Author of Anthology: David Zetland, et al.; © John Sayer, Emma J. Myatt
Publication Date: January 4, 2018
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Data Recovery Unit, John Sayer
I have no tattoos. Life does not resemble a post-apocalypse, Hollywood movie. We do not have marauding, tech-savvy gangsters with body piercings and cannibalized vehicles.
Nor do I milk goats. I don’t live in some back-to-the- land Arcadian community of smiling, simple folk making yogurt and tending organic gardens.
I live in a monochrome world of sadness and resignation, filled with too many moments of reflection.
We accept the indefinite suspension of democracy. The authoritarian government is tough, but who can blame them? Human rights don’t seem like such a priority so soon after billions perished in The Extremes. Our tired leaders aren’t overly corrupt or privileged. They are ruthless in “not letting us make the same mistakes again.”
We do what we’re told without complaint, like a defeated nation rebuilding after a war it deserved to lose. But we’re not a nation, we are the world. The authorities rule all the scarred and fragmented lands still above water.
Funny really, but the proportion of people who follow God (or gods) remains about the same as before The Extremes. Believers say it’s obvious that our hubris has been punished by a God who wants us to respect His creation. I don’t know, but perhaps believers are comforted by the thought that God has received the billions of souls lost in our epic catastrophe. The Extremes certainly brought plagues and floods of “biblical proportions.”
The religious and the non-religious alike blame people for the mess. Non-believers may not turn to gods, but they don’t mind if others seek comfort in a divine image or confessions of their climate sins.
Some wily (or zealous) cult leaders try to explain the past, claiming that The Extremes were punishment for violating their rituals or strictures. But they remain few and predictable. Those of us who lived through The Extremes might be docile, but we’re not stupid.
Traumatized and chastened, we all more or less get along. The authorities squash any group that tries to stir things up. We all learned too late that pointing fingers at others, fanning fears and attributing blame for a worsening situation can distract humanity from the “central task.” Right now, our central task is to tread a long slow road to a sustainable civilization. There is little point in disagreeing. There’s not much left to squabble over.
I often wish I worked for the Flora and Fauna Recovery Department. Those people have interesting and heartening work. They scratch around for surviving beasts which could possibly mate, matching up unlikely animals from across the planet. On their travels they grab DNA samples from nearly extinct and recently-dead animals in case we remember how to clone animals in labs. They also visit seed banks to see what might still germinate in a post-Extreme world.
The least happy cohort works at the Steady State Population Group. Their job is to coerce the rest of us to breed at a Goldilocks pace of not too fast, not too slow. Their population target of two billion explains why they’re called the “more-sex police.”
I work in the Data Recovery Unit. Most of us focus on technology for essentials like agriculture, transport and communications. We’ve lost a great deal, but we know what was possible before The Extremes. The job is as much about finding knowledgeable people as it is about finding data and equipment. It will be quite a while before we restore the systems — the clean rooms, the refineries — that will allow us to restart production of microchips and chemicals. The electronics that we now run use circuitry from before The Extremes: repaired, reused, and recycled. Mass consumption gadgets are patched and pimped. Software is hacked and adapted.
I belong to a small sub-section: Cultural Recovery. After the technical people breathe new life into old server farms and extract the productive information, we look for non-essential data: music, films, pictures, stories.
We are allocated enough storage space to ensure some social and cultural collections are saved, but we also need to vet the material, which means we decide whose art and culture goes extinct.
Late at night, we sometimes watch movies from before The Extremes. People bring home-made wine and snacks so we can make an evening of it.
The movies often start in vast, traffic-clogged cities. The heroes always seems so carefree as they jet to the rescue in exotic locations. Pleasure boats and jet skis skim over sunny seas. There are car races and strange events where vehicles deliberately crash for howling audiences. Car chases usually end in explosions, orange balls of fire rolling skywards.
Sometimes we watch earlier stuff. There are Hollywood epics in which Roman gladiators kill wild beasts, and wild beasts kill innocent Christians in amphitheaters of stone. We wonder to ourselves, “how did ordinary people feel at the time? Did they look forward to the spectacle?”
Recovered documentaries show people cutting off mountain tops to get ore, damming valleys to send electricity through long powerlines. Rainforests are cut and burned. Fields stretch to the horizon, one crop replacing wild diversity. Vast garbage tips flap with plastic drifts, scavenging birds and dirty children. Experts issue warnings, holding endangered baby animals to the camera or pointing at dying coral. They were right, but they’re all dead. You can see the audience believes, but their confused faces explain their paralysis. They looked for leadership.
These sights diminish the beauty of the art we have also recovered. All the flowing music, vivid pictures and clever writing seems distorted somehow, because w were cutting the natural inspiration for all this creativity from under right our feet. Like noble utopian philosophies built on the shoulders of a slave society, all that blinkered artistic inspiration seems somehow tainted or escapist.
Sometimes one of us starts to cry at the beauty of the forests and seas. We encourage them to drink a bit more.
We survivors sit in this austere and shabby room, knowing our lives will never, should never, achieve the strange excitement of the heroes racing through cities and exploring tropical islands. That’s okay. We have the record. We can watch the past and wonder. What times those must have been. What thrills they must have felt. What palaces they built. What heights they scaled. What thoughts. . . What were they thinking?
