by Scott Coon
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
No matter how hard Nate tried, he couldn’t hear anything over the machine drilling into the ice. Just a few yards away, Mr. Torres yelled and grinned while Nate’s dad grimaced and kicked at the crown of a tree. The rest of the tree remained submerged in the frozen snow with its roots planted in the soil far below. It was tall and strong but only a tiny sprig of evergreen escaped, reaching out for what little light seeped through the never-parting clouds above. It was a little miracle, and his dad was kicking it.
Pointing down, Dad yelled to Nate’s cousin. “We’ll come back for that!”
Brian yelled back from where he stood with the drill’s remote kill switch. “Yes, Mr. Bob!” It was always “Mr. Bob” at work.
Normally, work was digging up trees for lumber, bartering it with other communities and nomadic groups. But today they worked for Mr. Torres, tunneling down to some old government building, one buried by the Century of Storms, just like the trees and the rest of the northern hemisphere. If they found the building, and if his dad let him, Nate would get a break from digging up trees and get to work with Mr. Torres instead.
A crunch resounded from below. The massive iron arms of the drilling machine pulled the wide shaft from the ice and backed away. In the fresh silence, Dad and Mr. Torres peered down the gently angled tunnel.
Mr. Torres threw his hands in the air, creating music with the synthetic fibers of his jacket. “Right on target!”
Dad straightened up and cast an eye toward Nate’s older brother, Robby, now climbing down from the drilling machine. “Of course it’s on target; my boy drilled it.”
Nate meandered over to the battered evergreen sprig. His ear still fixed on his father, he undid some of the damage with his foot.
The stranger clapped a hand on his dad’s shoulder clad in caribou fur. “Worth every slip we promised. After I’m done here, of course.”
The little green slips grew into sweet potatoes, like the white potatoes Nate’s community already had. But these potatoes were orange and full of vitamins, good for the body and good for trade.
Dad shook Mr. Torres’ hand off his shoulder. “Awful generous for some old weather news.”
Mr. Torres went back to gazing down the tunnel. “That is a weather research facility down there. Most of our records were wiped out in the Century of Storms, and the wars. The information down there is invaluable.”
Long ago, global warming had melted the ice caps, altered ocean currents, and sent the jet stream wobbling. Then it had started to rain. It rained across entire continents for months at a time. Then years. Then always. With so little sunlight getting through the thick cloud cover, it got cold; the rain turned to snow, and the Century of Storms began. So did the wars to invade the south, where the sun still shone a couple of weeks a year.
Nate’s dad asked, “What do the South American States want with some old weather news anyway?”
Mr. Torres almost clapped Dad’s shoulder again but pulled back at the last moment. “By studying history, we hope to avoid the same mistakes.”
Dad snorted. “Good luck with that.”
“In addition to the slips, I’ll give you the glass for your greenhouse. Just lend me that brilliant son of yours for a while.” Mr. Torres winked at Nate, as if his dad had already agreed. Nate knew better. “So, do we have a deal?”
Nate froze. His dad looked past him, pretending to watch the men breaking down the drill shaft. But Nate felt it, that same bitter look he got every time he turned the TV on for everyone: a device of sloth. But Nate didn’t react. He remained still, a white rabbit in snow.
“Two weeks?” Dad coughed, grumbled, and spit. “My son is a part of our survival. We all are, up in the north. And you want maybe two weeks?”
Mr. Torres said, “Is it true he once brought a mainframe online? Not easy, those mainframes.”
Dad released a series of noises, none of them happy. “His technology skills are important to me. My glass is important to your settlement. I’ll think about it on the way back.” He walked off.
With the drill stowed and towed, Nate got in the seat behind Robby in their track-wheeled flatbed truck. His dad put it in gear and followed, the heavy truck belching black specters as it dragged the drilling rig across the tundra. Having recovered so many old movies and TV shows, the irony of that black smoke was not lost on Nate; surviving the ice age by using the machines that caused it. But there was no more damage to be done, not enough people left to do it; Nate would have to walk a cold hundred miles to find the next settlement.
He looked out the back window at Mr. Torres on his electric snowmobile. He was one of the lucky ones, living in the south where summer still happened. Nate was one of the unlucky ones. His forefathers hadn’t been in the military armada that invaded South America; their descendants still living down there. And they weren’t on the rockets that escaped into space, their progeny probably still up there in orbiting terrariums.
After a long silence, Nate said, “I could help him, I guess.”
“I don’t trust him.” Dad shifted in his seat. “The SAS are monsters, whole settlements wiped out ’cause the south wanted whatever was under them in the ice.”
Robby said, “And the African Union nuked Siberia for some crazy reason. Or not. How would we know? It’s just nomad stories.”
“And what if those stories are true?” Dad hunkered down into his vast steering wheel. “We should just let them have their weather research facility and leave us out of it.”
Robby clenched his jaw. “Mr. Torres gave us just one pane of that glass, and the greenhouse is already zero-point-seven-five degrees warmer. That’s what’s true. And those sweet potatoes he made, everyone felt like they were in one of Nate’s coffee commercials.”
