanation. And the news from yesterday. Most of the other rumors run the gamut from paranoid to delusional.

Vanessa had left just in time, it turned out. With a full tank of gas, and a five-gallon can in her trunk, she went to visit her family for perhaps the last time. He’d had to stay behind; he was investigating how certain people seemed to always have gas for their SUVs. When the fuel protests turned to riots the week before Memorial Day, he was in the thick of things, interviewing protestors, police, and National Guard commanders. Not to mention power crews after the electricity quit. Vanessa kept in touch until the phone networks went down too.

The newspaper closed up over the long weekend, and never reopened. Greg kept reporting, but transferred his observations and photos into a ratty three-ring binder. Someone has to document the end, he’d wrote at the time, it might as well be me. Between the riots and fires, thousands dead and tens of thousands fleeing, much of Atlanta was empty now. He’d learned quickly that even starving looters seldom ventured above the fourth floor once the elevators stopped working, so he squatted in an abandoned fifth-floor apartment near the action. Solar panels and batteries, stolen from freeway road signs, powered his laptop and camera. While he was out and about, nobody bothered a man with a camera. You couldn’t eat it or drink it, after all. But it could draw interest, and meeting the noted local journalist Greg Pilser still got people talking even after everything went to hell.

He picked up the pen, stared at the paper for a moment, then put it down. The conversation was stuck in his mind, but he couldn’t bring himself to put it on paper:

“They say it’s happening up in Midtown.” Just another survivor, looking for enough food to make it another day or week. “Someone got killed in a fight, they cut the meat off his legs and cooked it. I guess when you got nothin’ else…” He shook his head, patted his pistol. “Not me. I got eight bullets left. Squirrels is good, but I wouldn’t want to try possum what with all the bodies around, you know? Anyway, the last bullet in my gun’s for me. I ain’t gonna eat nobody.”

He got up and paced around the living room. A framed snapshot caught his eye, and he picked it up. A little white kid, maybe two years old, sitting on a deck chair. The exaggerated perspective suggested a cellphone snap, but someone had done some Photoshop work on it. He thought about it for a moment, then opened the frame and removed the photo, taping it onto the page near the bottom.

You have to wonder about people, he wrote next to the photo, if you want to hold onto your own humanity. Someone cared enough to work on this picture. Something we need to remember: people are worth caring about.

“You okay, kid?” he asked the picture. “I hope you’re somewhere safe. Where you don’t have to worry about eating. Or getting eaten.” Funny, he’d been squatting here for nearly two weeks and only now had he noticed the picture, standing on the bar all this time. As with Vanessa’s picture, the kid said nothing, just continued to squint at something off to his right.

He flipped back a page and looked at yesterday’s entry. He'd shot and printed a photo of a wary group, carrying sacks and water bottles. “We heard the Guard has a refugee camp down at the airport,” one of them told him. “Worth checking out, anyway. Nothin’ left here but a dead city of dead people. Ghosts will be comin’ soon.”

Maybe that guy was wrong about the ghosts. Maybe. But he was right about the city. Today, he’d heard about cannibals in Midtown. Sunday, it was vigilantes in Marietta and Alpharetta. Verifying those rumors were likely to get him killed, but staying here was just a slower death. He flipped back to today’s page, wrote down the cannibal rumor. Then, between that and the kid’s photo: My work is done here. It’s time to see what comes after the death of a city and a nation. When it gets dark, I’m starting for the airport.

His backpack had room for his binder, laptop, and water bottles. The camera he could sling over his shoulder. He took one last look at the photo before closing the binder. “Maybe I’ll see what you’re up to myself, kid.” He smiled and packed.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009 2 comments

FAR Future: Table of Contents

I had some requests for this from time to time. As promised, now that the story is done I’m delivering.

