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In the Forests of the Night


It would be nice to say that Tygre arrived in Cascadiopolis on the wings of a storm, riding the boiling front of electric darkness and lashing rain like a tall, handsome man out in some John Ford western. Or that he came through shadow and fire by a secret tunnel through the honeycombed basalt bones of these green-covered mountains, a hero out of templed legend following the journey of the gods. It would be nice, but inaccurate. Tygre arrived the way almost everyone comes to Cascadiopolis: either by accident, by judicial design or by following the damp silences between the trees higher and higher until there was nowhere left to go.

In Tygre’s case, all three.

His name was Tygre Tygre. Spelled the way Blake originally did, T, Y, G, R, E. Or, if you prefer to file it by last name as so many sentencing authorities and similar busybodies do: Tygre comma Tygre. Not that he had a file, which made him unusual for someone who wasn’t otherwise born and raised completely off the grid. But then Tygre was unusual from before we ever saw to him long after we laid him down in the forest loam beneath a simple stone marked only with a stylized flame.

Death improves everyone’s reputation. For some, it also multiplies their power.

* * *

Bashar grunts. A familiar, weary look nestles in his narrowed eyes, visible to the pickets even in the deep, green-black shadows of a Cascades evening. The men and women who stand at Cascadiopolis’ first line of defense know better than to give him cause for challenge. Not when he is in this mood.

Even the new fish like Kamila understand this with the same brute instinct that keeps young cats alive in the face of a battle-scarred neighborhood tom. Still, she is not so smart as she should be. Spiked into camo netting forty feet up a Douglas fir, she tries to sneak a hand-rolled smoke.

Cigarettes are so twentieth century, the pocket-sized equivalent of an SUV these days, but there’s been a fad for them in the cities up and down the I-5 corridor. Every generation ignores the lessons of the one before. It’s not tobacco—long haul transport is too difficult and expensive for something that doesn’t pay good Euros by the gram—but a mix of locally grown herbs and good old-fashioned ganja. Rolling papers can be sourced regionally from the old Crown Z mill up on the Washington side of the Columbia.

Everyone knows this. The old hands, meaning anyone who has been on the picket line for more than a week, also know that Bashar hates cigarettes with the same passion that he hates concrete, white people and internal combustion.

Kamila does not know this, so she clicks her sparker and takes a drag inside a cupped hand. Bashar has the hearing of a bat, they whisper to one another when the commander is on the far side of a basalt-ribbed ridgeline. He stops, pressure-rifle suddenly cocked, and without turning his head says, “Miller.”

She accidentally swallows the butt, then chokes hard on the mix of hot tip, raw smoke and an inch of lumpy paper going down her throat. “Sir,” she squeaks.

“Drop it.”

The new recruit almost says, “Drop what?”—a relic of oppositionally defiant teen-hood so recently left behind, but the absolute silence from her fellow pickets warns her. Cautiously she casts her sparker down. It hits the mossy ground with a muffled thud to be swallowed by the shadows at the base of her tree.

“The fag, Miller.” Now Bashar sounds bored. That is when he is at his most dangerous. “Drop the fag.”

“I don’t have it,” she whispers, then belches smoke and paper shards amid a searing pain in her larynx.

Still not looking over his shoulder, Bashar snaps off a three-needle burst from his weapon, which takes Kamila in the meat of her thigh. She squeaks with the agony of the non-lethal hit as the tangy reek of blood blooms among the trees.

Whatever he was going to do to her next was lost amid a startled challenge from Ward, a hundred yards downslope hunkered down behind a lichen-raddled boulder.

Her voice crackles over the dissociated network of turked comm buds, shouting, “H-halt!” A fraction of a second later the words echo through the cooling air.

Bashar moves like a mountain lion on a wounded sheep; fast, hard and silent as he makes the long descent in a dozen bounds. Ward knows better than to apologize—she is no new fish—but she has the stranger in her sights.

He is Tygre, of course, though none of us have heard of him yet, and he has walked right past the outer line of Bashar’s pickets as if they were a row of dead streetlights on some Portland boulevard. The picket commander meets the invader face to face in a rare pool of moonlight this deep beneath the spreading arms of the mountain forest.

For a moment, even this toughest of the renegade city’s partisans is lost in the mystery of the man who would be their king.

* * *

We quote from the introduction to a master’s thesis written during the last year that the Sorbonne was still a degree-granting institution:

The early decades of the twenty-first century brought the collapse of the American project. A noble experiment in democracy and economics had transitioned through imperialism, then dove straight into the same hollow irrelevancy which had seized the eighteenth century Spanish crown—a zombie empire shambling onward through the sheer weight of its extents, but devoid of initiative or credibility. Where Spain had been dogged by England in those post-Armada years, America after Reagan was hunted by a pack of baying hounds: transnational terrorists, post-NATO powers and resource-funded microstates with long-armed grudges. All this while rotting from the inside as the true failures of internal combustion-centered urbanism were finally exposed like worms in the heart of a prize bitch.

Hope was not dead, but it lived in strange, isolated colonies on the warm corpse of the United States. Astronomers listened to good news from outer space in their enclaves in Arizona, Wyoming and west Texas. Green entrepreneurs only a generation removed from South Asia and Eastern Europe clustered amid the Monterey pines of Big Sur, in the cornfields of Iowa, within sealed, half-buried arcologies along Pamlico Sound. The stochastic city blossoming hidden amid the near-ruins of Detroit, silent and extra-official as it was, prospered as no city had since the 1947 founding of Levittown unknowingly sentenced urban cores to slow death.

