Video: Why “Net Zero” Emissions Targets are a Scam

As public awareness of climate change and desire for action have both increased, corporations and their bought politicians have been working overtime to find ways to misinform the public, shift blame, and convince people that everything is under control, and no systemic change is needed. One of the tools that has been developed to help that effort is the concept of “net zero”. It’s a reasonable-sounding concept that could be perfectly valid, if we lived in a world run by honest people who want to do the right thing with their power.

Sadly, that’s not the world in which we live, so let’s take a closer look at this “net zero” thing:


Shaun’s video on anti-vax propaganda

This is sort of an appendix to yesterday’s post. Jimmy Dore is far from the only person spreading misinformation and devaluing the lives of most of humanity, he’s just caught my attention a few times in recent weeks, and the hypocrisy of him attacking other people for not being “left enough” has become more than a little annoying.

I think this video is important for a couple of reasons, beyond the satisfaction of seeing Dore dismantled. The first is that it touches on a bunch of talking points that are being pretty widely used right now, and the second is that it digs into the research, and demonstrates how errors and unclear language within scientific articles can play a big role in how bits of propaganda get started. I suggest you put it on while you’re cooking, or gaming, or something.

COVID-19, Jimmy Dore, and eugenics

Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague.

–Thomas Malthus

The concept of eugenics is fairly simple. It’s sometimes described as applying our understanding of evolution to the “betterment” of humanity, but what that amounts to is using animal breeding techniques on the human population. When it’s talked about “in theory”, some people – including those who should know better – claim that the basic concept is sound, it’s just that there are moral reasons not to do it. This is false. There are moral reasons not to do it, and we’ll get into that a bit, but it’s important to state up front that eugenics is an inherently faulty concept that cannot work. If you want a video breakdown of why that is, I’ll refer you to Rebecca Watson’s response to that time Richard Dawkins decided to demonstrate his ignorance to the world. For everyone else, here’s a quick overview of why eugenics is a vicious fantasy that could never work.

Step one would be determining what counts as “better”. Is it physical prowess? Intelligence? You can’t just breed for “better”, you have to have a clear trait in mind. Shaun’s thorough takedown of The Bell Curve does a good job of demonstrating how “intelligence” is not just a very poorly defined concept, but we also have very little idea how much of it is related to genetics vs. environmental factors. You could try to breed for brain size, but we’ve known for a while that size isn’t what determines intelligence. As I understand it, it’s much more about how the brain is organized, and how different sub-sections of the brain interact with each other. We could try to breed for “health”, but again, that’s a very nebulous concept. Do we want a metabolism that works a certain way? An immune system that works a certain way? What about allergies?

What about creativity and independent thinking? What about pro-social traits like empathy?

And once we have a clear goal in mind, what tradeoffs are we willing to accept? You can breed a dog to “point”, but then you have a compulsive behavioral trait that can be extremely inconvenient if you don’t actually need it. You see something interesting, and instead of noting it and moving on, or maybe taking a picture, or taking notes, you just freeze, and stare intently at it pretty much until you’re forced to move away. We could ignore science and breed for brain size, but then you run the risk of developing things like the skull being too small for the brain, or the head being so heavy that you risk breaking your neck if you’re startled. So we could make the whole body bigger, to support a bigger brain, right? Sure, but after a certain point, being bigger tends to come with its own health problems, and would generally lead to a decrease in longevity. Even if we could wave a wand and make everyone geniuses, would we be willing to lop three decades or so off of our average lifespan?

But let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that we have a clear trait we want to breed for, and we know we can breed for it, and we can easily detect that trait. Maybe we decided that making humanity “better” means breeding us all to have the pointiest possible elbows. Our vision of human perfection is big, bony, elbow spikes a few hundred generations down the line.

Now we run into the moral problems.

Have you ever looked into how animal breeding works?

To be perfectly frank, it’s a horrific process. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the generations of work that went into making livestock and some pets, but really think about the process. If your goal is to have an entire species of spiky-armed apes, that means that you don’t just need to encourage pointy-elbowed people to breed with each other rather than us inferior dull-elbowed people (Dullbows, for short), you also need to ensure that only the pointiest of elbows are allowed to breed. Even if we assume that everyone is on board with this, and Dullbows all volunteer to abstain from procreation for the greater good, you’re going to run into the same problem you encounter with every effort to breed for one trait to the exclusion of all others – you get inbreeding.

But exiting our fantastical scenario, when an animal breeder is going for a particular trait – or even broad set of traits – any babies without the desired trait tend to be “culled” – removed from the breeding population. The most common method is to just kill any individual that the breeder has decided should not be allowed to reproduce. Other options are forced sterilization, or lifelong confinement to prevent breeding.