Part I
Shortages Everywhere

Episode 1: Blackouts or Whiteins?
Episode 2: Ir-ration-al Behavior?
Episode 3: The Happenin’ Library
Episode 4: Smart Move
Episode 5: Card Sharps
Episode 6: Down on the Farm
Episode 7: Headin' Out
Episode 8: Crossin' the Line
Episode 9: Time Off, and the Barter Economy
Episode 10: Great Timing
Episode 11: October Surprises

Part II
Rise of the Militias

Episode 12: Election Rejection, What’s Your Secession
Episode 13: Nothing Secedes Like Success
Episode 14: Marching Through Georgia
Episode 15: Wow
Episode 16: Holidaze, Shortage Style
Episode 17: Froze in the Middle
Episode 18: Political Theater
Episode 19: Up Against the Wal
Episode 20: Spreading the Wealth
Episode 21: Awakening
Episode 22: Why Are We Still Here?

Part III
Water Wars

Episode 23: The Prophet
Episode 24: Interlude
Episode 25: So Far So Good
Episode 26: Let the Water Wars Begin!
Episode 27: Here We Go Again!
Episode 28: On the March
Episode 29: Battle Lines
Episode 30: War is Hell
Episode 31: Quiet
Episode 32: Thanksgiving in the Midst of Disaster
Episode 33: Starting Over. Sort Of.
Episode 34: Is This Thing On?
Episode 35: Spring is Sprung
Episode 36: Political Storm

Part IV
The Junta Years

Episode 37: Dubbayou. Tee. Eff?
Episode 38: Coup Coup Land
Episode 39: Our Glorious Nation
Episode 40: What Comes Out of a Rump Congress?
Episode 41: Maximum Disruption
Episode 42: Holidays and Happiness
Episode 43: Wallyworld Rising
Episode 44: High-Stakes Hide & Seek (part 1)
Episode 45: High-Stakes Hide & Seek (part 2)
Episode 46: Reporting In
Episode 47: Young Love in the Time of the Junta
Episode 48: The Talk(s)
Episode 49: La Imagen se Escapa del Marco
Episode 50: Tightening Up
Episode 51: In the Blink of an Eye

Part V
The Last Oil War

Episode 52: It’s the Big One, Elizabeth
Episode 53: Sunrise, Sunset
Episode 54: Iraq and Ruin
Episode 55: Caught in the Draft
Episode 56: A Letter from Boot Camp
Episode 57: Marching Orders
Episode 58: A Dispatch from the Rear
Episode 59: Tanks a Lot
Episode 60: In the Tank
Episode 61: It’s All Over, Rover

Part V

Episode 62: Slip-Sliding Away
Episode 63: The Peasants are Revolting
Episode 64: Summertime, and the Junta is Sleazy
Episode 65: Run, Run, Run, Run Away
Episode 66: Farewell, Sammy
Episode 67: Letters on the Eve of War
Episode 68: Starts Off With a Bang
Episode 69: Besieged
Episode 70: Not a Bang, but a Whimper
Episode 71: When Johnny (and Kim, Serena, and Rene) Come Marching Home
Episode 72: Adventures at the Chautauqua
Episode 73: Serena’s Chautauqua Story
Episode 74: The Opt-Outs

Part VI

Episode 75: Interlude (Pattern Shift)
Episode 76: Before the Deluge
Episode 77: Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee
Episode 78: School’s In
Episode 79: Letters From the Sand
Episode 80: White Valentine’s
Episode 81: Spring of Discontent
Episode 82: Search and Research
Episode 83: The Boy on Tour
Episode 84: Office Revisited
Episode 85: An Old Friend
Episode 86: Generation 3
Episode 87: Virginia Slam
Episode 88: Heat Wave
Episode 89: Making the Call
Episode 90: Dropbox
Episode 91: The Boy Saves the Day
Episode 92: The Boy Goes to Washington (and Beyond)
Episode 93: Homecoming

Part VII

Episode 94: Interlude (To Sleep, Perchance to Dream)
Episode 95: Dreams
Episode 96: I’m History
Episode 97: Traffic Jam
Episode 98: The Rat Race, Continued
Episode 99: Funeral for Our Friends
Episode 100: The Final Vision
Episode 101: Summertime Blues
Episode 102: Conference Call
Episode 103: Too Much Fun

Episode 104: Epilogue (The Music of the Spheres)

Monday, September 07, 2009 11 comments

FAR Future, Episode 104: Epilogue

Given the title of the story, I thought it would be fitting to set at least one part of it (albeit the end) truly in the far future.

