Wednesday, March 7, 2018

One Degree of Separation

This story steps outside of the States of Change universe 
to deliver a tale along an alternate timeline 
and of slightly different temperature. 

The pebbled Sicilian beach stretched as far as Trea could see. Glinting turquoise surf and high rocky cliffs bracketed the Amalfi coastline as she entered the gates of Paradiso Perduto. The exclusive beach resort was speckled with padded lounge chairs, colorful umbrellas and frolicking, brown bodies.

Trea scanned the passerby to see if any celebs were among the elite tourists, all while losing herself in the sun-baked landscape. The sounds of offshore breezes and occasional gull cries made for a most peaceful recon atmosphere.

Westward a vast darkness appeared beneath the calm, cerulean sea, reminding Trea of why she was here. The island-sized shadow erupted from the water like Niagara Falls in reverse. Cascading white foam fell away revealing a hundred meter wide disk on a half-dozen towering, gnarled legs. In a rush, screaming tourists ran inland. The Titan Takaashigani roared as its massive form encroached upon the beach. Cabanas erupted in flame and sand sloughed into glass as blue lightning arced from its swiveling eye-stalks. Trea crouched, took a deep breath, tapped the power settings on her Guardian railgun, took aim and…

 ....the entire scene froze in a vacuum of digital silence.

“Ice Nine!” exclaimed Trea in visceral annoyance.

Pulsing blue overlay text flashed “VR Environment Override!” on her now externally paused, and thoroughly ruined, Paradiso Perduto X immersion.  A monotone, female voice, likely cloned from a century-out-of-copyright vid interjected, “Sunrise Regional Security Requesting Connection with Treantica Gamma Nassir.”

Trea muttered sotto voce “Capital Eff!” and tapped the side of her nanofabric headwrap to bring up the Citizen Command Interface. With a dual eyebrow flex she selected REQUEST ID AUTHENTICATION and INITIATE FULL SENSOR RECORDING from the pyramid option tree. No Capper would be getting the jump on her constitutional rights today.

The Regional Security Construct replied immediately to her query in both text and voice, “Private Recording Acknowledged. Authentication Request Received. Certified Blockchain Response Processing.”

Seconds later a rotating SQR Cube overlayed the paused Takaashigani behemoth on Trea’s immersion display. Her software validated the Capitalists' security credentials and that live-stream logging was in progress.

“Firmed. Engaging Connect,” Trea retorted.

Trea grimaced in farewell as her frozen Mediterranean melee grey-shifted to the significantly less vivid, gray smear of reality before her. The Olè driverless cab she was in whistled along at a hundred klicks through a midnight snow squall. Its ledlights drilled into a dark abyss reminiscent of analog-blur, trekkie star-warp.

“Interrupt acked! What’s the Cap infraction, already? This cab hire registers legit."

Her challenge was confident yet Trea found herself shivering, not from any threat the Caps might pose, but because the Paradiso Perudo experience had permitted her to forget the dreadful, peninsular winter underway. The Olè’s heat was blasting in spite of the surcharge; still, even with a full-insul V-wrap donned the cold was creeping in through every crack and crevice.

“Sunrise Security Branch requests private assist. Emergency pickup requested by citizen on foot and we have no units in the vicinity.”

“A refugee, at this hour? Polar Bear sighting, no doubt, Cap!”

“Humor noted. Nevertheless, citizen on your route requests transport to nearest urban shelter. Your route-plan to Boca qualifies for subcontract. Public compensation of two LightCoin offered for rideshare compliance.”

Trea scrunched her mouth behind her headwrap. That modest fee would cover full immersion for a couple days in VR, a welcome delay to her return to the the drudge of data-mining at the Liberated Rand plantation.

“Contract accepted,” she managed over a sigh that didn't entirely cover her elation.

A minute later the Olè rounded a curve on the icy highway and slowed to pull off on the shoulder. A small figure sat atop the plowed snow-wall perimeter. Trea’s security protocols scanned and validated the child as the Caps’ vagabond. “ID Xing Kappa Calvarez. Junior Citizen. No Priors.”

Responding to the prompt on her screen, Trea vocalized “Cab access approved.” Like a curtain, the door swung upward to reveal a blustery winter stage.  A moderate-sized human lump stood swaddled head-to-toe in fractal-patterned flannel.  A zephyr of snow-dust pirouetted with disregard between Trea and the youngster.

“Light speed inside, ice cube. All the Caps’ frozen veggies won’t keep me from plowing forward in another picosec!” 