Cascadiopolis was an equally stealthy western answer to Detroit’s secretive rebirth. Built on Federal land, its inception funded by a handful of private philanthropists, its initial design ruthlessly controlled by a Colorado environment activist who fancied himself a latter-day Pablo Lugari blessed with a much larger canvas, the city-that-was-not-a-city hidden high in the Cascades grew not despite itself but through the sort of deliberate intent not seen in North America since Pierre L’Enfant laid out the streets of the District of Columbia. Where Washington’s diagonal avenues had been arranged to provide maximum opportunity for enfilading cannon fire to repel British invaders, Cascadiopolis defends itself in far more subtle, and effective, ways.

Tygre Tygre aimed to approach that city much as the British had approached James Madison’s Washington. Like his historical predecessors, he would set flame to the seat of power. Like them, he would ultimately fail, while the dream that was the heart city would endure.

* * *

Tygre is a tall man, like all natural leaders. We are not so far from the fruit trees of Central Africa, and the same height that confers the advantages of long-armed reach and the first glimpses of danger also helps dominate committee meetings and win bar fights. Our genes know this, far deeper even than our socialization, which only reinforces the message.

The newcomer is ambiguously colored in the pooling moonlight of the Cascades night. Bashar cannot decide for a moment exactly which species of hatred he will deploy on this intruder so arrogant as to walk straight through his brutally trained pickets. The newcomer doesn’t seem to be a white man, but neither is he safely, anonymously dark-skinned. Something weird, like Anadaman Islander, or someone from the genetic melting pots of late, unlamented West Coast liberalism.

Distrust is universal, Bashar reminds himself as he slips the muzzle of his weapon up into the soft skin at the bottom of the taller man’s chin. “Welcome to the end of the line,” he whispers.

Tygre is unperturbed, calm as a man being handed a check by a bank president. When he speaks, his voice has a timbre that could call armies to the march, bring men and woman alike to their knees, or fill an offering plate. “I rather prefer to believe this is a beginning.”

Bashar nearly shoots the man right there and then, but something stays his hand. He would be within the rules of engagement—nobody legally enters Cascadiopolis by night, not ever. “You never heard of the Granite Gate?”

That is the outpost much further down in the watershed, where the abandoned railroad spur runs out of trestle, where people with visas or deportation orders or any of a hundred essential materials cited on the ever-circulating lists can appear and apply for entry.

Even here in the heart of fog-bound anarchy, there are processes, rules, requirements to be followed. Freedom must be protected by a wall of suspicion. Only rats slip through under dark of night. They are trapped, beaten, skinned, and then hung out to rot on iron poles at the farthest boundaries of the city’s territory like shrike-impaled prey.

These measures are largely effective, making the work of Bashar’s pickets much easier.

But not tonight.

“It was not convenient for me,” says Tygre.

“Convenient,” says Bashar as if he has never encountered the word before. Despite himself, he is fascinated. No one has been so utterly unafraid of him since he hit puberty. Thirty years and a near-collapse of civilization later, Bashar’s very name is a byword for brutally effective security from Eureka to Prince Rupert.

“No.” Tygre smiles. In that moment the true force of him is revealed like diamonds being spilled from a velvet bag. Calling it charm would be like calling a North Pacific typhoon a breeze. A tall, handsome man with a voice like bottled thunder can take on armies. A tall, handsome man with a voice of bottled thunder and that smile can take over nations.

Even Bashar is set back. “We have rules,” he says weakly, a last gasp of bluff in the face of defeat. A million years of evolution have conflated with the raw tsunami of one man’s power to overcome even his profound distrust. His pressure rifle drops away from Tygre’s chin. “What’s your name?” Bashar barely swallows the “sir” hanging at the end of that sentence.


The word rolls through all the pickets on the turked comm circuit, echoes in the ears of those within shouting distance even though the man is whispering, launches into the air like the compressed chirp of an uplink releasing orbital kinetics on some unsuspecting ground site.

Some last vestige of procedure rescues Bashar from terminal embarrassment. “You have a visa, Tygre?”

“Do I need one?” His voice holds the infinite patience of a kindly god.

“Asylum,” mutters someone sotto voce in the dark.

Bashar doesn’t even seem to notice for a long, hanging moment. Then he echoes the word as if the thought were his own. “Asylum. You can claim it.”

“I claim asylum.” The gentle humor in Tygre’s voice would make a stone smile.

* * *

Part of a memorandum from the Security Subcommittee to the Citizen’s Executive, originally drafted shortly after Tygre arrived in Cascadiopolis:

A cursory analysis of the action reports from the first penetration will show that virtually every picket on the south slopes claimed to have seen Tygre personally on his entrance to our territory. This is clearly impossible, as the deployment patterns were not significantly disrupted that night, as evidenced by comm time-position tags.

As might be expected, the descriptions provided in those action reports vary widely. At least three pickets, specifically alpha-seven, alpha-ten and gamma-three, claim that Tygre’s skin showed stripes in the moonlight. Given that first contact was made by alpha-five, and Bashar’s intervention occurred in within alpha-five’s free fire zone, it is impossible for any gamma picket to have witnessed the encounter, and strongly doubtful that alpha-ten saw more than silhouettes.

Yet the action reports possess the intense conviction of passionate eyewitness testimony. Clearly the pickets all believe they saw Tygre.

Citizen Cole has advanced a theory of mass hallucination brought on by biological, chemical or pharmacological agents. However, she offers no possible dispersal mechanism. Citizen Lain has suggested multiple persons in stealth suits or other low-visibility gear, combined with “the power of suggestion.”