It’s a melancholy feeling, reaching the end after over two years. I appreciate everyone who has read it all the way through, especially my friends who got Orson Wells’ed back at the beginning. A complete list of episodes (with links) will be going up shortly. I’ll also post diversions and an alternate episode from time to time.

A completely new story starts September 21.

Fall, year unknown
The Music of the Spheres

The universe, and all that is in it, dances to the cosmic vibration. Life, cultures, nations, civilizations — all follow the rhythm of birth, growth, reproduction, senescence, and death. Across the Earth, weather systems twirl to their own beat. Ice caps dance a two-step, forward and back, following yet-undiscovered astronomical pulsations.

Humans continue to be humans — seeking, loving, grasping, warring — until after a particularly brutal war, when the survivors agree to become something new. So begins a breeding program that lasts for millennia: they select for intelligence, disease-resistance, and non-aggression. The results are not perfect — nothing ever is — but good enough. War is yet studied, but only to explain the terrestrial scars that thousands of years have only softened. The neo-humans experiment with various civilizations — primitive, ecotechnic, industrial — even attempting spacefaring anew at one point. Fortunately, they discover an impending asteroid strike during this time, and the great rock is broken into hundreds of smaller rocks before impact. The dust in the air brings on a Little Ice Age, but the neo-humans know to keep their population below the earth’s carrying capacity. A generation of colorful sunrises and sunsets inspires new schools of art and poetry.

And the beat goes on.

FAR Manor is long gone and long forgotten. The minor figures who lived there as the end of an age drew near are also long forgotten, but their descendants yet roam the Earth. Kim’s art, Christina’s raw intelligence, the strength and compassion of Daughter Dearest, Rene’s and Serena’s storytelling, the music of The Boy and Pat, Ray’s rapport with animals… all express themselves across the new ages that come and go in their turns. Where FAR Manor once stood — an indeterminate point in a world where the Greenwich Observatory no longer marks longitude — has been forest, city, desert, a lakeshore, and grassland.

After ten thousand years pass, we come to a particular sunrise. The land is once again a mixed forest, familiar to all of us except in the details… for example, the people now grow their houses from living trees — they would be aghast at the waste of cutting trees into pieces and building a large wooden box from the pieces. Their roads wind through the trees, following the land — they would call it madness to lay roads in straight lines and alter the land to support them. You or I might think their life primitive in comparison to ours, but we would be wrong. A technology called bioinstrumentation — which had its beginnings in near-prehistoric times, using canaries to detect methane in coal mines and dogs to find illicit drugs — has been refined through the millennia until communication devices and lighting, among other things, really do grow on trees.

The morning is cool, and a youth emerges from one of the houses that make up this loose community. He climbs up the trunk — for a moment he resembles a spider, or perhaps a spider monkey, but his long limbs and fingers are normal for his people — and eats a quiet breakfast on a sturdy limb. Nobody else stirs as he drops to the ground. He looks at the house where he has spent much of his life, and spends a few minutes on the morning necessities: making sure the glow lamps are hung where they can recharge in the afternoon sun, checking the water in the catch basin, fertilizing the roots. He then goes back in, emerges with a cloth sack and a cape for the chill to come, and jogs to the road. This is the custom of the people: after seventeen years, they begin a time of wandering. Some find a mate and return. Some find a mate and stay. Others make a life of wandering, with or without a mate.

At the edge of the community, an old woman stops him. “Who are you?” she asks.

“I go to learn that,” he says.

“And where do you go?”

“East. I will walk toward the rising sun until I come to the sea.”

“And what will you do there?”

“I will learn who I am.”

“Will you return?”

“If Father God and Mother Earth will it.”

The old woman smiles. “Then go, child, with our blessings,” she says, and embraces her grandson for the final time.

“Thank you, grandmother.” He takes her wandering gifts: a walking stick, food, and a water flask; then he blinks at the bright morning sun and sets off. When he looks back, he is alone. He smiles, hears music from beyond, and begins his journey with a dance.


Monday, August 31, 2009 7 comments

FAR Future, Episode 103: Too Much Fun

Friday, September 29, 2045
Too Much Fun

OK, I’ll be the first to admit, I overdid it this afternoon.