John Sayer is a Director of Carbon Care Asia, a company that works to reduce carbon emissions and increase pre- paredness for climate change impacts in Asia. He lives, walks and writes in Hong Kong.
Amplitude, Emma J. Myatt
It’s hard to stay mad at Suze. When she comes splashing through the small waves carrying shopping bags to the bottom of the steps — late, as ever — I can’t help but smile. It’s more than her beauty that draws me in; it’s her way of being, the light she seems to carry with her and her constant, sometimes infuriating, optimism.
I’m sitting at the top of the sea-stained steps, and we fall into a hug that makes me feel whole again. Suze and I were best friends long before we became lovers. We were born within weeks of each other, to two equally unlucky families who ended up on low-lying land.
‘You almost didn’t make it,’ I say into her hair.
‘I’ll always make it. Even when I have to swim,’ she says, pulling back.
I don’t remind her of the time she almost drowned, almost sucked into the strange currents that swirl below Gowan Estuaries’ grey, concrete stilts. I’ve never swum it. If I miss the tides, I stay on land, in the damp swampy hut placed by the low-cost housing developers. They call it a Stayover, which makes us laugh. They make it sound like a place you’d choose, not a rotting hut for emergencies.
‘So what did you get?’ I peer into Suze’s bags.
‘Not a lot,’ she grins back. ‘But don’t worry; I’ve already a recipe in mind. I’m cooking you macaroni and cheese, without the cheese. Or proper macaroni. And using dried milk. . . ’
‘Sounds great,’ I say, pulling a face. ‘I’ve asked the families over for the Lotto results.’
‘I had some tokens left over so I bought an extra ticket,’ Suze says.
I nod. ‘Good. Because I gave ours to the Robinsons again.’
Suze mock punches me. ‘Seriously, Lou? You’re impossible. But funnily enough, I was going to do the same when I bought this one. . . ’
I kiss her. ‘That’s why I love you. We’re as crazy as each other.’
We sit and share some stale biscuits, watching the water climb the steps below us — greedy, surging water that wants to drink us in.
‘If you could go back, what would you do first?’ she asks me.
This game always puts me in a bad mood. I sigh. ‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Humour me.’
‘I’d give our grandparents a bollocking for doing nothing to stop all this,’ I say, as I always do, gesturing at the water. ‘But then I think I’d take you for a drive, just because I could, to one of the old beaches somewhere, and we’d sit and watch the sunset. When we got back we’d surf the internet and order stuff that would magically arrive in the post the next day, bought with real money, not tokens. And then I’d think how lucky I was to be alive in such an easy world.’
‘I’d buy you a proper ring and propose under a rain- bow flag on a mountain, one that wasn’t off-limits to us, lower echelons of society, and—’
I cut her off. ‘Can we stop? I’m not in the mood for this game today.’ I never am, but the If game is her favourite. As an optimist, she’s a total dreamer; still believes there’s a happy ending to the crappy life we’re forced to live. I don’t. All of those dreams belonged to a different generation, the ones who sit, staring at the water, still in shock at the fact that the warnings were right, all along. Unless they’re wealthy enough to live in the Hill Communities.
‘Come on,’ Suze says, pulling me up. ‘Let’s go and cook and get ready for the Lotto.’
At eight, our families arrive. We sit around the Screen and watch the presenters dangle dreams in front of us, tempting us to buy into their façade. This week two houses are up for grabs, two beautiful, enormous dry houses in Beacon Hill Community, worth who knows what.
‘I hope the Robinsons get it,’ I say, letting my bad mood out. It’s been growing for the last couple of hours as the sea has risen; the sound of the waves constant and annoying.
Suze’s mother, Anne, groans. ‘You didn’t give your ticket away again?’ she says.
‘Fiona Robinson isn’t going to survive much longer, here. You know that as well as me,’ I snap.
‘We’ve got an extra, this week,’ Suze says, giving me a Look.
‘Sorry, Anne,’ I mutter, staring back at the screen, at the hyper-happy presenters showing off the houses. ‘Just get on with it,’ I say, and they do.
There’s a silence as we all check our numbers.
‘Oh well,’ Suze says eventually. ‘There’s always next week. And remember, when we win we take you all with us — those houses are big enough. . . ’
‘Of course,’ I say. ‘Next week it’ll all change. We can leave this swamp and move to a place we won’t ever fit in because we’ll always be Lotto Residents, everyone knowing where we came from. . . ’ I stomp to our bedroom. Much later, Suze climbs in next to me. We hold each other and listen to the sea below, the sound echoing up through the stairwells.
There’s a knock at our door. Suze gets up and I follow.
She opens the door.
On our landing are the Robinsons. Fiona is in tears, shaking as she hands Suze a Lotto ticket. Her husband nods at us. ‘She wants you to have it back,’ he says. ‘She told me to say it’s your future, not ours. It never was ours.’
For a second, there is silence while we read the num- bers. And then we are yelling, jumping up and down, hugging. Our noise drowns out everything — even the roaring water below.
Emma J. Myatt lives in northeast Scotland, close to the sea. She writes fiction of all kinds. She lives with her young family and their various cats, chickens and fish. Af- ter spending time with her family, writing is her favourite thing to do and her stories are often about the sea, which provides the soundtrack to her everyday life. She hopes this story is not a prediction.