It is the opinion of this office that while judgment should be withheld in the details of this matter, there was no significant breach of security other than what was documented by Bashar in his own report. While we are hesitant to simply dismiss the testimony of so many pickets as fantasy, there is no more reliable explanation available. In the meantime, Tygre will continue to be monitored closely, just as he has been since entering the city.

* * *

Cascadiopolis welcomes Tygre with dank, mossy arms indistinguishable from any bouldered stand of trees by night. He enters the city silent as mist off the river. Bashar walks before him, point man on a patrol the security chief had never thought to walk.

Prisoners not summarily executed are bound over to the Evaluation Subcommittee. That body is made up of specialists much like Bashar himself, though their focus is on information extraction rather than perimeter security. It is a self-conscious paradox of distributed self-governing communities that such experts emerge in the face of demand—hydrologists, medics and economic theorists, for example.

Tygre walks behind the back of a man who has not yet understood where the bounds of loyalty lie. The city is among the trees, of the trees, in a way that even the great-souled visitor has not yet understood.

This is the city that is not a city, close kin to the urban pioneers of Detroit but springing from a different resource base. Where the stochastic farms were atop abandoned shopping malls and office blocks, their living spaces distributed and ephemeral within the centuries of civic infrastructure towering above the raddled Michigan earth, Cascadiopolis is built from the basalt bones of the Oregon Cascades.

Seventeen million years ago in response to a crust-busting cometary impact the region drowned in a mantle plume of molten rock that eventually grew to be a mile deep. Basalt fractures as it cools, forming hexagon pillars of seemingly unnatural regularity. The later return of the stratovolcanoes lifted the recognizable peaks of the modern Cascades—Hood, Adams, St. Helens—pulling the mid-section of the Columbia River basalt flow upward with the rising line of mountains. The hidden pillars of the earth cracked as they emerged. The emerging shoulders of the young mountains birthed hidden lava tubes.

In time, all was covered with the rumpled green blanket of lichen, moss, ferns, rhododendrons, and eventually the towering Douglas firs, Western hemlock and lodgepole pines. The old growth forest tops three hundred feet in height, trees of a size unimaginable to city-raised eyes from deep in the east.

Bury your city that is not a city in long lava tubes the size of subway tunnels, build it among the natural pillars framing the cliff faces and ravines, stake it to the flanks of forest giants twenty feet in diameter, spread your trails under vast networks of rhododendrons, draw your water from glacier melt streams and seep springs.

Do all that, build no fires, and you will be invisible to satellite and aerial surveillance. Even thermal imaging gets lost in the deep shadows of those spreading canopies.

Populate your city with biotech engineers, refugee coders, third-generation hippie grass farmers, anyone with skill and will. Place them amid your shadowed outdoor halls with luciferase coldlights engineered from the firefly genome and you have an intelligent, pale constellation beneath the cold roof of night.

Tygre enters this mystical night of chilly shadows and watchful eyes. Bashar stalks before him, a squat and vengeful god already rethinking the virtues of human sacrifice. Tygre knows but does not care—his supreme indifference to the jealousies and violences of the world is among the chiefest of his charms.

The people of Cascadiopolis emerge from their camo netting. Children crawl from beneath thermal blankets tucked inside dripping bushes. A manufacturing team puts down their water-powered lathes and spring-loaded microchip pullers to stare. Fungus farmers abseil down out of the high branches, leaving their reeking troughs unattended. Currency reverse-arbitragers abandon their palm-sized terminals to leave half a million New Yuan stranded in a Flemish forex repository. Shovels in hand, the Labor Subcommittee emerges from the trench of a brownwater pipe project to stare.

Tygre has come to Cascadiopolis, and the city has risen to meet him.

He follows Bashar into the lava tube known as Symmetry. Along with the tubes named Objectivity and Innovation, Symmetry serves as secure storage for anything requiring metal concentrations or chemical shielding, as well as the chambers for the governance necessary to any functioning anarchy. Symmetry is where the Security Subcommittee maintains its weapons caches and its interrogation rooms—those elements of their work not subject to the decentralization ethos by which Cascadiopolis governs itself.

Government is very much on Tygre’s mind, of course, because he has a purpose in all things he does—most of all in stealing a march behind the wall of the most reclusive city in America. Being his own Trojan horse, in effect.

He steps carefully along the resin-soaked fir logs leading down into the mossy darkness of Symmetry. There he will face the first passage of this, his final and greatest performance. The great man whistles as he passes within, a song out of religious history, which gives pause to the watching multitudes behind him, their eyes shining with the pallid echoes of destiny walking.

* * *


Happiness Cardoza stalks the Granite Gate. She has spent most of a week in a tiny high-altitude survival shelter buried in leaves and mud almost a half a mile east of the site. Greenie patrols have passed with a dozen feet of her at least twice since then, but she continues invisible.

Though she can be dangerous in the way of hard, competent women and men of her generation, her only weapon on this hunt is a fluid-lens scope. It is a South African import, turked from the far side of the world to bring her a small miracle of static electricity and focused monopole magnetics. Not being a fool, she has much more lethal hardware cached nearby. Just in case.

She doesn’t pretend to understand the physics of the scope, but she certainly understands the operation. Cardoza can count the pimples on the chin of the young greenie currently front-lining Cascadiopolis’ doorway. She can even dial in a fish-eye view of each individual ruddy excrescence.