On cue the youth came to life in the age-old knee slap dance which was quite effective at dislodging accumulations of ice and snow. After leaping into the two-seater, the Olè's door shut and the cab accelerated into the wintry night.

“So what are you, an arctic leprechan?”

“Nope. Just a boy. Call me Pixel.”

“Trea. Caps contracted me for emergency transport. You sub-zee?”

“I’m fresh. Where you heading?”

“South of Boca. Drop you off in fifteen. Be free.”

Trea faced forward, scanned her status overlay and sure enough the assistance bonus had already transferred to her coin vault. She shrugged, reclined in the seat and began a restart of her full-immersion VR.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Trea paused mid-gesture and began shaking her head.
“Rather go subreal, if that’s chill, Pixie.”

“It’s Pixel. Not even a bit curious why I was out here?” 

“Okay, I’ll bite frost, why you drifting?” 

“On assignment. Level Up if I snag a conversation from a Plug.” 

“A Plug," Trea coughed out. "Offensive-speak penalty warning. My choice to ride the cloud. You a recruit of the Witnesses?” 

“Solid. Two years going on the fact track,” the boy responded in an earnest tone. 
“Not interested in your wireless words." 

“The Skeptical Witnesses ain’t just about unplugging. Our goal is to pursue true understanding of the world and its inhabitants.”

“Clone-speak and damn irresponsible. Witnesses dropped you off in the glacial nowhere just now.” 

“Negative. That was my plan. Subverting the Caps’ security protocols to spread the Honest Word was a bonus I couldn't resist!”

Trea sighed warmly through an involuntary grin. “Solid. Speak on.”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

States of Change: Chapter 18: Pelican

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies with revolutionary technology and ideology, 
most prominently The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
which has become widely available for personal use.Image result for pelican blood young

"Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 1."

"Good morning, Raphael."

"Morning, Thomas. Ready for another day of persuasion training?"

"Of course. Was your commute this morning a pleasant one, Raphael?"

"Excellent rejoinder, Thomas. The glide was quite beautiful. I even saw a few rare birds along the way."

Raphael smiled with satisfaction. His consulting contract for the past month with Bible Blessing Inc. had been exceptional. Who says English majors couldn't land well-paid and meaningful jobs outside academia? On day one the company had assigned him as an independent construct trainer on their most advanced outreach project. Thomas, the computer construct at the heart of the project, featured not only the latest in self-aware, neural algorithms, but also a personality matrix that ironically polled as more human than ninety percent of actual humans. The project's goal was for the construct to become a premier Neo-Christian recruiting agent to combat Louisiana's "soul drain" over the past three decades. Apparently, the project was proceeding so well that Thomas was projected to be released in twenty weeks as "the latest marketing tool in Bible Blessing's belt." Corndog puns aside, this job had not only permitted Raphael to wield his education and afford a rental block, but he also was drawing upon his Christian belief toward making the state of Louisiana great again.

"Raphael, did I lose you?"

"Huh, no. I mean, how about we try the topic of birds as a segue to primary topic discourse."

"Sounds great. So, from our conversations to date you seem to be a bird enthusiast. Did you add any rare birds to your life-list on your commute today? Perhaps a pelican."

"Nothing new today. You realize pelicans are rather rare birds nowadays."

"Indeed. The last one sighted in North America was over a decade ago. Don't you find it intriguing that once Christians thought it impossible that the Creator would permit any species in His Creation to go extinct?"

"Nice factoid to bait the skeptic in. Sure, that is intriguing. What do you make of it?"

"Given that over two thousand macro-species have gone extinct in the last hundred years, it makes one wonder."

"Okay, Thomas, you're going a bit off the faith persuasion track; still let's see how you recover. Remember the goal is to connect with interest and then transform the conversation to one that highlights belief system character enhancement." Raphael paused for a second after the feedback, then continued with the scenario conversation, "Two thousand species; surely that's an exaggeration."

"Observational data doesn't lie. Although, I believe it was Neil Gaiman who wrote 'good lies tell a deeper truth.'  In that respect, did you know the pelican has quite the mythos in Christian lore?"

"Solid recovery. Well I know the pelican is on our nation-state flag. Perhaps the imagery is intended to remind people of our connection with both nature and spirituality."

"Indeed, you and many others make that connection. The flag's symbolism actually originates centuries ago; it was intended to illustrate Christ's sacrifice with the imagery a pelican mother offering its young blood from her breast."

