Or We Will All Hang Separately
in the collection Walking Contradiction and Other Futures
Marty Shendo knew both the truck and the roads best, so she drove. Ooljee Yzaguirre rode shotgun – literally: She kept a rifle in her lap. Tomas Perez sat in the back, his gun also in easy reach. Within most communities – or at least the ones Ooljee knew – no one went armed. Traveling between them, everyone did.
The dust blowing in the open windows made it difficult to talk. Both Marty and Ooljee had covered their mouths and noses with kerchiefs, like old fashioned bandits, and Tomas had pulled his cap down over his face to block the worst of it. It was too hot to close the windows.
Ooljee stared out at the parched southern New Mexico landscape. Even before the extended droughts brought on by climate change, this had been harsh country to live in. Now most people had given up trying to make a living out here. Even goats, who can survive on land incompatible with any other domesticated animal, need water.
She wondered what they would find up at Los Alamos – the enclave of scientists they were hoping for or just another group of people trying to survive in a world in which few things worked any more. Or maybe bandits, or, even worse, nothing at all. It was a long way to travel if it turned out to be nothing, especially in a jerry-rigged solar-powered truck that hit its high of 25 miles per hour only on downhill stretches.
“Please don’t let it be for nothing,” Ooljee thought. It might have been a prayer, if she’d known of any gods to pray to.
Their trip had started in the high desert country of Texas, at a meeting of the Fort Davis/McDonald Observatory communities. Marty had been there because she had tagged along with the regular delivery person from the Las Cruces Dairy Co-op to interview older people. The Rio Grande and some artesian wells had kept the dairy farmers in Las Cruces going, and they delivered to a wide swath of country from Silver City in the west to Ruidoso in the north, and over into the western corner of Texas, skirting El Paso/Juarez.
The idea that Los Alamos hadn’t disappeared in the general collapse had come from outer space — more specifically, from the people living on the Amity Space Station. Amity had noticed a significant heat signature from the Los Alamos area, enough to indicate not just a human presence, but a technological one. They’d tried to make contact, with no result.
“They aren’t sure why they never noticed it before,” Matt Garcia told the community. Matt was their oldest resident – getting close to eighty now – and their unofficial leader. “It could be as simple as equipment glitch. Their computers are as old as ours. They lost touch with Los Alamos about twenty-five years ago, same as we did. At the time, we speculated that a gang of bandits blew through there – that happened a lot in the Twenties – but maybe the folks just holed up. Or literally went underground. And now they feel safe enough to come out.”
“But not safe enough to contact anyone,” someone said.
“Or maybe it’s some new people entirely who moved in and took over the space.”
“There are a lot of possibilities,” Matt said, “and even the least useful ones are long shots. But if some kind of community managed to survive up there, and kept up an education system, there’s a chance they preserved some knowledge we can all use. We need to find out what’s going on. Someone needs to go check things out.”
Ooljee nodded in agreement, but the woman sitting next to her said, “It’s got to be five hundred miles up to Los Alamos, maybe more. And we don’t know anybody up that way.”
“This isn’t just important to us,” Matt went on. “The people on Amity and the Moon are just barely hanging on. Their hydroponic gardens don’t produce enough to feed them. They’ve got enough water from mining comet ice, but their seed stock is very limited. If we could find a way to travel back and forth to the station, we could exchange food for water.”
The word “water” lingered in the air. Fort Davis never had enough water. No one in the southwest did.
“I’ve never understood how Amity could get to the comets but can’t fly down here,” someone said.
“Because,” said Matt, patiently, as if he hadn’t explained this many times before, “they’ve only got tiny vessels that would burn up on re-entry to our atmosphere.” Enough satellites had survived the collapse that they had regular conversations with both the station and the smaller lunar community.
“Even if someone at Los Alamos knows how to build a space shuttle, how will we ever put the resources together to do it? Look at how much effort and money it took the first time.” Nods and approving murmurs echoed the speaker’s sentiments.
That was when Marty jumped in. “You don’t need to build a ship. You just need to retrofit one. The old spaceport at Upham has a couple of perfectly good ships. They weren’t designed to go as far as the space station, but someone who understood spaceship construction could probably figure out a fix. They’re big enough. Of course, we’d also need someone who knows how to fly the things.”
“The spaceport survived, then,” Matt said. “I’d assumed it hadn’t made it.”
“I guess it wasn’t on anybody’s bombing list,” Marty said. “Unlike Cape Canaveral or the Baikonuer Cosmodrome. And the people of Upham decided it was worth protecting from bandits. The co-op delivers over there. It’s a tiny community, but they’re proud of those ships. You could send some people back to Las Cruces with us, and we could hook you up with Upham. Los Alamos is just a straight shot north from there.”
“I’ll go,” Ooljee said. She’d wanted to go when she’d first heard the news. “I’ve got enough training to talk with any scientists I might find at Los Alamos. And you know I can take care of myself.”
Although Ooljee’s official job was as an engineer at the observatory, she’d begun training with the militia when she turned fifteen. At twenty-seven, she now led a squad.
Matt nodded. “A good choice.” He didn’t call for more volunteers. Ooljee hadn’t expected him to. This was a gamble, and their community had not survived by risking too much on any one gamble.
Nancy Jane Moore is a founding member of Book View Café. Her other books—Ardent Forest, Changeling (first published by Aqueduct Press), Conscientious Inconsistencies (first published by PS Publishing), and Flashes of Illumination—are all available from the Book View Café bookstore. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of anthologies and in magazines ranging from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet to the National Law Journal. She divides her time between Austin, Texas, and Oakland, California.