Fog Net

~ Sarah Day

Oleg stole my fucking ICCA grant.

Okay, he didn’t steal it. That’s not accurate. He was awarded my fucking ICCA grant.

Okay, it wasn’t my fucking ICCA grant.

But it would have been mine, if not for Oleg.

I’m the best grad student in the department. First author on three papers. Four patents. Senior editor of that stupid journal only a dozen people read. I haven’t been on vacation in two years. Sasha’s always saying he never sees me anymore. And why? Because I’m the best grad student in the department. Everyone says I’m headed for the Oceanology Institute. Everyone says I’ll be a full RAS member before I’m thirty.

Unless fucking Oleg puts a shiv in my career by taking my fucking ICCA grant!

And to do what? Burn some reindeer shit? They want to give a boatful of money to someone studying REINDEER SHIT?!

Okay, Vika, calming breath. Do that synapse breathing you heard about in that podcast. This isn’t good for your blood pressure.

List the things you still need to do today:

• Email Vitaly about re-running the neohydrolysis test with those new meteorain magnets. Space magnets = more H20 faster?

• Get to the bug peddler before 7pm today—the line’s been awful since no one can afford quadruped anymore and the hen flu wiped out all the poultry.

• Buy a pregnancy test. Stress is one thing, but three months is maybe too long.

. . .

. . .

. . .

It’s because alternative energy is sexy right now, is why. Everyone wants to be the one to outrun the oil shortages. Failing that, they want to be the ones who funded the person who outruns the oil shortages. So here comes Oleg with some barely-plausible idea about waste reconstitution, can’t they see he’s just reinventing the omniprocessor? The Gates Foundation already did this, but he went on about how Russia has the best chance to develop the biofuel that saves us because of the unique environmental factors in the taiga and the grant committee just dropped to their knees. Their knees. Over reindeer shit.

I suppose if I’m going to be completely honest, his research position does paint a slightly more hopeful picture of the future (tldr: we can maintain our current population and living standards if we’re all willing to smell burning reindeer shit every time we go outdoors) than mine does (tldr: we’re fucked into the seventh generation, and we should accept it and get moving, because our septly-fucked descendents are going to need water). I get why that’s attractive. But still.

I am medicated to prevent me from feeling feelings EXACTLY LIKE THIS.

OLEG!

 

Dear journal,

Another day, another dollar. Or another thirty thousand dollars because (surprise!) it turns out the seawall still isn’t fixed. Almost a quarter-mile of wall gave way overnight. Found one of the condensers on Jake Willet’s front lawn. It’s okay—neohydrolysis gel is pretty durable (thanks Mom!). With no rain in four months and the sea advancing on us like the indecisive hand of God, losing a condenser would be a disaster. We’re already timing our showers.

Speaking of water, the high school gym is sunk in two feet of it, thanks to the wall breach. I went down there this morning. Smelled like fish shit and feet.

I thought Mox would be freaked out, but nope. Stood there watching the ocean eat the only school in town, like “At least the greenhouse is dry, we can still save the sprouts.” Remarkably chill little person I have there. No idea where that came from. Not me, that’s for certain. I just had to up my blood pressure meds.

told Public Infra putting a second layer of concrete on top of the first layer of concrete would just make the wall erode faster. But why would they listen to me? I’m just the mayor. Just the person they elected based on the strength of my environmental agenda, my fresh ideas. Just the son of Dr. Viktoriya Aleksandrova, Russia’s Nobel-prize winning climate oceanologist, the woman who invented neohydrolysis. My name’s on the darn doorplate, right? IVAN ALEXANDER. Sheesh.

And I have fresh ideas! They just take humanpower, which we have, and money, which we don’t, and time, which we’re running out of.

No one wants to abandon the coastlines, reestablish the topsoil with trees that can tolerate more water (cypress, zelkova, I have a whole list!), pull away from the sea, regroup uphill. Everyone is so focused on maintaining what we have, they’re not interested in what we could do.

There are the bad guys outside of town, too. That’s what Mox calls them, but I shouldn’t even write that down, probably. Some of them are technically my constituents, not that any of them are registered to vote.