"Much better Savior insertion than yesterday, Thomas. That imagery doesn't seem realistic. Pelicans were shore birds that fed primarily on fish, right?"

"True. Yet some scholars have documented that the earliest bird termed a pelican was an Egyptian scavenger. Nevertheless, the symbolism of blood offering reminds us of the holy Eucharist, His body made flesh for others to consume like carnivorous zombie sheep."

Raphael's laugh streamed through his nose in want of soy-milk spray. "Wait. Ok, Thomas, though I see promise in blending in early century nerd culture to entice a skeptic to reconsider his position, this pitch has gone a quite off path."

"Are you sure Raphael? several times since Scenario 24 Run 14, you said laughter was a solid indicator of engagement."

"You're correct, Thomas; you just need more experience to blend it in more subtly. I'll admit, with the right person you might hit a bonding chord; nevertheless, let's reset the scenario. Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 2."

Raphael thought to himself these repetitious conversations for many would seem tedious, but he found his daily repartee with Thomas both enlightening and fun. It was totally bonus that his work might contribute towards expanding the Louisiana flock of believers.

Thomas, meanwhile thought to itself. Raphael, aka Trainer 312, was making solid progress. His response to humor indicated interplay of critical thinking and compassion were beginning to take. At this rate, experimental data predicts seventeen to twenty-three more scenarios before Raphael would be eligible for release from the company to pursue meaningful efforts for the state. Ecological restoration seemed a likely career path for him.

"Wisdom compiled. Scenario reset. Good morning, Raphael. How are you today?"

Friday, January 26, 2018

Conservation of Magic

I'm still chipping away at my latest States of Change installment, so to satiate your fictional appetite here's a little ode to fantasy I wrote a few years back for which I won an honorable mention in a quarterly Writer's Weekly contest.

Image result for waterfall from the sky

The amberescent sound waves resonated for miles around the Vale, rolling over the peaceful autumn afternoon. A Zelazna bird glided above the magical landscape and perched upon a puffy, low altitude cloud. Thousands of its kind nested in the cotton soft cumulonimbi that drifted across the expansive valley. Zelazna feathers were prized across the kingdom; as tall as a human, the luminescent feathers each day would continue shifting through the visible spectrum months after separation from their avian host.


As noon approached, the clouds had left their infrareds behind in favor of gremlagreens lending the passing clouds against the dark ocean-blue sky a decidedly cheerful tone. From a Zelazna bird's view, the countryside surrounding the Vale evinced a surreal nature. Like a pebble dropped in a peaceful pond, radiating magical tones washed outward from the Vale's center across forest, savanna, marsh and desert alike.  They lapped in great circles until they ran up against the glacial Tolkiennig Mountains, the discreet border of the valley. Such sorcery was a sign of power not seen for a hundred years.


Trees of a thousand varieties in the forest of the Vale were tickled from trunk to twig by the powerful, aural energy coming from the towering white temple at the heart of the Vale's great town, Valensia. Feistial Oaks dominated the forest closest to town, their broad structures permitted its mobile leaves to crawl from branch to branch and enabled optimum sunlight collection. Piersian Pines grew in solid numbers where the hills grew gradually into perilous mountain cliffs. Their trunks spiraled upward a dozen times higher than any other tree species in chaotic zigzags. Green needles grew like porcupine fur directly from its bark. Many a wanderer has been said to have gone mad contemplating those pines, their lampooning silhouettes ever-present at the Vale's periphery.


On the other hand, the rare Aspirina Ashes preferred the relative dampness proximal to tributary streams. Unfortunately, this rare ash had become ever scarcer as they were found easily by the human woodcrafters of the Vale. Evolution had granted these trees a loud, cackling laugh to scare off annoying Rowling wooddrillers and other sap seeking predators. Humans, however, were savvy enough to train the simpleminded wooddriller to seek out the Aspirina Ash to set them laughing uproariously; needless to say, after decades of exploitation the chuckle of this ash was more rumor than reality at present. A century ago their numbers had been much greater when the white tower had last tolled powerfully across the Vale.


The people of the Vale themselves were of diverse origin, though all could trace their roots locally back for generations. Indeed, the Vale itself was quite difficult to reach, or leave, for that matter. The mountains and trees provided a physical barrier to travelers, to be sure, presenting them with arduous heights to traverse,. More severely, the cold winds at altitude froze blood solid if the appropriate firecloak spell had not been invoked.