That means, for our elbow example, that all of us Dullbows would either be murdered, imprisoned, or forcibly sterilized, for the greater pointiness of humanity. Basically, applying animal breeding techniques to humanity starts with routine and ongoing mass murder, as we saw most famously in Nazi Germany. It’s important to note here that “most famously” should not be taken to mean “only”. I didn’t learn about it in school, but long before the rise of the Nazi party, the German empire was carrying out genocides in its African colonies in the name of eugenics, overseen in part by the father of Hermann Goering. The horrors of the Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of what went on in Nazi Germany was not particularly exceptional for imperial governments then and since. Forced sterilization, genocide, cruel and destructive medical experiments on minorities, convicts, and disabled people have happed all over the globe, both within empires, and in colonies under imperial supervision.

The United States was the first country to have official forced sterilization laws, beginning with Indiana in 1907. The practice was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1981, but it continues to be done to disabled people, and to prisoners (including disabled prisoners, in case that needed to be made clear), both in exchange for shorter sentences, and involuntarily. Further, numerous women detained by ICE have allegedly been sterilized against their will, and the report from what was supposed to be a DHS investigation into the whistleblower’s allegations just… didn’t mention the whole nonconsensual hysterectomy thing. The DHS did, however, find the time to put music to their slideshow, resulting in this deeply weird video. Given the state of the U.S. law enforcement system, I feel no worry saying that I believe the accusers, and I don’t think it’s just some kind of mistake that the DHS just happened to leave out any mention of those allegations. Supposedly they’re doing a separate thing for that, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Eugenics continues to be practiced in the United States, and I presume elsewhere, and if anything it seems to be gaining popularity in that country’s increasingly fascist right wing, with Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, being interviewed by conservative media on a fairly regular basis. Unfortunately, explicitly eugenicist actions like murder and forced sterilization are not the end of the story. That quote up at the top represents a different approach to eugenics, informed by the rather Calvinist perspective that a person’s “unfitness” could be seen in their position in life. In this view, the troubles of the poor are due to their own personal failings, which makes them both unworthy from a moral perspective, and unproductive, otherwise why would they be poor?

And so the recommendation was to deliberately engineer conditions calculated to bring about sickness and death among the poor as a means of “decreasing the surplus population”. This perspective was popular among the “elites” of the past (and I suspect of the present as well), probably because it both excused and even glorified their wealth, while blaming all problems on the poor. This concept of a “surplus population” is probably most famous in the English-speaking world as one of the reasons why Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge refused to give to charity. He preferred instead to rely on prisons and workhouses, both of which tended to have poor sanitation and lots of people crowded together, being worked hard on inadequate rations – all conditions that, to quote Robert Malthus, courted the return of the plague.

Malthus, for the unfamiliar, is probably the most famous figure in the field of freaking out about overpopulation. His book, An Essay on the Principle of Population, foretold eventual famine as a result of exponential population growth at a time when food production was only increasing in a linear fashion. His recommendations about trying to increase the death rate among the poor were a vicious and misguided attempt to prevent future famine by deliberately inflicting the conditions of famine on a politically powerless subset of the population on a more or less permanent basis. Malthus’ work is considered to be an inspiration for Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which re-invigorated the overpopulation panic in the mid to late 20th century.

Malthus taught at the East India Company College, and one of his students there was one Charles Trevelyan, who went on, in time, to become an assistant secretary to the royal treasury. In that capacity, he oversaw English aid efforts during the Great Famine in Ireland, and his opinions and policies – informed by what he learned from Malthus – are widely considered to have driven up the death toll. Of particular interest to me is his belief in the laissez-faire approach to economic governance, and his belief that if, for example, the food that was exported from Ireland throughout the famine were diverted, and the Irish were given what they needed to eat, then they might become dependent on the government. A million people died of starvation and disease (which had an easier time killing people because they were starving), in the name of the so-called Protestant work ethic, and what we now know as The Invisible Hand of the Free Market. Trevelyan was knighted for his work on famine relief.

This disdain for the poor and powerless, and this dogmatic belief that “The Market will provide” remain the governing philosophies of much of the world, and the United States in particular. It’s central to the “Welfare Queen” propaganda, and other efforts to attack social safety nets, and it plays a leading role in environmental racism and the lack of response to climate change. It’s also constantly present in arguments that support the U.S. for-profit healthcare system, and recently it has been woven into a lot of the rhetoric surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic:

It is hard not to read eugenic implications in this kind of thinking: the “herd” will survive, but for that to happen, other “weaker” members of society need to be sacrificed. And while Johnson’s right-wing political milieu is associated with the recent revival of racial science, there are no hints of a far-right conspiracy in Sweden, for example, where the centre-left government has confidently stood by the advice of the Public Health Agency, firmly opposing suppression measures.