Nate loved it when he recovered TV shows with commercials in them. They were like mini-documentaries about everyday life from before humanity broke the world. The Goodman clan sometimes joked about the commercials, like miraculous coffee that transformed a human sloth into a dynamo with one slip. The invigorating sweet potatoes weren’t so dramatic, but everyone felt a difference.
Dad said, “And if that’s what he did, put coffee in them? Then all we got is a bunch of ugly roots.”
“And the glass,” Robby said.
Another grumpy cauldron bubbled until three words escaped. “Think about it.”
Under the cloak of engine noise, Nate muttered, “That means ‘no’.”
Out of the grey materialized Mr. Torres’ metal house and the military flatbed that carried it. Its array of wind turbines mixed with the adjacent forest of spinning blades that powered Nate’s home beneath the ice. Beside the two clusters of windmills stretched a bowl, fifty yards wide; Nate’s forefather, Robert Goodman I, had carved that bowl into the ice, exposing the roof of the apartment building below. Down inside, a heavy machine lowered a log into the top of an elevator shaft for drying while, on the far side, three women prepared to drive off with the lumber that they had bartered for.
Dad stopped the truck and Robby jumped out. He jogged toward the women before forcing himself into a more casual stride. The youngest of the women stood on the far edge of the bowl, her sisters demanding that they leave now. Robby stopped at his edge and watched their truck drive off into the grey.
Nate and Brian ran past Robby, down the slope of the bowl, through the top floor apartment-turned-greenhouse, and down into the mudroom, to undress. A meal of soy porridge and caribou jerky awaited them in the community apartment. But before Nate could eat, everyone needed him to turn on the TV. Tonight’s entertainment came from an iPad recovered from the lower floors of their building. Nate hooked it in and brought up the only movie that he’d found on it, Point Break.
While he ate, he had that feeling again. Nate’s dad stood at the back of the apartment, glowering. Shrouded within his extended family, Nate ate slower and slower, but it did no good. This movie had too many beach scenes, too much sun and other things his dad didn’t like looking at. He soon pulled Nate away to go across the hall to study his Spanish.
“And don’t forget about that pig for your brother’s wedding feast,” was the last thing his dad said before shutting the door.
Surrounded by technical manuals, Nate dropped the Spanish language book across his lap and tried to not think about the pig. He wasn’t good at Spanish, and he wasn’t good at drilling.
When the storms hit, no one saved the farm animals. A few miles out from their apartment building, a slaughterhouse full of frozen pigs waited beneath the ice. Nate’s family saved them for special occasions, like Robby’s wedding. As his brother and best man, it fell to Nate to drill for the wedding pig. He was going to screw it up.
Robby opened the door. “Brushing up for your future bride?”
Nate curled his lip at the book. “A language I don’t get for a bride I never met.”
Robby looked off, like he was gazing across the bowl again. “You’re not supposed to meet your bride before the wedding. In case you hate each other.”
Robby came in and shut the door. “It’s happening to me too, you know. And what would you do instead: marry one of our cousins? Steal a girl from the nomads? What choice we got?”
Nate hunched over his book. “None. Dad tells us what to do and we do it, no matter how much we hate it.”
“Dad does his best for us, for everyone. Like with your TV thing, it’s all about survival for him. He doesn’t get that TV helps us rest. After Mom died, he...” — Robby looked away — “he did his best.”
“He did his best to get rid of me. I’ll be ‘that guy from that other settlement.’ You’re Robert Goodman VI. You’ll be ‘Mr. Bob’ someday, running this place.” Nate glared at the meaningless scribbles of the language book. “I’ll be nobody.”
“I...” Robby took a half step closer. “I could help with the pig?”
“No, you can’t.”
“You’ll need a new shaft into Pen 1A before you can reach another pig.”
Nate gripped the pages until they bent. There were only so many pigs. If some got torn up by the drill, which was likely to happen if Nate drilled it, then someone somewhere down the line would not get their wedding feast. “I’m your best man. If I don’t dig it out, myself, Dad’ll put me out on the ice with the nomads.”
The door flew open, and Dad bellowed, “Damn right I will! Don’t even think about failing your brother!”
Nate buried his face in the book. “I wasn’t.”
“And you” — Dad slapped Robby in the chest with something heavy — “keep this with you at all times.”
Robby held the object out in front of him. It was the journal. Seeing it, Nate forgot about the book in his lap, the pig under the ice, and the man from South America. This wasn’t supposed to happen until Robby’s wedding day. The first pages of the thick, leather-bound tomb bore the writing of Robert Goodman I, and the last filled-in pages were his father’s. Robby would continue to fill them with births, deaths, marriages and any other event of note for the Goodman clan.
Robby’s eyes fluttered at it. “Dad, I’m honored.”
“Uncomfortable thing been jammed up under my coat for decades.” Dad scratched at its lasting impression. “It’s your responsibility now.”
Robby stared at him, slack-jawed. This was not the ceremonious transfer he’d imagined. Nate knew it. And after a lingering moment, their dad knew it too.
Their dad dropped his shoulders and looked to the floor. He turned for the door but paused. “And you and this glass.” The boys waited while their father grumbled. “Okay, but his rig ain’t rolling out of here until we get that glass: his glass or his ass.” Dad left and shut the door behind himself.
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Copyright © 2020 by Scott Coon