Quit scratching yourself, Otis, she thinks toward the kid. You’ll have a happier life later on.

No bullet for the guard this mission. His lucky day. Instead she is watching process, to see how often the greenies vary their routines. Cardoza is looking for patterns amid the variations. She knows those patterns are there—no human being is capable of truly random behavior.

Not even the legendary Bashar.

There are only so many viable patrol routes, for example. They have to follow different paths to avoid leaving a trackway in the forest. At the same time, the terrain itself dictates where those patrols must travel, to be effective.

Likewise the guards at the Granite Gate. This one, whom she has nicknamed Otis, has been on several different shifts. He and his peers switch shifts around for a few days, then rotate back to whatever other labor the collectivist hell of Cascadiopolis has assigned to them.

Their only regular behavior is the manner in which would-be immigrants and traders are processed. A necessity, of course, for such dealings as the greenies have with the wider world. That consistency is the defenders’ weakest point, but it isn’t Cardoza’s ideal approach. Bashar is the polar opposite of a fool, and expects just such a line of attack. Cardoza is certain that if she approached with papers or trade goods she’d be found out.

Perimeter probes had proven disastrous. If her employers were lucky, they might identify the body from the skinned corpses hanging in the forest glades. More often, the operatives just vanished—dead, or swallowed up by the greenies.

Cardoza’s plan is to watch at least a week. She has been creating a baseline of the behaviors at the Granite Gate, identifying all the interdiction activities in play along with whatever she can observe of their patterns and metapatterns of deployment. She also carefully watches who is admitted and who is turned away, in case some detail in that process suggests an approach despite her intuition. She is empowered to make a reconnaissance into Cascadiopolis, opportunity permitting, but no one expects her to do so, least of all Cardoza herself. She doesn’t do suicide missions. Not even against greenfreaks.

Eventually she’ll withdraw and make her way back down into the foothills to where her bike is hidden. No two wheelers on these rough slopes. Down below, a long night’s ride to Portland’s West Hills will bring her back to her employers.

Mostly she scans, makes notes, and thinks.

* * *

Oregon’s Willamette Valley had been spared much of the worst of what has overtaken the ruins of America. An area once blessed with an overabundance of rainfall retreated into mere shortages, as opposed to the wholesale drought that depopulated the Southwest from central Texas to southern California. Likewise the summer heat was merely unbearable, while the winter hurricanes, which first began in the century’s first decade, lashed the Northwest without drowning it Gulf of Mexico style.

Still, Portland these days was more like historic Cairo with its cycle of flood-and-drought depositing permanent layers of mud in the downtown streets and rendering the old industrial district of the near southeast virtually worthless.

Most of the money had long since retreated to Dubai, Johannesburg and other centers of twenty-first century wealth. What remained in Portland had climbed the West Hills, bought out the zoning rules and created a series of glittering arcologies for itself. These Escherian constructions were anchored against the already-bizarre fixture of the OHSU hospital complex atop Marquam Hill, folding reliable access to antibiotics, nuclear medicine and worthwhile trauma care into the blanket of such wealth and privilege as remained to dominate the Oregon landscape.

William Silas Crown sat in the sky-spanning penthouse of the Council Crest arcology and stared east toward where Mt. Hood would be if the air were clear enough to see it any more. Crown could recall easily enough his youth when the mountain was a snowbound chevron floating in the silver skies. He still knew where to find it, even if no one under thirty could point to the peak with any confidence.

“Streeter,” he said to the empty air. “Has there been any update on Project Verdancy?”

“No sir,” replied his executive assistant, stepping in from the office next door. She was a willowy woman of mixed Asian extraction, with that strange hyper efficiency that sufficient money could buy. Or at least put on the payroll.

“Meaning reports without status changes, or meaning no reports at all?”

Streeter didn’t even glance at her wrist. “Asset Chi has been bouncing a chirp off the Galileo-II Eurosats on schedule. Keepalive only, no updates. She is in place and observing as planned.

“Asset Tau penetrated the target last night. No status check since, which is within operational parameters.”

Crown tapped his teeth with his index finger. “And our sources inside?”

“Current status unknown, sir. There has been no evidence of recent compromise.”

“Of course there hasn’t.” Bashar was too good for that sort of thing. Crown would never know, until he realized he didn’t know anything at all.

Still, such a mare’s nest of rogue talent and soft-path tech simply couldn’t be ignored. He was long past believing in the sanctity of much of anything, but some things just shouldn’t be kept hidden.

Not that Cascadiopolis itself mattered a whit. The greenfreaks could go camping in the woods until the entire range burned out for all he cared. He didn’t have timber rights, possessed no interest in access control.

Crown was far more interested in the innovation arising from that misguided band of anarchists. Once the geek-American community had wrenched itself away from the forty-year sideshow that had been the software industry and gone back to good old-fashioned hardware—not to mention good new-fashioned biotech—the game had changed. Barely in time, either.

The case study was around gas-in-a-jar. Several California startups had engineered petroleum-producing microbes in the late 2000s. The oil shocks arising from the American failures in the Middle East produced the necessary economic boost to kick-start development, but lacking a terminator gene, the bugs had gone home in the pockets of too many lab assistants tired of six dollar per gallon gas.

Within another decade anyone with a high school science education and the talent to brew beer was in the oil production business. And nobody had made any damned money off the greatest revolution in energy production since Colonel Edwin Drake started digging holes in Pennsylvania farmland back before the Civil War.