Bad guys Racists Bad guys Psychos Bad guys Christian death cultists

I’ll just stick with bad guys.

I think people in town find them as abhorrent as I do and want to avoid moving inland. I hope that’s true. I want it to be true—I want to be safe here as we were in Seattle. Constituency be damned, I can’t shake the hand of a man with me-colored skin and a cross tattooed on his neck and then go home and confront Zara’s eyes staring at me out of our kid’s face. Our half-Black kid.

I miss her every day.

I can see the wall from here. My desk faces a window and on clear days I can see the fleet of condensers bobbing behind the upper lip of the concrete slab. At high tide, water slops over the top like beer over the rim of a glass.

Thank God hops have such high heat tolerance. We may be sinking like Atlantis, but at least we still have beer.

– I

 

Spring, 1 year after the fall

No idea how to keep an almanac.

No idea how to do anything.

Spring

No one knows what they’re doing. Everyone would rather be back in town, but the flooding’s so bad it’s not safe anymore. The buildings are dissolving, except for the housing shells we moved the condensers into last year when the seas got too rough.

Everyone coming to me for suggestions on seedlings and planting schedules and square footage, like having a botany degree means I’m Mox Alexander, Farmer. Pff. I can’t even keep an almanac right.

Still, you do what you can do. I might not be a farmer, but I can make a green thing grow.

Mox Alexander, Grower.

Spring

Planting season. Dog-ass tired every day. Hoping everything roots soon enough that it can survive the summer. It’s early spring, but everything’s gotta go in the ground as soon as it thaws.

I miss cheeseburgers.

Spring

Bad guys came to the farm today. They wanted our food. Enough of us here to warn them off with just numbers.

Elli wants to move us back into town, maybe see if we can fix up some of the old buildings. Something secure, she says, for winter, but I can tell it’s not just that. I saw how the bad guys looked at me. This is a pretty pale population, and I stick out.

Spring

Cherry blossoms!

Summer, 1y ATF

Lost Patrick today. Tiller threw a rock, hit him in the face. Popped his eye. Total surprise. Patrick was our doctor. Kirsten’s brother. Fuck.

I can hear Elli crying in the next room. Want to comfort her, but not sure what to say.

Not sure what to say.

Rock whipped him around in a circle like he was dancing, like the news he was dead had to catch up to the rest of his body.

Summer

Hop harvest. Condensers still working, thank God. Every couple days a crew goes into town, lets themselves into the shells, taps the condensers, and comes back with carts of fresh water. That and the catchments off the barn mean there’s plenty of water to go around. Gonna make beer.

Miss Dad a lot.

Sept 21?

Sun calendar I keep on the kitchen floor says it’s probably the equinox.

October 1ish

Elli’s fixing up one of the housing shells in town. Lots of the panels are damaged or missing, but she’s starting to repair them, put flexiplas sheeting over the holes. She says if we can scrounge enough material from the dead buildings in town, maybe we can build up a whole network of domes, use them as greenhouses, maybe get the solar working again, maybe live in them, maybe maybe maybe.

Madness. She’s always got a big dream. I love her.

November???

Small group came to the farm. They looked rough. Hungry. Faces I thought I recognized—some of the bad guys from the spring? But there were little kids with them. Never imagined the bad guys having kids, but that feels stupid, writing it out. Of course they do.

Don’t know what they’d come here for anyway. Barely enough for us to eat.

Winter, 1y ATF

Cold AF.

Winter

One of the condensers died this morning. Not sure if it’s a problem with the fans, or with something electric in the box itself? Elli’s as close as we have to an electrical engineer but she couldn’t make the thing work.

We peeled the neohydro gel from inside the casing, at least. Might be we can add it to the gel in an existing condenser, or save it in case something goes wrong with another.

Fuck it, I’m tired of trying to solve problems.

Bad day.

Winter

Moved into the domes today. They’re not all done, still a couple gaps in the upper panels, but the wind got too bad to stay on the farm. Trees going down everywhere. Was worried about the sprouting shed blowing over, taking all the seeds and cuttings with it. In here they’ll be warmer, better protected.

Nice to be in a modern building again. The farmhouse leaked like a gassy husband.