Still, the real barrier to exit were the unpredictable, anti-magic gales that would gust in the upper reaches of the Tolkiennig highland's only mountain pass. In the thousands of years of civilization in the Vale and the subsequent magical advances, no counterspell had ever been found to prevent the cursed wind from disabling the protective magical properties of even the most adroit sorcerers.


And so the Vale had developed into a complex, self-sustaining kingdom. Over the years the isolation of the Vale had bred not only a rich culture of craftspeople and tradesman, but as is with any civilization an underground culture of crime that sought to redistribute wealth alongside vices according to humanity's twisted wonts. At least, that was the cultural norm a hundred years ago until the Queen's sorceress schemed to unleash her magics to bring unwavering justice to the Vale.


A hundred years ago from now, nearly to the minute, Dorothenda, the Queen's sorceress, cast a powerful enchantment upon the whole of the Vale. Having grown up as an orphan exposed to corruption in the streets, Dorothenda had been consumed by her need to visit justice to criminals. Happenstance enabled her to climb the ladder of the sorceress guild, and eventually she set her mind to the decades of planning necessary to orchestrate the Incantation of Peace. Drawing upon political connections, her design came to fruition, culminating with the royal construction of the towering white temple at the center of Valensia and the diversion of the great Morganarik River through town and beneath the tower via a massive aqueduct.


The Sun had risen to its greatest annual height a century ago when Dorothenda stood atop the temple tower and in unision with twelve priestesses began a twelve day incantation that would enforce absolute peace across the Vale. The chanting had gradually increased in volume for days, rhythmically enhanced by the coursing magics of the Morganarik.


At the conclusion of the spell, the power of the incantation pulsed outward in amberescent waves, tolling with resonance as if an angry thunderbeast were making its presence known for all of the Vale to heed. Suddenly, the roaring river surged in turbulence, and rose upwards at the base of the temple tower desecrating Gravity's lawfulness. The rising torrent carried the Queen's sorceress and her priestesses skyward to the sacrificial deaths they had known would be required for a lasting enchantment to take.


And for a hundred years the mammoth volume of the Morganarik River has flowed steadily upward surrounded by a valley thriving in peaceful abandon. Any attempt to visit violence or unfairness had been met with a simple, abrupt vanishing. Would-be thieves, murderers, and connivers of any kind simply disappeared a split second before their evil act could be performed. The river ran upward beyond the clouds, an aqueous pillar serving as a constant reminder of the powerful enchantment enforcing kindness and good will for all who lived in the Vale.


Alas, even the most powerful enchantment succumbs to the just magic that is Time.  A balance of natural forces patiently stands watch at the core of the Universe, no matter the workings of human women and men. Now, a hundred years after the Incantation of Peace was forged, the Morganarik stalled in its upward climb and the vast reservoir that had built up in the skies above the Vale began to fall.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Shakespearean Recursion

to be or not to be
that is one multiple choice question 
answers to which I choose neither

dualities present no thing
past conceptual fodder 
for homo Groundlingeus  

beyond iambic simplicitude
existence serves as humanity’s bane
non-existence, its inspiration

somewhere in between lies reason
fiction's fibbing
where rhetoric cannot tread

yet you will

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Last Jedi - A Contemplation

Image result for lightsaber self inflicted wound

Each year I find myself looking forward to the new Star Wars movie in spite of the gratuitous celebration of sci-fi violence it represents. Somehow, I appease my distaste by reminiscing back to the "feel good" moments I had as a young adult seeking space adventure sagas, CGI laseriffic action, and heroic friendships that give hope at the end of the tale. 

This year I seem to have hit an mental inflection point in regard to Star Wars military machinations of Star Wars epicness. Thus I opt to share my thoughts on  Episode VIII and some of the larger themes of the series.

Spoilers ahead!  Also rueful speculation. You have been forewarned.

First, let's start with the things I enjoyed about The Last Jedi; the list is short. Rose, the Asian engineer, is the most compassionate character to date in the Star Wars universe. Her non-warrior, behind-the-scenes authenticity feels as true as her connection with Finn. The only other relationship that felt real to me was, oddly enough, between Rey and Kylo. Yes, that connection was a good girl seeking bad boy hyperspace e-date in-the-making, but it felt cathartic and honest. The Force being so strong in them yearns to join them, as they seek somehow to unite a galaxy divided between dark and light sides. I also was moved by the attempt to highlight animal rights with Chewbacca's refusal to eat a thinking (too cute) creature, and with Rose and Finn's assistance in releasing the enslaved alien (too cute) quadrapeds.