In Norway, where the government has reluctantly embarked on several weeks of lockdown, a Norwegian Institute of Public Health director has recently said the epidemic cannot be stopped, and between 40 and 60 percent of Norway‘s population might be infected. Once many people build immunity, they can spend time with the sick without getting infected, and with people in high-risk groups without risking infecting them.

The Norwegian and Swedish states have a long history of adopting policies based on eugenics that continued well after World War II. Eugenics was deployed throughout the 20th century as a branch of scientific state management, part of a social engineering project that envisioned a society made of physically healthy and “socially fit” individuals.

It was closely associated with the development of the welfare state, and resulted in cruel practices, such as the forced sterilisation of mentally ill people.

Setting aside the long shadow of the past, it is the very argument that the economy is more important than people’s health that is based on a eugenic logic. Instead of the ethnos and the nation, we have the market that rules supreme over people’s lives, and is given the power of life and death over its subjects.

Most people who push the lie that COVID numbers are overblown, the vaccines are bad, the lockdowns are tyranny, and so on – most of those folks are conservative, and opposed to universal healthcare. Their arguments tend to revolve around “personal responsibility”, and whining about having to pay for the bad health “choices” of other people. In other words, anyone who dies because of the wealth-based rationing of the U.S. healthcare system deserved to die, and we’re better off without them. Similar arguments often come from liberal sleazebags like Bill Maher – anyone with a “pre-existing condition” is, deemed Unhealthy, in a way that makes their premature deaths irrelevant, never mind the decades of life people regularly have with said conditions.

What I didn’t expect was to see these arguments from someone claiming to be on the left, and claiming to be a standard-bearer in the fight for universal healthcare:



Note what the “point” of Dore’s clip was: the numbers are artificially inflated because out of the roughly 170,000 people in the UK whose deaths were attributed to COVID-19, only around ten percent had COVID-19 with zero comorbidities. That means, for example, that a 20 year old who is overweight and dies of COVID-19 shouldn’t count, when considering the severity of the disease, because they are overweight. Because it is “common knowledge” that being overweight shortens your life expectancy.

By a couple years.

“Extreme” obesity might shorten one’s life by as much as 14 years. Taking myself as an example – my BMI is over 40 – that would mean that at 37 years old, I should still have at least another 23 years or so in me, assuming I don’t do anything to improve my health, like exercising more.  I should also point out that it’s only in the last few years that I’ve actually gotten to the point where I consider myself pretty good at my craft, and the amount of writing I’ve been doing has been increasing in recent years, and is likely to keep increasing.

If I were to catch COVID tomorrow and die a month later, that would wipe out a majority what would have been my career as a writer, and according to Jimmy Dore and those like him, that doesn’t count.

The reality is that all diseases have a wide array of comorbidities, and they always have. There has never been a world in which a majority of the population was in “perfect health” with no conditions that might make them more vulnerable to one disease or another, and setting policies based on such a world is guaranteed to result in mass death. We haven’t even touched on things like asthma or heart problems, which can be caused or exacerbated simply by breathing the polluted air of urban and industrial environments, but the reality is that we shouldn’t have to. Even if my obesity was due to a conscious, calculated decision to sacrifice a decade of life in exchange for more General Tso’s chicken, that doesn’t amount to a conscious choice to lose three decades of life because a pandemic was badly managed.

Or because it was decided that a certain portion of the population is simply disposable:

But as a disabled, immunocompromised person, I’m haunted by how Dr. Walensky added, after explaining that over 75% of the deaths of vaccinated people from Covid have been people with four or more comorbidities, that this is “encouraging news.” This messaging–meant to encourage a return to normal and apparently meant to comfort nondisabled people–is the real sting of this constant refrain of “people with comorbidities” rhetoric. I have been told, almost daily since the earliest stages of this pandemic, that it’s only people like me that are dying, that people like me are somehow a completely acceptable sacrifice for “the economy” and a “return to normal.” What should be read as a profound failure of national policy to protect the most vulnerable among us is being repackaged as “encouraging news.”

I’m troubled by how deeply this messaging has permeated our culture. In talks with nondisabled people about how I’m still being careful, isolating and using a mask when I absolutely have to leave my home, I am gaslight by nondisabled people, who robotically repeat to me this “it’s only people with comorbidities dying” talking point. When I remind them that when they talk about people with comorbidities that they are talking about people like me, the response is predictably the same: “I wasn’t talking about you.”

But the fact that they’re not talking about me–and about us as immunocompromised and disabled people–is the problem. “People with comorbidities” is deployed to make us faceless non-people, to erase us from the conversation even when we are–in the most literal sense–the people being talked about. The rhetorical function of that word, of “comorbidities” is to erase our identities, to talk about us without talking about us. With the rhetoric of “comorbidities,” we’re not your siblings or your grandparents or your neighbors or your friends anymore. We’re statistics.