Daughter Dearest let school out at noon today — most everyone has had a pretty good year, garden-wise, and we all needed to get a start on harvesting. There’s been a lot of harvesting already, but that’s been mostly eaten on the spot. Now the “market” crops (mostly grapes and apples) are ready, and we’ll be at it for the next few days. So… adults, kids, we all grabbed kudzu baskets and got to it as soon as we were done with lunch. Bobby and Martina are both up at the college, starting their sophomore year, so the crew was DD, Dean, Serena, Rene, the adult Smiths and Joneses, Pat, Ray, and me. Ray, being the youngest, gets to hike full baskets up to the top end of the garden where we have the dehydrators and so on… while picking his share of the garden. I suggested he train one of the dogs to pull a cart for him back in the spring, but he must have thought I was joking. It would have been a lot easier on him; he can get a dog to do just about anything for him.

I was picking cherry tomatoes as Ray was carrying a couple of baskets. “Yo, Ray!” I yelled, “you forgot one!” and I chucked a squishy cherry tomato at him. I really wasn’t trying to hit him, but I did anyway.

“You’ll pay for that!” he yelled back with a grin. For being 16, he’s got a pretty good sense of humor.

I must have been in a mood… Daughter Dearest was working the cukes, in the next row over, and I lobbed a firmer fruit at her own “fruits.” I also must have been in an accuracy mode, because I landed it.

“Scooooooooore!” I pumped a fist.

“You want one of these across your head?” DD shot back, brandishing a rather large cucumber.

Ray came back, and launched a squishy (larger) tomato at me. It missed by the margin he intended — about 10cm — and splattered behind me. One thing led to another, and we had a genuine food fight going… of course, it was all overripe or rotten produce that filled the air; we’re not crazy enough to waste edible chow on entertainment. We ran back and forth, dodging between the rows and lobbing missiles whenever we got an opening. I had a good thing going with the tomatoes; that (and the grapes) was where most of the ammo could be found. It all came to an abrupt halt, though, when I got dizzy and started seeing sparklies. I sat down, and DD and Serena ran to me (with everyone else close behind).

I waved everyone back, using the good old “let me have some air” excuse, and finally let DD and Serena help me up and walk me up to the manor.

“Shouldn’t we get you to the medassist?” Serena asked. Daughter Dearest nodded.

“Why?” I said. “It’s the same ol’ thing: take my vitals, wait 20 minutes, take them again, then they tell me to go take a nap. Why don’t I just go take a nap and cut out the middleman?”

DD objected, I insisted, they finally gave in. Sheesh. DD was smart enough to insist I get some water, though. I chugged down the first glass and drained the second a little more slowly. She put a third glass on my desk here in the bedroom, and she and Serena went back down to help finish the picking. Like I said, it’s been a good year — I’m guessing we’ll get through the winter in fine shape. They’ll probably still be working when I get back up, although by then they’ll be filling up the dehydrator racks.

Or maybe not… I really feel tired. I don’t remember rain in the forecast, but it’s getting dark all of a sudden. The wind’s getting up too… it almost sounds like waves on the beach. Well, I’ll sleep for a little while and see how it goes.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009 3 comments

FAR Future, Episode 102: Conference Call

Sorry about not having this up Monday morning… it just slipped my mind. Future FARf must be starting have memory slips.

Sunday, August 13, 2045
Conference Call

I just got back from a week in Atlanta. I’ve been active in the same church since Mrs. Fetched brought me to this place, before we were even married, and I’m still active now that “churchies” are pariahs in many places. I’m proud to say that we were an early affiliate of the Penitent Movement — a lot of people think that Penitent is its own denomination, but it’s really an affiliation that transcends denominations. The church that I’m a part of is Methodist; some Baptist, a lot of other mainline Protestant churches, some Catholic and even a few pentecostal and other “non-demoninational” congregations identify as Penitent.