Spring, 2y ATF

Planting season. Every day we trek out to the farm before dawn. Walking home in the evening, I can see the domes going up against the sky. Four already and more to come. Don’t want Elli up on the ladders much longer—belly’s getting too big. Kid should be here by midsummer.

Spring

Blight in the cherry orchard.

Spring

Bad guys came again. Smaller crew than last year, but meaner looking. Had to plead with Elli not to meet them at the farmstead with the rest of the crew. Length of rebar in her hands like she was gonna whack someone.

“It’s my home too, Mox,” she says, “I can fight.”

She’s my home, though, and the baby. I talked her out of it.

Spring

Losing the cherry trees a big blow; fruit, yeah, but also morale. No more branches floating on the breeze. No more blossom season. Feels like nothing good can last, sometimes, like we’re unspooling the last of our thread.

Enough of that.

Summer

One of the condensers broke today. Down to three now. If we lose those, we’re fucked, we’ll have to move uphill and that’s where the bad guys are and . . .

Be cool. Be cool.

Rainy season was good. Catchments are full. Gonna build a cistern. We can get through this. We’ve gotten through everything else.

Summer

Baby’s coming.

 

— Log start —

They arrived at dusk yesterday and camped outside the domes. Probably forty of them. I went up on the upper walkway and looked through the panels at their camp. Little fires. All the people dirty and scraggle-haired and stooped. They look so hungry.

Tersa went out to greet them and didn’t come back. My baby.

She’s so smart, nothing can have happened to her. Nothing has happened to her. I know it.

— Log start —

They want the condenser. One of them, a big man wearing armor made of old tires, came to the antedome today and said so, speaking through a two-inch slit Timor opened in the external door. They know we have a means of making fresh water. He said give it to them and they leave us in peace.

I don’t know what they’ll do if we tell them the condenser fell silent ten days ago and has yet to wake.

It’s not exactly dead—water coalesces on the transparent fleshy lining inside the box, weeps down the walls like sap. You can press a cup to it and come away with enough to drink. But it won’t suffice to quench the dozen of us inside the domes, much less the people clustered outside.

Still no sign of Tersa.

— Log start —

They’d like to get in. The doors are holding.

I understand why they’d want to. I remember how the domes looked the last time I was under the open sky. Like soap bubbles full of treasure. The plant dome looks like a green jewel from the outside, and the solar cells gleam in the daylight. It’s clear we have power in here, real power like they did in the Old Times . . . although nothing so fine as then. Even with all the cells running, harvesting the light, we have to ration. No one under fifty is even allowed to touch the terminals, leave logs like this one. Guess they figure that’s how us old folks can still contribute, ha ha, by sharing our memories.

Did Momma and Moxda plan for this, when they rebuilt the domes? That we could use them not only as a resource, but as a refuge? They must have. The plant dome, sleeping domes, the gathering dome—they’re only connected to each other, not to the outside. You have to go through the vestibule dome to get into the world, and all the ground-level panels are reinforced with metal and concrete. We could shelter in here for a very long time.

— Log start —

The condenser continues to sleep. Its six twisters should be running together, giving off the quiet hum that became the background to everything in the plant dome. Aurel says the box was powered by a phantom, and now it’s escaped. I think Aurel is a superstitious idiot, but I haven’t a better explanation than that.

— Log start —

I saw Tersa! She clambered up the panels and peeked in through the flexiglass. She looked annoyed, but she always does. I wish I could crack the exterior door and let her slip back in, but until those strangers outside are gone, she’ll have to make do outdoors. She’s clever. She’ll be all right.

I spent extra time at the sprouting altar, talking to the seedlings and thanking the earth for its providence. My heart. To see my daughter alive, I, I can’t describe it.

— Log start —

They’re trying something new today. They’ve felled a tree and are trying to ram it into the exterior door. When I hold my breath, I can hear the muffled thuds against the metal.

I wish the condenser was working. Maybe if we could give them some water, they would go away.

— Log start —

They took Timor. He wanted to speak with them, the stupid child, and as soon as he had the antedome door cracked an inch, they had branches and spears wedged in, trying to pry it open. They seized him and pulled him out, and two of their own slipped in.