If these idiots weren’t smart enough to capitalize on their own intellectual property, he would damned well do it for them. The world needed those quiet innovations. At least if anyone planned to keep the lights on much longer. Beachfront condos on the Beaufort Sea were fine for sun worshippers with enough money, like Crown himself.

There were a few billion people starving in place. The greenfreaks weren’t going to keep it all to themselves. Their intellectual property was too damned valuable to be pissed away on hippie dreams. Better someone who could do some good got hold of it.

Crown realized Streeter had been speaking.

“I’m sorry, Evelyn,” Crown admitted. “I lost track for a moment.”

“Carbon, sir.”


“They’ve been sourcing carbon nanotubes in laboratory quantities.”

“Not industrial quantities?” he asked.

“No, sir. Not unless they’re running a very small industry.”

He turned that over in his head. Why would the greenfreaks need nominal quantities of carbon nanotubes?

Because they’d found a way of making their own up there in the woods. Charcoal ovens or similar crap, tended by some hyperfocused hippie with a set of nanomanipulators.

“Reference testing, Streeter. They’ve figured out something important, I suspect.”

“May I congratulate you on the fortuitous timing of Project Verdancy.”

Crown laughed bitterly. “In the past five years we’ve traced eleven significant innovations in manufacturing, data management, distributed systems and closed-loop resource management back to Cascadiopolis. And that’s only what we can account for. All of them released open source, so widespread before they were detected that any IP action would be profoundly meaningless, even with an airtight license in place after the fact. Frankly, I would have been more surprised if we didn’t cross paths with some new initiative of theirs.”

Streeter met his look with a small, tight smile. “Very good, sir.” Something odd hung in her tone.

“Very good indeed.” He sighed and tapped his teeth again, wondering what was bothering her. Time to change the subject. “How are you doing on those power futures contracts?”

* * *

Cardoza sees her opening when Otis is relieved from his post just before moonset. One of Bashar’s lieutenants, whom she thinks of as Chophead, comes out of the shadows followed by a kid even younger and pimplier than Otis. Chophead yells at them for a couple of minutes, then slides back into the deep woods, leaving Otis to walk the new kid around.

The Granite Gate stands empty, an unguarded trilithon, which could lead to an earlier age of history. She is not so stupid as to rush it in a quiet moment. There are trip lines, monitors, quiet watchers sleeping lightly. No, the opportunity she sees is for social engineering.

This new kid doesn’t know his shoes from his shirt, that much is obvious. Something’s up inside the city, if they’re pulling back all the experienced hands. Cardoza thinks he’ll be on shoot-to-kill orders for anyone who crosses the perimeter—here, that being the path leading from the stub of the old logging railway trestle and down through the ravine to the Granite Gate atop the other side.

Even now Otis walks New Kid around stumbling in the dark, pointing out the perimeter markers, the colored stones that provide ranging points for covering fire, the visible paths and the hidden ones—things he needs to understand and will not remember. Cardoza knows perfectly well there’s no point in bracing Otis, but she’s pretty sure she can keep New Kid from toasting her the minute she comes down the public trail.

It takes time and effort to train someone to kill. New Kid doesn’t have the look. He’s a placeholder, filling in here until someone can push him through some live fire exercises and have him kill an aging yuppie or something, just for the practice.

Cardoza settles in and chews quietly on a cranberry bar—local produce from the bogs up by the mouth of the Columbia. As if she was a greenie. They aren’t completely crazy, after all. Just a bad case of misplaced priorities. She keeps an eye on the Granite Gate while Otis and New Kid wander, listening to the cadence of their voices as they whisper like bulls blundering through a wheat field.

Subtle, these young men were always so subtle. She smiles in the shadows and allows her ears to continue to reconnoiter.

Eventually their voices recede, echoing through the ravine, after which farewells are murmured. Cardoza never catches the rhythm of challenge-and-response. New Kid really is a bookmark then, and nothing more. What the hell is going on up there? In her days here she hasn’t yet seen anything remotely this lax. This was city-grade mickeymouse, like she’d expect to see on the Edgewater contract-security perimeter at Boeing-Mitsubishi or Microsoft.

She’s been given latitude in her mission parameters for a reason. She’s just found that reason if she wants to take it. Even so, a walkup was dangerous. Had to get within earshot to run a talking play. New Kid might get excited, might get lucky, squeeze off a headshot or something.

But Cardoza isn’t paid to be safe; she’s paid to be smart. This could be a real smart way of getting into Cascadiopolis, escorted every step of the way.

She raises herself back up and zooms in on New Kid with the scope. The starlight is almost pulsing this far from any power grid, but still faint as ever. Even so, the scope is smart enough to deal with that, at least as long as there’s some skyshine. New Kid looks nervous to the point of throwing up. He fingers his rifle the way a fourteen year old imagines a woman might want to be touched. Cardoza swallows a silent laugh.

His pimples really are worse than poor Otis. Kid, she thinks. After tonight, you’ll never pull guard duty again.

I promise.

* * *

Taken from an anonymous retrospective on early-to-mid 21st century business practices, published under a Creative Commons license:

Though corporations as such are by historical nature tied to the sovereign authorities that issued their charters, by the time of the late nineteenth century the multinational or transnational model held sway. While wealthy individuals could and did function in the role of corporations under specific circumstances, the combination of distributed risk and accumulated capital was too seductive to resist over time. Even those parts of the world where socio-economic structures varied significantly from the Western European model were not able to combat the allure of corporatism. Imperial China, Communist China and the Sunni Islamic societies all surrendered. Even al-Qaeda, that great anti-Western bugaboo of the decades bracketing the turn of the century, owed far more organizationally to transnational corporations than to any historical Islamic tradition.