The reality of the situation is my government doesn’t care if I or other disabled, marginalized people die as long as nondisabled people can eat inside at an Applebees. We’re disposable as long as most people can continue to offer their labor (coerced by capitalism) and consumption to make the richest people a bit richer. In the push for a return to normal–a normal which already disregarded disabled people, and especially multiply marginalized disabled people–the eugenic belief that lives like mine are less worthy continues to solidify as policy, as schools and businesses reopen, as my state government here in Texas continues to stand in the way of local mandates and protections.

A versatile concept, “comorbidities,” is rhetorically deployed like the other eugenic weapons of capitalism and white supremacy, making faceless abstractions of the very people most at risk from this widely unmitigated pandemic. But framing the deaths of those with comorbidities as “encouraging news” sidesteps conversations around other prevailing injustices, including how BIPOC communities are more likely to have comorbidities because of systemic inequalities, how this pandemic has disproportionately harmed indigenous communities, and how the medical industrial complex already maligns disabled people, BIPOC folks, fat people, and LGBTQA+ kin.

Epidemics and pandemics are, pretty much by definition, a Bad Time. They bring death and fear, and have a long history of bringing societies of every kind to a grinding, painful halt. Those of us in wealthy nations are often told that we’re at or near the peak of civilization, and that all those bad things in the past don’t count because we didn’t know better, and that was so long ago. And it’s bullshit. We’ve learned enough about the world to know that things like eugenics aren’t just morally repugnant, but are also entirely without even the “practical merits” their advocates claim. What we haven’t done is change the ways in which our society incentivizes scapegoating, bigotry, and the devaluation of human life.

We are in the beginning of an era that is likely to be defined by “natural” disasters of every kind, and conditions like heat, cold, and disease outbreaks have always been used as tools of eugenics and genocide. This pandemic should open our eyes to a great many problems with the way we run things, and that definitely includes the fact that support for eugenics has never really gone away. We can’t avoid repeating the horrors of the past if we don’t change the social infrastructure that was in many cases designed to lead people towards “solutions” that involve deliberately letting people die for no good reason.

Thank you for reading. If you find my work interesting, useful, or entertaining, please share it with others, and please consider joining the group of lovely people who support me at Life costs money, alas, and owing to my immigration status in Ireland, this is likely to be my only form of income for the foreseeable future, so if you are able to help out, I’d greatly appreciate it. The beauty of crowdfunding is that even as little as $1 per month ends up helping a great deal if enough people do it. You’d be supporting both my nonfiction and my science fiction writing, and you’d get early access to the fiction.

One day more!

Another day, another post for me; this never-ending grim typography.

These words I publish every day, in hopes that someday it will pay

One day more…


Uh – so, that eugenics piece isn’t done. Weirdly, I find that difficult topics are sometimes difficult to write about, and it’s 3:30am, so I’m going to call it quits and pick it up again tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a climate scientist looking at climate change through the lens of a toilet bowl:

Yanis Varoufakis on the fall of capitalism and social democracy, and the rise of techno-feudalism

I’m working on a long-ish piece about eugenics and the pandemic, but it’s a topic I want to get as right as I can, so I want to allow another day to work on it. In the meantime, I heartily recommend this interview with Yanis Varoufakis on the state of the world:

I think his perspective is an important one to take seriously. If we are going to deal with climate change, injustice, and authoritarianism, it’s important to understand how power is currently distributed. Without that, I don’t see how we have a shot at making changes that would take wealth and power away from those who currently rule the world. This isn’t fun stuff to think about, bit it is important.

Cody’s Showdy takes a look at Biden’s first year in office

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s felt like time has been moving strangely over the last couple years. Part of my problem is that I was just getting used to life in Scotland when the pandemic hit. We had a year in some form of lockdown, and then another international move, getting used to another new country, and trying to make this blog work as a source of income (because my visa doesn’t allow me to do normal work – help out on Patreon if you can!), and then I realize that it’s been a whole year since Biden took office back in the States.

I voted for Biden, mostly because I felt that a conservative neoliberal whose primary defining features are “not Trump” and “not Bernie” would be better than the naked fascism of a second Trump term. I stand by that, but I have to admit that as low as my expectations were, Biden has disappointed me. I thought that his ego would have him actually fight for the agenda he ran on, or at least see how much he could do directly through the executive branch, but apparently even that was too much to hope for. At this point, it seems like he’s committed to handing Congress to the GOP in 2022, so that he can do nothing for the rest of his time in office, and blame them for it, and blame the left for somehow causing the Democrats to lose their elections.