Whatever the denomination, those of us affiliated with the Penitent Movement have an annual nationwide conference. Representatives from each church gather in various cities and have a nationwide teleconference, and it was my turn to represent our church this year. It worked out well for me; Kim and Christina made room for me at their place and I could walk outside and catch the shuttle to the conference, then spend a couple hours over at The Boy’s place each evening. In Atlanta, ironically, we rent out what used to be a megachurch building. The current owners have talked about starting a small wallyworld in it, but it hasn’t happened yet (and we’ve used the same place three years in a row now). We get a local market to deliver lunch, and people bring in various “filler” foods to round out a pretty decent spread. Most of us eat breakfast before and supper after the day’s agenda.

After you’ve been to a few of these conferences, you get a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen through the week: Monday is a get-acquainted fest, lots of welcome speeches and agenda-setting on the big screen, followed by working group sign-ups. On Tuesday morning, we (locally) evaluate how well service goals from year before were met, then present reports with other regions in the national teleconference through the afternoon. Wednesday is devoted to setting the new goals and theme for the upcoming year, then thrashing out how we’re actually going to implement them. On Thursday, we discuss whatever difficulties churches might be having in different regions — in some parts of the country, they have to deal with outright persecution, although lower-level hostility and plain indifference are much more common. Here, it used to be that non-Pentitent churches had it better than we did, but we’re all pretty much tolerated throughout the Old South now. Friday, we tie up loose ends (usually what’s left from the Wednesday implementation business) — and if we need to, carry that into Saturday. Fortunately, we wrapped up pretty well on Friday this year and I was able to spend Saturday with Kim and his family (and The Boy came over, too) before riding home today.

In Atlanta this year, we talked a lot about being a third of the way through the 70 years spoken of by The Prophet at the end of the junta, the collective judgement on all the churches for so many of them being obsessed with the “law” and paying only lip service to grace (and incidentally aiding and abetting the junta). As Atlanta was his “Jerusalem,” we were asked to share our thoughts with the rest of the national conference, about where we are in regard to that particular prophecy. We all like to think, anyway, that the Penitent churches are the one servant who “was serving the people and not abusing his authority,” as the Prophet put it. Indeed, the Penitent movement was built around that description.

We’ve even managed to “find favor with the people,” at least a little. The refugee issue, that came to a head in 2036, was the primary focus for our service for a couple of years… both with and without governmental cooperation. Even though the 29th Amendment made explicit the separation between church and state, the Supreme Court ruled that the intent was to “merely prevent one party from exercising undue influence over the other” and that coordination to prevent duplication of effort was not forbidden. Once the coastal refugees were resettled, we moved on to other things (some, like the 2040 focus on carbon re-sequestration, didn’t go so well). Lately, though, we’ve gone back to exploring the thorny issue of ministering to opt-outs. I talked The Boy into coming in on Wednesday afternoon to share his experience with the opt-outs, following the chautauqua mission of taking culture (of a sort) to where the people were. Next thing I knew, people started asking him tons of questions, and someone cut it into the national feed. He’s still well-known in the Retro Rage music scene, but I was surprised at how many people remembered his role in defusing the refugee situation, back when.

People both local and remote thought it was a great session. There’s still a lot of opt-outs — some estimates put their numbers over a million — and it’s clear that any effective outreach will have to truly be outreach… just like missionaries in Africa, we’ll have to go to them, live with (and like) them, and earn their trust. The Boy talked about how many opt-outs would opt back in if they could figure out how… I guess it’s up to the churches to help them find their way back.


Monday, August 17, 2009 4 comments

FAR Future, Episode 101: Summertime Blues

Whoops, after I finished the story I inserted a new episode right here towards the end. I suppose blog fiction is never done.

I’m going to start a new story shortly after the last FAR Future episode goes up. More horror than peak-oil, but that’s what my Muse got me working on. Those episodes will also go up on Monday mornings, so don’t get out of the habit!

Saturday, July 15, 2045
Summertime Blues

Hi, it’s Bobby. I was doing some research online for summer study, clicked this link by accident, and it was still logged in. I don’t think Granddad will mind if I catch up, he hasn’t been writing much in it lately. He’s been having some weird dreams from the looks of it, though. I had to look up “The Prophet,” and it’s interesting that Granddad actually met him twice when the guy was alive. I wonder if Pat told his friend about Granddad knowing The Prophet, but I guess Darrell would have been back down here if he had.