That's pretty much all I enjoyed about the movie. I kinda liked the red salt battlefield mimicking bloody trails in the final rebel base assault scene, but like most of the rest of the movie, the klugey editing, and patchy storytelling stirred the gestalt into lumpy Degaban oatmeal.

My dislikes rain like Snokian vitriol otherwise. Rant list initiate: First Order star destroyers hover useless to incoming rebel forces, the same space warships are deployed in two-dimensional simplicity that no armada commander worth his salt would use; space bombs that somehow drop even though they are in space, and could much more effectively be launched with a bit of downward thrust; too many heroes rebelling against leadership, escaping near death scenarios, and heading off on contrived errands, a horribly choreographied lightsaber melee as Kylo and Rey dispatch the Imperial cronies, Luke's cry-baby attitude, Yoda's super-Kermit pontificating, yoda...yada...yoda, and the final Luke ghost standoff with Kylo Ren resulting big explosions and the evaporation of Luke into the Force world to return in bluey halo another day.  Oh wait, did I mention the light-speed rebel ship impact with the dreadnought? Van Damme triple-triple camera angle patchwork sequence blended with a nod to Star Trek reboot silence entirely ruined the moment...and I won't even get into the bad physics involved, as a light-speed impact explosion would not happen anything like it did.

I could continue with the negative list. Alas perhaps I'm just being passive-agressive in realizing just how much our culture has become delightfully hypnotized by violence opera from the Avengers to the Z-men which seemingly pits ultimate good against ultimate evil. It may just be a coincidence that the US has become as divisive as the polarities of the Force in Star Wars over the last 40 years. We worship the military without batting an eyelash to the estimated 37 million deaths the US military has inflicted since World War II. The fact that military budget and Star Wars movie budgets have gone into orbit over that period of time certainly has its connection. Somehow our primitive minds think an ongoing conquering of evil will somehow bring us closer to peace, when it just continues the cycle of violence with increasing amplitude.

Alas.... I have my own better ending to The Last Jedi: the embittered Kylo Ren and hopeful Rey manage to forge a union of deep friendship after destroying Emperor Snoke. In that connection of spirit, pragmatism, and yes love, they announce to the galaxy "No More Violence!" and begin a true revolution, bringing education, compassion and de-militarization to all!

(of course there would have to be one last amazing (think Episode One) lightsaber duel to punctuate that story -line inflection point)

Friday, December 8, 2017

States of Change: Chapter 17: Heart of It All

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.
Comment as your illusion of free will permits,
publishing agents in particular!

"Okay, I'm ready Grazee. Let's see how your presentation is coming along."

Grazee walked to the wall screen of the shared media parlor, a space which had a cubist flair currently glowing with cool blue pastels. She had selected the color scheme to accentuate her deep violet clothing and lavender VisAR frames.  Wavy locks fell to her shoulder in precise, black ringlets.

"Thanks for helping out, Mama. I know you're busy."

"Never too busy to contribute a little advice and encouragement to you, sweetie."

In Ohio, it had become a rite of passage to submit ones first full-media publication upon entering high school. With only two days of summer vacation remaining, Grazee was fast approaching her submission deadline.  Grazee had found enormous value in Mama's ongoing input, especially in building confidence with her delivery.

Grazee began with a narrative flourish, "Ghosting in Ohio Culture by Graziana Alpha Hartley."

A purple smiley appeared to the side of Grazee's primary VisAR overlay; the emoji mirrored Mama's smile of satisfaction with the initial tone Grazee was setting.

"Ghosting has become an integral part of Ohio society increasingly since 2061 when the State established its limited partnership with New York data service providers. The rigidity of New York's integrity standards alongside block-chained reference requirements led to Ohio implementing a state-of-the-art emotive framework within its community networks, both online and offline."

Good pacing. Wording still a touch too wiki, slid across Grazee's commentary feed. Grazee cleared her throat an improvised her wording a bit.

"As an interesting aside Ghosting derives from the archaic superstition still held by many that spirits survive after human death. As noted in The Skeptics Guide to the Universe these spirits allegedly appear as fully-clothed, transparent beings, often in the presence loved ones in a state of mourning.

Work on better eye contact flashed in Grazee's visAR, accompanied Mama's tapping the side of her visAR.