As usual, Some More News has done a pretty good summary of the situation:

I’m starting to feel like the only real change we can expect from Biden’s victory is for his administration’s seemingly deliberate incompetence to convince more people that the Democratic Party is not actually on our side, and it’s not interested in the progressive policies on which it runs. The electoral process – as it currently exists in the U.S. – is something that has clearly demonstrated its inability to actually serve the people, or meet the need of our time. By all means vote, but if that’s the end of what we do, the we will never see the world we say we want. We have to build collective power so we can take control away from those who would drive us to extinction.

Terrifying Tuesday: The Military-Industrial complex

It’s easy, when looking at the scale of what’s happening to the climate, and forget that there are other problems that are nearly as big as the climate crisis, and that could be just as hard – or harder – to deal with. The “Military-Industrial Complex”, along with its attendant “Military-Entertainment Complex” is a massive conglomeration of entities that profit from war both directly and indirectly. I would say that if there’s a unifying mission for this Complex, it is the maintenance of capitalist supremacy, and the obscene power and profit that comes with that.

What makes this terrifying is that as a group, these are people who traffic in death, terror, and manipulation to achieve their ends, and I personally see no reason to think that they would limit themselves to atrocities outside the U.S.. As grim as it sounds, one of the advantages of a movement that doesn’t rely on charismatic leaders is that it’s harder to stop the movement by assassinating said leaders. We have to take power away from the most powerful – and most murderous – people on the planet. I don’t know how to do that, but I also don’t know how to deal with things like the climate crisis without doing it. Fortunately, another advantage of a truly democratic movement is that it doesn’t rely on the ideas of any one person. If we do it right, we’ll have countless minds bringing all their diverse training and ability to the task, and that’s no trivial power.

Moody Monday: The emotional cost of climate change.

It’s often difficult for me to gauge what “the general public” is thinking about stuff like climate change. That said, I do get the feeling that a lot of people have begun to accept that we’ve failed the first “test” of climate change. It’s too late to avoid large, abrupt changes to how we live, and everyone in power seems dedicated to convincing us all that good changes are possible. We don’t live in a society that encourages real hope or real empowerment for the population. It’s a lot to cope with, and given that humanity has never faced a crisis like the climate chaos we’re causing, I guarantee that nobody will have all the answers. These are uncharted waters, and the best we can do is look out for each other, learn from each other. Psychology isn’t necessarily their area of expertise, but climate scientists do have a great deal of experience in confronting the scale of this crisis, and finding ways to keep on keeping on.

Leaping Larvae! A new insect jumping technique has been discovered!

It’s a problem we’ve all faced – what do we do when we need to hurl ourselves through the air, but we’re too squidgy to pull off the latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism that all the cool bugs are using? Well, whether or not you wanted an answer to that question, you now have one, and in my opinion it’s pretty neat:

While there are other insect species that are capable of making prodigious leaps, they rely on something called a “latch-mediated spring actuation mechanism.” This means that they essentially have two parts of their body latch onto each other while the insect exerts force, building up a significant amount of energy. The insect then unlatches the two parts, releasing all of that energy at once, allowing it to spring off the ground.

“What makes the L. biguttatus so remarkable is that it makes these leaps without latching two parts of its body together,” Bertone says. “Instead, it uses claws on its legs to grip the ground while it builds up that potential energy — and once those claws release their hold on the ground, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, launching it skyward.”

The discovery of the behavior was somewhat serendipitous. Bertone had collected a variety of insect samples from a rotting tree near his lab in order to photograph them when he noticed that these beetle larvae appeared to be hopping.
“The way these larvae were jumping was impressive at first, but we didn’t immediately understand how unique it was,” Bertone says. “We then shared it with a number of beetle experts around the country, and none of them had seen the jumping behavior before. That’s when we realized we needed to take a closer look at just how the larvae was doing what it was doing.”

To determine how L. biguttatus was able to execute its acrobatics, the researchers filmed the jumps at speeds of up to 60,000 frames per second. This allowed them to capture all of the external movements associated with the jumps, and suggested that the legs were essentially creating a latching mechanism with the ground.

The researchers also conducted a muscle mass assessment to determine whether it was possible for the larvae to make their leaps using just their muscles, as opposed to using a latch mechanism to store energy. They found that the larvae lacked sufficient muscle to hurl themselves into the air as far or as fast as they had been filmed jumping. Ergo, latching onto the ground was the only way the larvae could pull off their aerial feats.

It’s not something I spend a lot of time looking for, but it always cheers me up to learn about a moment when a bunch of scientists said, “wait – that shouldn’t be possible!” and then went about figuring out why it is possible. I don’t generally think of beetle grubs as particularly acrobatic creatures, but apparently I misjudged them. When life gives you lemons, latch on to them with your little claws and fling yourself into the void.