Then the Westphalian model of sovereignty, which had prevailed for over three and half centuries, abruptly collapsed. Though sovereign states by no means ceased to exist, their absolute control over many aspects of the global economic, diplomatic and military systems was fractured beyond repair. Corporations were already tenuously tied to their charters and nominal countries of origin through the continual liberalization, which had begun when the United States Supreme Court first opened to the door to corporate personhood in the Dartmouth decision of 1819. Now they became de jure sovereign to match their long time de facto sovereignty; not by positive legal assent, but by sheer default on the part of the chartering bodies.

Given the chaos of the times around rising sea levels, worldwide crop failures and energy wars in the Middle East and Africa, few people outside economics faculties even took notice of these changes.

It was the ultimate triumph of libertarian free marketism and Straussian neo-conservatism. The disasters foretold by twentieth century economic liberals came to pass, but again, were no more than a candle in the catastrophic winds blowing across the people and lands of the Earth.

What no one predicted was that the corporate actors would soon become foundational to the maintenance of continued peace and public order. The first, immutable law of capital is that it will be preserved.

* * *


Tygre might not have arrived on the wings of the storm, but he certainly brought chaos with him. The dungeons of Symmetry are not deep, or extensive, but they are as fearful as the workrooms of the Inquisition. That lava tube was the source of all discipline in the undisciplined community of Cascadiopolis.

Not that the freemen of the city need fear it. Only outsiders go below, more often than not without returning to anyone’s sight.

Except for the birthright Cascadians—children brought to term under the spreading branches of the Douglas firs—everyone here began as an outsider. Everyone here had been interviewed at the Granite Gate, by one or another committees, around the common tables and in whispered intimacy beneath the ever-dripping rhododendrons.

A few of us have even descended down the moss-damp steps into Symmetry. We especially know what Tygre faced there. Not racks, or arcs of voltage and pain, but the deadly combination of pseudo-cognitive databases and conscious sedation.

We gather together, as we so rarely do, to see if this new man will emerge. We sense a world aborning in the mucky loam beneath our feet.

Still, we do not know what passes within.

* * *

Tygre ignores the dermal patches. For all they seem to be affecting him, they might as well be dewfall. His smile echoes in its affable silence, an expression strange on his mighty and passionate face. The leather straps holding him to the chair seem almost insubstantial, somehow.

Bashar has already begun to understand this man’s secret. His knowledge is nonverbal, or perhaps preverbal, buried deep in the hindbrain where the triggers of reflex flow. The same instincts that make Bashar a deadly marksman have already surrendered to Tygre. It will be some time before the security chief can unwind his reactions sufficiently to contemplate betrayal.

For now he simply mirrors Tygre’s smile and watches two women from the Security Subcommittee attempt to work the man over. In a way, the sight is funny.

Anna Chao is stumpy and angry, with dynamic ink tattoos crawling up and down her arms in a fair representation of the Divine Wind overwhelming the Mongol fleet. Sometimes Bashar thinks he can see aircraft carriers sinking in the storms, their stars-and-stripes flags burning to ash. Anna’s primary work detail is supervising the stonemasons who quarry basalt from the ravines and crevices of the mountain beneath their feet, careful to take their slabs and pillars in such a way as to leave a natural seeming void behind. This has given her the muscles of a stunted giant, but strangely, no patience at all.

Her interrogation partner in this game of bad cop-bad cop is a little person of African-American descent. Gloria Berry just manages to top three feet in height, and she is built like a bowling pin. Gloria is also the single meanest person Bashar has ever known in a long life filled with evil-minded sadists and good old-fashioned neck breakers. She is also rumored to have more lovers than any other woman or man in Cascadiopolis.

The two of them stacked together would barely be tall enough to stand duty at the Granite Gate, but they’d broken many a testosterone-laced hulk in their time.

Tygre just smiles.

“I don’t freaking care how you got in here,” Gloria says with an incongruent echo of menace in her piping voice. “I don’t freaking care who you know, who you’ve done, or who you’ve bought off to get here.” Her fingers fly through a haptic interface of microwatt lasers and passive motion sensors, teasing data out of piezoelectric Malaysian quantum matrices embedded in stone blocks. The tease is not going well. “What I do freaking care about, my sweet, sweet man …” —Bashar’s spine shuddered at that— “… is how you’ve come not to exist anywhere in western North America.”

Anna checks Tygre’s patches with a worried frown. For all that she swings a hammer on the day shift, her delicacy is a butterfly’s. “He’s taking it up, Glo. It’s just not, well, doing anything.”

Tygre’s smile widens. He clearly has all night to spend here in the delightful company of these women. Bashar’s hindbrain stirs, prompting him to speak out of turn. “I don’t believe you’ll get anywhere with this one, ladies.”

The look Gloria shoots him would have maimed a lesser man. “We don’t tell you your business, soldier-boy, don’t you be telling us ours.”

Anna reaches into a toolbox, which was once bright red but is now covered with layers of stickers in an archaeology of protest and outsider music trends. She brings out an ancient pair of pliers, the handles wrapped in grimy medical gauze. The tool seems to smell like an old wound, even to Bashar lounging fifteen feet away. Tygre looks with polite interest, then speaks in that divine voice. “You need help fixing something, ma’am?”

“Only you,” says Anna.

“Am I in need of some adjustment? If you wish to know something, you have only to ask.”