I finished up my first year of college. It was weird being away from the house for that long, but then again it’s only an hour by bicycle to get here. If there was an emergency, I could have borrowed someone’s scooter, I guess. Martina went there too, which was good. I’m taking metallurgy and she’s on a general track until she figures out what she wants to do. We kind of become an “item,” as Granddad says, during the fall quarter. It was kind of an accident, really: this other freshman was shading her panels and she asked me to pretend we were dating to get him to back off. That meant we had to go out, and so we were seeing a lot more of each other than we planned. Neither one of us are sure when it changed over to being real. I told Dad about it, and he said something like “At least you didn’t wait as long as we did,” like he and Mom saw it even when we didn’t. Is that possible?

So we’re all together for the summer again, but it’s a little strange without Granpapa Mo and Granmama Maria. They died in May, and I took a couple days off school for the funeral. Martina too, because they told us “extended family” means something a little different than it used to. I guess that’s really true — I never thought much about all the people who live together at FAR Manor like we do, but maybe half the students at the college lived in a house with just their parents and sibs, and Dad says that’s how just about everyone used to live. I guess they live in cities or old subdivisions, where if they have problems there are other people right there to help out. There’s lots of us to help with the gardens, gather firewood, and all the other stuff that needs to be done.

Oh, I’m really glad Aunt Christina got here when she did. The methane digester clogged up and she told us what we had to do to fix it. Gas, talk about stinky! She turned it into a mini-lecture. I guess I never thought about it, but this is the kind of thing she works with all the time so maybe the smell doesn’t bother her anymore. This mat of stuff the digester can’t break down builds up on top of the poo and it blocks the methane from going out the valve on top if it gets thick enough, and you have to open up the digester and rake it off. Pat couldn’t handle it, but Martina and Ray did OK. The dogs started barking and Ray started laughing at them, but Martina, Aunt Christina, and I got the mat raked out and buried in the compost without getting much of it on ourselves. Ray said the dogs were jealous because something stank more than they do. I figured they’d want to go roll in it, but they only bother the compost when there’s a rat or something in there. But we couldn’t use the gas for a couple of days, Aunt Christina said we had to vent off some of it to get the oxygen out, otherwise it might blow up on us. So afterwards, we got out of our clothes and went inside to get clean ones. Martina’s mom yelled at her about being naked in front of her boyfriend — I guess she’d rather Martina wore those stinky clothes into their place? I’ve heard about stuff like that in the old days, but nobody else under age 50 or so thinks much of it now. I mean, I like looking at Martina when she’s naked, but I like looking at her just as much with clothes on — and it’s not like you have to be naked to screw. My roommate told me there’s a porn site that’s all pictures of people screwing with most of their clothes on. Aunt Christina shucked her clothes too, but she didn’t come back outside for a while. Martina said she was probably upstairs with Uncle Kim, and she might be right. Those two — I guess you would have to know them.

Well, that’s about it. I hope Martina’s mom gets calmed down soon, or it’s going to be a long summer.


Monday, August 10, 2009 7 comments

FAR Future, Episode 100: The Final Vision

One. Hundred. Kind of amazing, isn’t it? And we’re not (quite) finished…

Friday, June 23, 2045
The Final Vision

That much closer, I guess. I’m glad this is the last one; they kept getting worse.

In my dream, I stood in a long-abandoned city. The sky was this burnt brown color, and the sun barely made its way through. Nevertheless, it was hot. I was surrounded by mounds of what looked like lumpy dirt at first; when I looked closer I saw that it was the trash of ages, slowly returning to the earth from whence it came. The quiet nearly hurt my ears… no wind whispered, no bugs buzzed around. I didn’t even see a roach.

I started walking. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to walk around the trash heaps, so I tried walking over them. They were soft, and I sank sometimes halfway to my knees, but I somehow made progress. Each step stirred up the trash, releasing odors of decay, but somehow old and weak. Down the street, between the crumbling skyscrapers, the sea turned city blocks into an archipelago of square islands. The water called to me, as always, so I waded through the garbage toward the filthy new shoreline.

The Prophet was waiting for me near the water, perched on the remnants of a crumbling pedestal. Things bobbed in the murky water, things I didn’t want to look at too closely. An oily film covered the water, and it was on everything that the water had touched. “Here we are, at the end of all things,” he said.