I was in the plant dome when I heard the commotion, and by the time I got to the pressure door, Aurel had sealed it, and used the control panel to lock all the other doors. The two outsiders are trapped in the antedome now, prowling like wildcats. They’re holding spears, faces swabbed with mud. They look angry. They look hungry.

I don’t know what happened to Timor. I think Horvel does, but from his face I don’t want to ask.

— Log start —

The outsiders changed their approach overnight. They sent a dozen young people up onto the smaller domes, so when we awoke bodies were stretched across the panels like spiders. Even as I speak they’re trying to prise up the capstones, peel away the roof panels.

Aurel and Brillia took the little ones out of the school dome and into the plant dome, just to be safe. They said it was because the strangers’ shadows were distracting, but I can tell they’re worried.

Fortunately the bigger domes are too round to climb easily. Now we’re all clustered together in the plant, sleeping, and gathering domes. Even if the strangers can make it into the little domes, the pressure doors should keep us safe. Eventually they’ll give up, go away.

— Log start —

I went up on the observation walk this morning and saw the outsiders have erected some kind of structure outside the doors. It’s like a T with an extra growth on top, or an X tipped on one point. There was a group gathered around it, one of them standing in front of it waving his arms. I couldn’t hear anything, but they looked like they were chanting, or singing.

I don’t understand anything anymore.

— Log start —

They destroyed the storage dome today. Idiots took too many panels out of the top, and it came down almost atop them. I think one of them got trapped beneath.

We’ve never lost a dome before. At least it was one of the small ones. If the outsiders go away, perhaps we can rebuild it.

If they go away.

I hate them.

— Log start —

In my dream last night, the domes cracked open like eggs. We all tumbled out in a spurt of saltwater and stale air, each coated in a gel skin like the inside of the condenser. I was bloody and wet and I rolled over on the ground, trying to identify my limbs. That sleeping state where you know you have a body but don’t know how it’s composed. I flopped onto my belly and worked my mouth, searching for air. I looked up and saw Tersa standing at the waterline, bright clean and new.

Momma told me that that’s how people came to the Earth, that long ago we arrived on the shore as fish.

— Log start —

They’re at the pressure door.

 

“. . .What are—? Holy crap. You’re kidding. What are you doing here?

“Who would leave a baby out in the dirt? Guess they thought they were coming back, didn’t they. Idiots. Pulled the whole dome down on top of them. And on top of my people too. Obviously. No survivors . . . Present company excepted.”

“. . . Fuck. Okay. Come on, Tersa. Breathe. Stop crying.”

. . .

“I can’t just leave you here, can I?

“At least you fit in my backpack.”

. . .

“They killed my family. Our seeds. Everything. I’m alone now—except for you, I guess. You’re basically a seedling yourself. A person-sprout.

“I wonder what your name was.

“I’ll tell you one thing, sprout, we’re gonna have plenty of fresh water. Those idiots—your people, sorry, no disrespect—they broke all the way into the domes, killed Timor, killed my family, didn’t even know what they were looking for.

“Aurel thought the condenser was some kind of magical house, that a baby god or something lived inside it, but Aurel’s—fuck, Aurel was a loony.

“It’s not the box. It’s the gel, the snot coating the inside of the box. It sucks water out of the air, somehow. So once the haze cleared from the collapse, I went in, found the condenser. Lucky I got there when I did—the sea’s hungry to eat what remains of the domes. Got the box open, scraped out the gel, found a jar to put it in. Like a big blue loogie. Gross, right? But it still works—see? I take the lid off and it makes a little puddle on top!

“Nonono, don’t touch it! Don’t—ugh.”

. . .

“Okay sprout, how’s about we get away from the coast? There’s probably more food inland. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live on seagulls and shellfish. If I could catch any seagulls. Or find any shellfish.

“Anyway, I figure we head east and see what’s on the other side of the mountains. You in?

“. . .You’re in.”

. . .

“Hang on. Hold still. Let me get this tarp around you. Dust storms aren’t gonna be great for your tiny eyes. Hold still. Hold still. Shhhhh. There we go.”

. . .