Scifi Saturday: Lights in a Dark Pool

The room was small, and it smelled of salt water and bleach. As she stood in the doorway, Caroline heard the gentle slosh of waves lapping against the walkway that went around the interior of the building. Similar walkways were layered above her, each with their own set of rooms. Some of the other residents were using their walkways as balconies, their voices a dull murmur in the dim light. Music echoed sadly around the dim, watery courtyard. Someone started shouting, and Caroline tensed, then took a deep breath. Different place, different people, nobody here knew her well enough to shout at her like that. She glanced back, then stepped into her new home and closed the door.


The murmured conversations, the shouting, the music, the water – all cut off in an instant. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders holding on to it by one strap. The crisp breeze from the central AC vent slowly brought her out of the haze of travel as she looked around her room.

A small bed was fixed to the wall about one meter below the ceiling, with a ladder going up to it. Underneath it was a simple desk and a chair. The desk was no more than a flat surface with a softly glowing screen built into it. The small latch at the front edge told her it could flip up. The rubberized hinges near the wall told her what she already knew – this room was expected to flood sometimes. Bookshelves, cabinets, lights, and power sockets were all at shoulder height or above. In the corner opposite the bed was a small shower stall, with a squat toilet for a drain, and a fold-out sink that emptied into the same. The door behind her had a fingerprint lock already tuned to her, and a deadbolt she could throw from the inside. A small screen gave her a view of the walkway outside her door, and the dark pool of the “courtyard” beyond it.

Caroline took a deep breath, a smile tugging at her lips. It was hers. For as long as she wanted it, this sad little room, and its wonderful silence were hers. She stretched up to hang her backpack on a hook at the top of the door, and walked over to the bed’s ladder. It was cold to the touch, but completely solid. It didn’t shift or even creak as she climbed up it and lay on the bed. If she reached up, her fingertips touched the ceiling. There was a socket and a couple holes where she could hang her own display screen if she wanted one she could look at while lying in bed. That was high on her list of things to get, once she had money.

Had she ever tried to sleep in a place this quiet? It seemed like the gentle rumble of the train from Indiana, and the murmur of other passengers was the nearest thing to the silence that rang in her ears that first night. In the end, she clambered off the bunk, and used the console in her new desk to bring up the noisemaker she’d used at night to drown out her family’s shouting and shows. It brought bad memories, but then it brought sleep.

Caroline’s alarm woke her at 7am, and hunger kept her from the temptation to sleep in. She slid down from the bed, and took down her backpack to dig out a food bar. She took a big bite and chewed it as she filled her water cup at the tap, and dropped a caffeine tablet in it. The cup fizzed softly as she set it on the desk, and began digging supplies out of her bag. When she left her parents’ house she brought paints, a couple blank canvas boards, and five finished paintings. She swallowed, and took another bite. The bar was bland. A little salty, a little starchy, a little oily. She folded the wrapper over the end of the bar, and sat at the desk, putting a blank canvas board and stared at it. She washed down the food with a swig of sparkling, bitter-sweet caffeine tonic and let her mind wander.

She hadn’t said goodbye. Did she regret that? Caroline wasn’t sure. She’d left a note, and gotten out of their lives like they’d always said she could, if she had a problem. No need to look back. The train from Indiana had been a smooth ride, but cold compared to the heat to which she was accustomed. As the train neared the east coast, New York’s famous clouds had set in, and the world seemed chilly and gray. The warm humidity and salt air of the city had been an encouraging welcome as she left the train. The residence office was in the train station, and her trip from there to the public housing complexes had been short, and mostly indoors. She’d only caught the occasional glimpse of the canals that criss-crossed the city. The blank canvas remained blank. She took another swig of tonic and got up.

Time for a run. Her clothes weren’t ideal, but they were what she had right now. She left her room and walked to the monitor desk. Every floor had someone keeping an eye on the public spaces. Right now it was a young woman with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.

“Um, hi.”

The woman looked up from her tablet.


“Is…” Talking was hard. “Sorry, I’m new here. Is there somewhere I could run?”


“As in, go for a run? For exercise? Maybe some kind of footpath or something? Foot dock?”

“Oh.” The woman looked at the air above Caroline’s head, then at the gently rippling water beside them. “Yeah. Causeway two floors up. Moving walkways if you’re in a hurry, normal flooring if you’re not. Watch out for people getting on and off. Design’s not great so people run into each other sometimes if it’s busy. ‘Specially new people.” She shrugged, as if in apology.

“Thanks,” said Caroline. “The elevator’s that tube near the end of the hall?” She gestured to where she’d come in the night before.

“The lift. Yeah.”

“Ok. Ok, thanks again.” Caroline turned to go, then paused. “Uh, hey what’s your name?”