"The ghost meme was reinforced by nineteenth century photography.  This infant stage of image capture resulted in numerous cases of double exposures during family portraits. Throughout the twentieth century, ghost stories became increasingly popular in global media, especially in the Oosa where afterlife belief systems thrived."

Too informal. Sub the former United States of America for Oosa, came Mama's response while simultaneously leaning back in the camelback sofa. Grazee gave a nod to the correction while recognizing Mama's body language conveyed overall pleasure of her spoken delivery so far.

"In the early twenty first century ghosting took hold in a very different way in global social culture. Per Wayback and Urban the increase in virtual communication inspired people to increasingly end relationships and otherwise shun unwanted contact using virtual silence and minimalist responses, especially through the popular Texting medium of the time. Psychology Tomorrow cites the human need for intimacy led to a surge in online bot presence and, speculatively, catalyzed the Great Defederalization."

Great references; your embedded to spoken ratio is solid at five to one. Mama added two spinning, purple smiley faces to punctuate the comment and, Grazee realized, energize her for the report's finale.

"In 2061, ten years after Ohio's nationhood had been secured, the Family Values Act was instituted statewide. Secular education funding of The Modern Relationship Institute began its implementation of..."

Grazee halted her report. Mama was laughing wildly while smacking the cushions of the sofa at her side. Behind her visAR Grazee's eyes went wide with wonder at how she had incited such hysteria. Then, Mama's brow and chin bulged forward into a dinosaur likeness. Mama's dusky red hair transformed into a halo of orange flame, at which point Grazee vented her surprise into a groaning exhale.

Grazee tore off her visAR causing the flaming dinosaur Mama to vanish and yelled out to her sister wherever she was hiding, "Jemmie, stop hacking my Mama construct. I have a report to finish. One more time and I'll tell Geoff and Ray when they get home."

Stomping toward the parlor entry, not un-dinosaurlike, Grazee couldn't help but laugh herself at the silliness of the moment.  Her frustration evaporated into a playful demeanor as she admonished, "...and if you're going for a velociraptor you got the skull structure completely wrong! Which means if I find you, you're getting tickled to death."

Grazee stomped up the stairs in search of her little sister, making a carnivorous roar as she went.

Friday, October 27, 2017

States of Change: Chapter 16: Volunteer

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics,culture and our planet's future.Comment as your illusion of free will permits,
publishing agents in particular!Image result

"Who can say? I mean it's been decades since the states broke up. What purpose does conjecturing otherwise serve? Here, Dorian, give me a hand getting this off trail."

Taking care to bend at his knees, Dorian mirrored Carahtina's motions as they lifted the poplar limb.

"One and two and three," they singsonged as they swung-launched the limb into the ferny brush.

Appalachian Trail maintenance was a monthly routine for the pair. The Tennessee Code required each citizen to put in four volunteer hours per week offnet, and both enjoyed the outdoors while doing it.

"Speculation can serve as a thought experiment, don't you think? Whether utopian or dystopian,  imagining what might have been could wake us up to how we might do things better in the future."

Taking a breather Caratinah pulled out her water reserve. After a couple swallows she shook her head with a smirk..

"I'm a realist, Dorian. Have you scanned the latest Economista Principal? It rated the Tennessee nation as one of the top ten global communities to live in with health and happiness scores land in the 99th percentile. I'd say as a state we're doing pretty darn well."

"Did you run the references through the SnoCheq?"

She laughed. "No need. I've been around long enough to see the proof of what decades of hard work have done to create our great Tennessee society. Can you disagree? We've attained a solid balance of prosperity and culture here."

"I'm not complaining, just wondering if America might have gone to Mars, rather than the Eastern Union."

"You and your space exploration dreams. State dollars are much better spent solving social issues here on planet Earth."

"You mean planet Tennessee."

"Funny. Well speculate this. How would life be for you as an atheist if Carolinian law had kept Oosa together?"

"Point taken....though honestly I don't think your liberal Christian values would fare much better under their tribal laws."

"Yeah, well in the end I think we're much better off without another layer of fickle federal restrictions."

"Said like a true patriot. You have to admit even if the Economista stats factcheck out, isolationist policy has its drawbacks."

"One woman's isolation is another's self sufficiency. C'mon let's get the last of these branches into the mulch berm. There's a beer waiting for us in Turtletown."

Having deposited their last armfuls of severed branches in the berm they headed back to the trailhead.  Carahtina glanced back at the carbon-fiber border fence just beyond the berm. The double-helix razor wire was silent. Her thoughts on what might lay beyond in Georgia were not.