“You like that? That’s rabbit. Thinking it over? Hah! Great face.

“Good, right? Here’s another little shred. Get that in you, help you grow up real big.

“Glad you’re old enough to have real food. No idea what I would have done with an infant.”

. . .

“Ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck are you okay? I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I would never drop you on purpose. I just slipped. I’m so sorry. Fuck. Are you okay?

“. . .I think you’re okay.”

. . .

“Ughhhh you’re heavy. We’re only halfway there. I’m hoping that the world is greener on the other side of this hill, because summer’s coming out here and I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the dust.

Bigass hill. Basically a mountain.”

. . .

“PLEASE STOP CRYING.”

. . .

“Wowwww. Look at that view! Not as green as it could be, I guess, but it’s still awfully pretty. All those rock formations! Wish I knew anything about rocks!

“. . .All this natural wonder is lost on you, isn’t it, kid? Jeez.

“. . .Wait, what is that? Do you see that?”

. . .

“Okay, so what did we learn? There’s people down there. People with what I guess are probably guns. Never seen a gun before. One of them took a potshot at us, I dunno if you noticed that. Thanks to my quick thinking, I fell on my ass, so hopefully they think they got me. Fuck, who shoots at a single person up on a hill? Why do they have those red tattoos?

“Oh. Oh no. Oh fuck. They broke the fucking condenser jar! Or I did, I guess, when I fell on it! You okay? No glass on you, right?

“Uggggh, this is a disaster, how the fuck am I supposed to carry a gallon of mostly-liquid gel without a container? There’s goo all over the inside of my pack! UGH.

“Okay Tersa. Silver lining. Silver lining. At least they didn’t hit you. And the jar’s somewhat intact. It’ll still work for a little while, I’ll just have to be careful not to cut myself.

“And also? In those rock structures on the other side of the valley? I think I saw the land in rows, like they were planting. Plumes of smoke. Maybe a town.”

. . .

“Okay sprout, I’ve got this idea. Aurel told me that back in the Old Times, people used to catch water with nets, really fine-woven fabric on frames that would wick the condensation out of the air. Fog nets.

“Honestly I think it might be made up, but it’s also kinda how the condenser goo works. If we stretch it over something, we can produce more water; if there’s regular airflow over it, even more. We gotta carry it somehow, we might as well carry it on us. At least it’s sticky.

“See, what I’m thinking is, if we can make it to that village, they might let us in, keep us safe from those red-tattoo people, if I had something to trade. Fresh water’s a pretty good thing to trade. So we spread the goo over ourselves like a big blanket, our own fog net, and show up on their doorstep just absolutely dripping. Impressive, right? What do you think? Sprout?

“. . .Are you falling asleep?”

. . .

“Okay, first things first. We gotta get around the valley basin. I got most of the goo back in what’s left of the jar, and I’m thinking as soon as the sun starts coming up, we head out around the southern edge of the valley.”

. . .

“Look, sprout. We were right—it’s a village. Wow, it’s built into the side of that big rock formation. How did they do that? That’s nuts. Oop—watch your step. Watch my step, I guess. Slippery. Goodbye, rock. Jeez that made a lot of noise. Yikes.”

. . .

“Hsssss okay. Oh fuck. Oh no. Fuck that hurts. Fuck.

“You okay sprout? Please be okay.

“They shot my fucking arm!

“Okay Tersa. Deep breath. Get moving. Your feet aren’t broken. Just your arm. My arm . . .

“Stop crying! Move it!”

. . .

“I know, I know, it’s cold. I’d cry too if I was you. Let’s get this goo over us. Man, we smell bad, don’t we? Been out here for awhile. I’m shaky. Not long now, though. Not far. Just another couple hundred feet. We can make it.

“Yikes, that is cold. Okay. You ready? It’s you and me, sprout. You and me all the way.”

. . .

“HELLO! Hello in there!

“Sprout, shh. Someone’s coming out.”

“What—who’s out there? What are you wearing?”

“Please let us in. We have water. I’m hurt. We need help.”

“. . .Who are you?”

“I’m Tersa. Tersa Adlar. And this is Sprout.”