“Maud. I’m here sometimes. Schedule isn’t regular but you’ll see me around.”

“I’m Caroline. Thanks for your help, it was nice to meet you.”

“Nice t’meet you.” Maud glanced up, making brief eye contact. “Welcome t’New York.”


Caroline waved at Maud, who was already staring at her tablet again, and walked down the hall to the lift. Made a kind of sense that someone working a job like that wouldn’t be very talkative. The causeway was a long, echoing hall that stretched off out of sight along the Broadway Canal in both directions. A sparse, but steady stream of people glided past on the moving walkway, with rather fewer using the stationary paths on either side. The people didn’t look any different from those she’d grown up around in Terre Haute, except that she wasn’t seeing any of the heavy tans she was used to. New York’s famous clouds brought famous rain, and most of the population spent most of their lives indoors, it seemed. The glass wall across from where she exited the lift overlooked the canal, the view occasionally blocked by vines growing down the walls of the building. She waited for a gap in commuters, and then scampered across the causeway to peer out the windows. A few locals gave her a funny look, but she ignored them and pressed her face and hands against the warm glass.

Where Terre Haute had pulled back from the rising seas, put up levees, and kept its feet dry, New York City had done some re-engineering of its buildings and sewers, and then let the water take the streets, until the Island of Manhattan became a humid archipelago of buildings, many covered in dripping plants. The water below reflected the ever-gray sky, rippled by the occasional drop of water, falling leaf, or fish pushing at the surface. To the north, almost out of sight, she could see a rowboat crossing the canal, and as she peered down red light caught her eye. A small submersible drone was slowly gliding below the surface, a red light blinking on its back at regular intervals. Behind it drifted what appeared to be a net full of bits of garbage. She’d always heard the canals were kept clean, apparently this was how.

The Terre Haute Harbor wasn’t exactly filthy, but most folks didn’t swim in it. Apparently New Yorkers were in and out of the water all the time. Following the blinking red light with her eyes, Caroline caught glimpses through the surface as ripples reflected the shadowed walls of the buildings, rather than the gray sky. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom, some ten or fifteen meters below the surface. She thought she could see fish, but it was hard to tell. If they were there, they blended in with the bottom of the canal, which combined with the reflected sky to render them almost invisible.

A jogger passed by, reminding her of why she was there. Turning from the canal, she looked up and down the causeway. Rather than cross the moving walkways again, she started jogging slowly with the flow of traffic. The unmoving section she was on had a shiny surface, but it had a subtle give to it. Every impact of her feet was just a little lighter than she expected. Without thinking, she picked up her pace, running lightly down the seemingly endless causeway.

The commuters streamed by on one side, and the canal on the other, as Caroline lost herself in the rhythm of her feet and her breathing. She ran in a meditative state until a sudden change in the light caused her to look around, and then the smell of food caused her to stop.

The causeway had taken a slow turn to the left, running through one of Manhattan’s massive skyscrapers. The entire floor had been turned into a food court. Chairs and tables filled the space next to the causeway, and behind them food stalls offered a variety of foods. After the blandness of her food bar, it felt like her sense of smell was heightened. When she reached the first booth, she confirmed what her nose had told her. Pieces of chicken, starched and deep fried, glazed with an orange-golden sauce that seemed to be glowing softly under the food court’s warm lighting. The tangy, sweet smell made her mouth water as she stared at the food.

“What can I get for you?”

Caroline jumped, and stared at the man behind the counter. He was watching her with a raised eyebrow, and the tight lips of someone suppressing a grin. She felt her face flush.

“I don’t haveanymoney,” she explained as she charged away. She eagerly sought that trance she’d been in before, but was distracted by the intrusive image of herself, looming over the food, mouth slightly agape, completely oblivious to the person on the other side of the counter.

She decided to focus on her surroundings. Having left the food court and its tower, she once again had a long glass wall to her right. As she ran, the view alternated between thick mats of vine, and the damp, plant-covered buildings across the canal. She ran through another building, this one with a café and lounge, and emerged to find that the window was on the other side of the causeway. In place of the glimpses of New York City, she had a long wall of artwork.

Caroline slowed, and stopped, looking at a pattern of solid black vertical columns and flowing colors. She walked on, and the flowing colors twisted together, ever tighter, until they became brightly colored cords of rope forming a mesh around the columns, which then began to take on colors of their own. The work of different artists took over as she walked, and the columns and rope mesh merged together into a glowing animation of countless people and machines re-enforcing and rebuilding the foundations of the columns, now revealed as towers. The tiny animated workers and machines got onto a broad flat structure, and floated up as the canal barriers were lowered, and the sea flowed in. A glorious sunset reflected on the waters of the canal and the windows of Manhattan’s towers, and the video looped back and began again. Next came an impressionistic painting of clouds partly covering the sun, and those same towers falling under a shadow, with the last rays of sunlight landing on the waters outside the city.