Here Bashar has to laugh, though he keeps the noise behind his lips. The gruesome twosome have been working Tygre over for an hour, datamining, reading his eye reflexes and the set of his jaw, but they haven’t actually tried direct questioning.

Which admittedly rarely works on people making an involuntary visit to Symmetry, but still represents a deeply amusing problem.

Gloria glares at Bashar again, then with both hands elbow-deep in her data, turns the hard-eyed look on Tygre. “Name?”


“That all of it?”

“Tygre Tygre, actually.” There is benevolent warmth in his tone. “Spelled the old way.”

“Right,” says Anna in a withering tone. In a city which is home to people with names like Starbanner, Undine and Taupe Pantyhose, Bashar finds this hardly fair.

Gloria eyes her display suspiciously. “Where you born?”


Anna clacks the pliers, miming the breaking of a knuckle, but Gloria waves her to silence.

“How’d you get here?”


“From where?”

“Further downhill.”

Admirably truthful answers, Bashar realizes, and profoundly useless. Still, there is something on Gloria’s face.

“Anna, come here,” she says quietly.

Tygre maintains his mask of amity while the other interrogator slips around to the far side of this segment of the lava tube. They don’t bother to speak aloud, or tell Bashar anything at all, but both heads are quickly focused on the glowing, buzzing universe of information projected above the pile of broken stones.

“You ever own an automobile, Tygre?” Gloria asks after a few minutes.


“Scooter? Registered bike?”


“No bank accounts,” says Anna.

“That’s hardly incriminating,” Bashar offers in spite of himself. “Half the people here have never even touched folding money, let alone held an account.”

“He is not half the people here,” Gloria mutters.

Anna steps over to Tygre with her pair of pliers. “Tell me, man. What happens if I use these?”

Tygre’s smile widens. “You probably would prefer not to find out.”

“Wrong answer, man.” Her eyes cut to her own enormously muscled bicep.

He follows the line of her gaze with a lift of his hand. For a moment they touch, finger to arm, and Bashar realizes how enormous Tygre truly is. Anna is not tall, but her mason’s arms are thicker than Bashar’s thighs. Tygre’s fingers look overlarge even laid upon her tattoo.

The tattoo storm calms beneath his touch, a sunbeam breaking through the clouds—something Bashar has never before seen.

“Right answer, woman.” He stands, shrugging off the restraining straps as if they’d never been buckled. “I believe this interview is over.”

“It’s done when I say it’s done,” Gloria answers hotly.

Anna is fascinated by her own tattoo and does not reply.

“Have you found any data trail on me whatsoever?”

“No …” she admits. Her voice is grudging.

“Then under which security rule are you holding me?”

With Bashar in the interrogation room, Gloria could hardly declare a security emergency. And Bashar himself would be the arbiter of any imminent threats. In this moment her role is confined to the vetting. With or without prejudice, but the moment for Medievalism has already passed.

Tygre turns to Bashar. “I would meet your people.” He then gravely nods at first Gloria, then Anna. “Will you ladies accompany me?”

“I’ll skinny dip in hell first,” Gloria snarls.

Anna smiles and takes the big man’s hand. Just by size alone, she could have been his child, giant daughter to a giant father.

They head back out the deeply shadowed hallways of Symmetry, past salvaged cubicle partitions and homemade concrete dividers. Bashar trails behind them. From the deepest part of the lava tube Gloria’s steady, monotonous cursing washes over them like waves upon a distant shore.

* * *

An excerpt from the Bacigalupi Lectures:

The concept of “soft path technologies” is at least as old as Aldo Leopold. Twentieth century culture had barely noticed the idea, discarding it unused like so many other potential salvations. Much like water, capital seeks the easiest channel. Infrastructure re-investment requires enormous commitment to long-term planning, or the resources of a stable government.

Wall Street would never spend the money in any given financial quarter, and it never looked into the future past the next quarter.

Cascadiopolis took its inspirations from the same wellsprings as the urban pioneers in Detroit, along with their daughter-colonies in Buffalo, Windsor and elsewhere: the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s, the Green movement of the 1990s and 2000s, the apocalyptic undergrounds of the decades of the twenty-first century. While the individual thinkers and tinkerers who provided the underlying soft paths were scattered throughout history, only in the opening decades of the new millennium was there sufficient social will to implement these on a scale larger than family farming or microcommunities of shared intent.

For the first time since the invention of coinage, social capital was able to trump financial capital. Social capital itself is perhaps the greatest of those soft path technologies.

The root causes of such change are as fantastically varied as the root causes of any cultural movement, but the proximate causes are stunningly clear. The failure of governmental institutions outside of the defense sector was a deliberate strategy of late twentieth century Republican leadership. By the early twenty-first century conservatives had succeeded beyond their wildest imaginings, only to meet with disaster. Instead of a libertarian paradise of unrestrained capital lifting a rising tide of employers, workers and households, an economic apocalypse emerged which made the Great Depression look like a post-Christmas sales slump.

At the same time, two hundred years of aggressive industrialism combined with a deliberately self-censored policy of abusive neglect of climate change trends came home to roost in an overwhelming way. The loss of New Orleans was not a fluke; it was a harbinger. Mobile, then Charleston, then Miami followed within the next decades, years. The upper speed of hurricane winds increased by forty percent during that period, forcing a revision to the Beaufort scale. Sea levels rose as currents shifted to bring polar meltwater south.

The financial disasters on Wall Street and Main Street were echoed for anyone who lived too close to water.