 

A DL E

AD LA R

ADLAR

Sprout Adlar

Lucee teach me how to write.

My name is Sprout Adlar.

Lucee ses says write abot war because I was there. I don’t have all the words to write abot war.

We won but we lost. The redsky people took some of us, our dead. That’s their way. But we keep the ones of them we capch captured. And we keep the fog net, which is why they came here to start.

Happy Tersa didn’t have to see our dead go with them in the wagons. She would cry a lot.

I miss Tersa.

Better at war than words.

Tomorrow they will come again and we will talk. Maybe there will be no more war. Maybe we give their captured for our dead. Maybe a lot of things.

 

Today I raised the fog net and my people’s hands bore it.

There’s no predicting the rainy season anymore; some years, spring is just a handmaiden for a dry, blazing, tower-cloud summer. Others, the winter skulks off like a coyote, with rain the sound of the brush closing behind its tail.

I am the cloudwatcher, and I declare the harvest, so when the darkness crackled over the west horizon I summoned the eight attendants and carried the fog net to the circle altar atop the mesa.

When the bottom fell out of the clouds, sixteen hands pulled the fleshy membrane wide, until it was thin as a whisper and jittering with the impact of raindrops. I darted beneath the net and lifted the point of my staff.

Rain hit the sloping net and multiplied itself as it ran. Far more water than the clouds provided sobbed off the edges of the net and into the basins set beneath the altar. Each basin drains into the tile-lined cisterns we’ve hollowed out of the mesa’s stone heart. When full, they can sustain us for months.

This is the blessing of the fog net, to give as much water as we’re strong enough to hold.

Standing underneath, I watched the net marble. Faint shadows sluiced down my limbs, the ghosts of rainwater. The scent of the storm rioted in my nose; ozone, wet dust, the sweet exhalations of desert plants opening to receive the rain. The net began to weigh heavy. I shoved the staff up against it, working the muscles in my back and shoulders.

Lightning fluttered across the bruised sky. Beneath the altar, the basins glugged and laughed. Being under the fog net was like returning to the womb; dark, stifled, more sound than sight. The world outside the net melted into a blur of grays and blues, the attendants hovering just beyond like eight midwives, ushering in the future of the mesa.

Two of my spouses were among those holding the net. I watched their fingers twist tightly as the weight of water belled it out. Water ran in sloppy sheets off the edges, splashing around their feet. The other six attendants come from the mesa villages. Three of them bore the red-inked knuckles and nails of the Red Sky tribes, who until a generation ago had been our enemies. Perhaps we would be at war still, had my father, the first cloudwatcher, not brought members of the Red Sky atop the mesa, inviting them to hold the net and share the harvest with us. I have reason to be grateful for that—the first Red Sky woman to take up the net later became my mother.

The air inside the net dimmed as the rain thickened. I shouted to hold fast, hoping to be heard over the roar. Water cascaded off the net in such abundance I could no longer see the attendants’ feet. I wondered if this would be the time someone’s hand slipped, or the net tore, or there was some other catastrophe—but my spouses were strong, and the other six were strong, and the net held. In my heart I felt we could hold until the bottomless cisterns filled, until the pipes backed up and the top of the mesa was ankle-deep in the womb waters of the fog net.

My father says that when he was small, the fog net made water from the air passing over it, that a child’s breath could render its blue-silver skin damp like the underside of a stone in the early morning. I don’t know if that was ever true, or if he’s telling me a fable, trying to keep my idea of magic in the world alive, trying to keep my heart hopeful, like a child’s.

He doesn’t understand that I don’t need hope.

All things are temporary. I know the net may fail. I know my people did not spring up here on the mesa but arrived, and that someday we may depart. I know death swallows each of us.

But not today.

I am Anat, daughter of Sprout, son of Tersa, daughter of Steff, daughter of Mox, child of Ivan, son of Viktoriya, and today I raised the fog net and my people’s hands bore it.

 

Sarah Day lives in the SF Bay Area with her cat and a large collection of LED lights. Her interests include creature films, festival culture, and doing things on purpose. Find her at sarahday.org or on Twitter @scribblingfox.

 [ issue 4 :  fall 2021 ]