Running forgotten, Caroline kept walking, following as the history of the city was passed off from one artist to the next, through the attempt to re-impose the ancient empire, to the revolution that ended the Redwater Occupation, to the rise of the New Guilds and the arrival of the Fae, and…

And she had reached the present. A wizened old man stood on an elevated platform, ignoring the world as he worked with bright metal wires that flowed from the metallic detailing of the previous piece. Caroline’s eyes wandered across the man’s project. A long section of wall was covered in complex engraved patterns. The artist was laying copper, gold, and silver wires into the engravings, filling in the patterns with different colors, revealing the larger picture. History was being recorded before her eyes; New York as it existed in the present, laid out in shining wire patterns. It was a story that she couldn’t see, because it was still being written.

And she was part of it now.

She watched the man inlaying wire for a time, then turned and walked back the way she came. There weren’t enough people for it to matter that she was walking in the “wrong” direction. Even so, she almost ran into a couple other people as she followed the mural back in time. She passed the beginning and kept walking, lost in thought until the smell hit her again. The food court had desserts, sandwiches, wraps, soup, noodles, and half a dozen other things, but the smell that hit her first was that same orange chicken. She looked up,  stumbled backward, and fell over.

The man from the food court was standing over her, eyebrow raised even higher, and his grin now unrestrained. He was holding a tray.

“I saw you coming back. You don’t need money at food courts. They’re covered by the city so people who don’t have money aren’t just stuck with food bars. I’m Mick”

He set the tray on a table next to him and offered Caroline a hand. She took it, and bounced to her feet.

“Caroline thank,” said Caroline. “I mean, thanks. I’m Caroline I didn’t know. I’m new in town anduh…”

“Yeah, that was kinda clear. Where are you from?” He sat down at the table with her, and pushed the tray towards her. She began eating.

“Ar’hm fom Turhote.”

“What brought you east?”

She swallowed.

“Don’t want to talk about it.”

He nodded and stood.

“If you have any questions about the city, I’m here about half the week.”


He went back to his food stand, leaving Caroline with her meal. The chicken tasted as good as it had smelled, and came with broccoli and salty stir-fried noodles. As she ate, she looked around the food court. There were windows overlooking the canals, farther from the causeway. About halfway between causeway and window was a column of stone and moss that had water trickling down from the top, near the ceiling. As she watched, lights embedded in the “stone” glowed and faded, making the whole fountain sparkle like something from a cartoon. She watched it, mesmerized, as she ate. She placed her tray in one of the tubs set out for that purpose, and went back to Michael’s counter.

“Hey look, sorry for cutting you off, I just…”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“How often can we get a meal at places like this?”

“Once per day, though I don’t recommend eating orange chicken every day.”

Caroline rolled her eyes.

“About that mural thing.”

“The story of Manhattan?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Also the fountain.”

“The fount-”

“How do artists get money here?”

“Ah.” Michael scratched his chin. “I honestly have no idea, but I have a friend who might? Check back tomorrow, and I’ll let you know when Roark has time for a chat.”

“Oh, that’s great! Thanks Michael, and thank your friend in advance when you talk to them. It’s lovely to have all the food and shelter I need, but…”

Michael gave her a crooked grin.

“But the guaranteed food is boring as hell, and you need resources for your art?”

“It’s like you know artists!”

“And I’ve lived in places similar to where you probably are right now. They put you at water level?”

Caroline nodded. “Pretty close.”

“It won’t flood. It hasn’t in decades and they say the water has begun to fall.” He pulled a pendant out of his shirt; a stylized combination of sun and moon, with three stars above them. “And when the waters fall enough, the clouds will fade away, and we’ll get to see the sky again.”

“Oh!” She glanced out the window, and back at Michael’s pendant, as he tucked it into his shirt again. “Yeah, I’d heard about that, and I’ve seen it now, of course. I never even thought about what it might be like to live with only clouds!”

“You get used to it. Maybe that’s why we’ve got so much other stuff going on.”

“Like the art?”

“Like the art.”

Caroline stepped back as a couple customers came in from the causeway, and Michael served them. As they left, Caroline returned to the counter.

“I should get home and figure out what to do next. I’ll check back tomorrow?”

“Sounds good. I’ll do my best to have an answer for you for when Roark can talk to you.”

“Thanks again, for the food and for the help!”

“I like it here, and I want everyone else to like it here too.” Michael waved at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”


Caroline walked back to the causeway, and spotted a tall man emerging from a small lift. The sign next to it made clear that this was a place to cross under the causeway. She turned and found the lift on her side. She crossed and resumed her run, jogging back to her new home.

To be continued…

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