“This was the worse fate you warned me about,” I said, pretty sure I was right. “So we nuked each other over the oil? Or some other resource?”

He shook his head. “No. A nuclear war would have been a lesser harm to the earth. After the first few bombs, the command and network structures would have failed and they could not have launched more. The world would have cooled, then healed.”

“So what happened?”

“This is the endpoint of humanity’s deepest wish: that the party would never end. This is what would have happened had we been given unlimited energy resources: we would have choked and drowned in our own waste. And we would have destroyed nearly everything else.”

“But maybe some of the people got into space?”

He nodded. “Of course. With boundless energy, launching a space colony would have been a small matter. The difficult part, at which they failed, was to make it self-sustaining. Each year, their population grows a little smaller. Each year, the dwindling food supply is barely enough to feed even the lessened numbers. Each year, more of their machinery stops. The spares are gone, and none of them know how to craft replacements. In a few years, the colony will fail and the last human will go to her final reward.”

I wiped a tear away. “But we were saved from this fate — by the very limits we strained against?”

“Truly. In a body, an unlimited growth is called a cancer. Even cancer is not unlimited though: when the host dies, the cancer dies as well.”

“So why do you show me this vision? If we could not come this far, what’s the point?”

He stepped down, dipped a clear glass into the gunk, and handed it to me. “The Living Water.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Drink this?”

He gave me the “get with it” look. “What was Peter told in his vision?”

I laughed. “What God has called clean, you shall not call unclean.” And as I spoke, the murk sank to the bottom of the glass and disappeared, leaving the water looking and smelling (and tasting) pure and sweet.

The Prophet smiled. “But you asked about the point of this: even now, there are those who believe we can return to what they might call the ‘glory days,’ without the understanding of what they wish for. Tell them of this vision, that they might put aside their folly and work within the world that The Lord has given them.

“But come, I show you a mystery.” He held out his hand. I took it, and we were… elsewhere. A mountaintop, where the brown sky was closer and darker. There was no trash here, only rocks streaked with soot and whatever else the rain carried out of the sky. A few gnarled trees dotted the summit. “What do you see?”

“Rocks. Stunted trees.”

He crouched next to one of the rocks. “Look closer.”

I did, and saw it: a tiny patch of green, with a few bright yellow specks, sheltered under the rock. The rock itself was split above the plant, and I saw that much of the rain that fell on that side of the rock would be carried down that split to the plants. A tiny insect, maybe a gnat, lit on one yellow spot or another, making the thin stalks nod and bob.

“And there.” He pointed toward another rock, where a small thin creature, maybe a mouse or vole, nibbled at something.

“So there’s still life.”

“Yes. The Lord does not throw away His creation lightly. There are other islands of life, in other parts of the wide world. In time, as the earth heals, they will expand and evolution will bring forth diversity and perhaps intelligence.”

“But… this world is imaginary, I thought?”

Again, the Prophet gave me the “get with it” look. “What The Lord has imagined is no less real than the world in which you live. But you will understand this, and will know the answers to all things, soon enough. Go now. Go in peace and in joy. I will greet you when you find your way to Heaven.”

Again the jumble, but I think I finally understood what it was. I had been right: it was both chaos, and beyond my comprehension. What I saw was a parade of possible worlds, too quick to catch and hold any single one — and about as useful as ignoring the beach to study a single grain of sand.

When I awoke this time, I was again hot and thirsty. But perhaps I understand better: my spirit, which is the actual me for which my old body is only a container, had actually gone to that other place — that impossible world of unlimited energy and unlimited destruction. Even in my youth, my physical body may not have been able to withstand the toxic soup our desires would have made of the air in that world, but the spirit is less concerned with physical matters. Now I was simply warmer than usual on the sleeping porch.

So that’s that. I don’t expect to keel over today or this week, but I hoofed it over to the center and sent my vitals in. They told me I’m doing fine for being 86… I’ll bet they say that to all the geezers, though. I suppose the only thing to do, and I’m sure The Prophet would agree, is to enjoy whatever time I’ve got left.



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