Suddenly solar-powered hot water heaters and window box greenhouses didn’t seem so silly, even to dyed-in-the-wool conservatives convinced that the six-meter waves pounding the Gulf Coast were somehow a political conspiracy concocted by the left.

Even then, as always, most people were incrementalists. The balance of power shifted in that the activist minority grew from a noisy fringe to a major movement within American society. In this, they were welcomed by their Green brethren in Europe and the Third World.

And so Cascadiopolis was built, one soft path at a time.

* * *

We don’t know what to make of him, we who stand like owls ranked in the darkness. Mother moon has set early, so the shadows under the trees are nearly as dark as the shadows beneath the stones. Still, we wait out the time of blood and screams and query hacks, watching the tunnel’s entrance as if our own deaths lurk within.

When Tygre emerges, he stands tall with fists cocked upon his hip and sweeps his gaze across us. More than half of the city’s shifts are present by then, over two thousand souls crowded shoulder to shoulder on branches and along paths. We breathe as one beast, mutter as one many-headed animal; shift our collective weight and stare.

The man himself is almost luminous. His skin shines out of the shadows, and his eyes flash as if target-painted by distant lasers. He looks back and forth, taking us in, then tilts his head, takes a great breath and speaks but one word.

“Hope,” Tygre says in a voice that ripples through us all.

At that we dissolve into twice thousand tired, grumpy people looking for sleep, sex, food, explanations. Whatever has bound us together dissolves like cardboard in the rain and we dribble away from the majesty of his presence like cats pretending they’d never seen a dog in the street outside that screen door.

He just stands and smiles until we are almost all gone save a few stragglers. Flanked by Bashar and Anna Chao, the large man looks over the city as if it were his own.

Eventually he speaks again. “They’re coming for you, you know.”

“They been coming for us all our lives,” Anna answers him. Her tone is offhand, but her words are the story of protest in a new American century.

He glances sideways at her, a strangely ordinary movement. “This is different. Not authority. Capital.”

“What does capital care for us?” Bashar asks.

“Don’t be naive,” Anna snaps at him. It is clear she already sees the lines radiating outward from Tygre’s statement. Authority has its own constraints—statutes of limitation, boundaries of time and districting and election cycles. Capital knows no limits, is the beast that shouted “profit” at the heart of the world.

Bashar is not naive. He knows his own world. It is filled with firing solutions and perimeters and ways to stop, break and kill his fellow human beings. Capital is a distant evil he has always resented from the wrong side of a badge, but finance was never a mystery fit to catch his interest.

“And you’ve come to save us?” she asks, her voice turning oddly sweet as she addresses Tygre.

“I have come to save no one.” His words are oddly prophetic, given what was to unfold. “But one can prepare better against an enemy one can see at the gate.”

“Capital doesn’t sneak through the dark and cut tripwires,” says Bashar.

“Oh, really?” Tygre lets the words hang in the dark.

After a long, tense moment, they move toward one of the canteens. It is late, even by the standards of the largely nocturnal world of Cascadiopolis. Food here, like most other things, is communal—made and served in groups, by groups, for groups.

There is a test in the minutes that follow, the kind of test that gets people not killed but gently expelled. Tygre walks into the camo-netted kitchen with the hot ceramic cooking tubs and steam tables. There he takes up a fine German knife and dices down a peck of fiddleheads waiting to go into the stew, moving as smoothly and casually as if he’d been working the kitchen here for years.

Only Bashar realizes how frighteningly quick and precise Tygre’s bladework is. Anna seems entranced by the big man’s economy of motion, the grace that he applies even to the most menial tasks.

When he begins to dip into the spices, even the other cooks step back slightly. A delta tang soon wafts from the stuttering pots as the fiddleheads stir amid salmon fillets, jerked magpie and tiny, stunted carrots grown haphazard in the high meadows amid their cousins the Queen Anne’s lace.

He finally looks around. “Tomatoes?” Tygre asks hopefully.

No, there are no tomatoes, but there are peppers. Someone fetches a basket of withered green onions that bring more flavor than substance. Word passes, more vegetables and herbs arrive, strings of last year’s braided garlic, dried Hood River apples coated in nutmeg and turmeric.

It would be a dog’s breakfast of a stew in lesser hands, but Tygre divides his pots, explores different flavors, shifts from Cajun spice to Bollywood to lazy Mediterranean with the most unlikely combinations of substitutions. He is dancing with the flavors now more than before. We come and gather round, the army of owls reconvened by the scent-lure.

The evening, which began with an expectation of blood, ends in a sunrise feast. Our bellies are sated and our souls are piqued by this man who has made for us a sacrament of our own wine and bread.

The only flaws are Gloria’s distant grumbling, and later, distant shouting of some new crisis as dawn’s pink light peeks across the slopes of the mountain looming close to the east.

* * *

If you build your city well enough, it will be portable. Not in the sense of snowbirds towing their homes behind straining fifth wheel rigs that burn the last of the freely accessible oil before being parked to rust. Rather in the sense that a few score backpackers with good data storage and the right training can make their way to Vancouver Island, or the forests around Crater Lake, or even more distant locations, and create anew what has been built before.

It is never the same. This is no greenfreak McTropolis to be stamped cookie cutter from loam and rock and sculpted wind towers. Rather, each locale has a different watershed, biological resources, landforms and contours. But the principles propagate—self-government, specialization at need, information density and power parsimony. The engineering holds true at high level, even as configuration requirements change and available feedstocks shift with rainfall flight and spikes in net available sunlight.

Like their similars in urban Detroit, the citizens of Cascadiopolis have made of themselves a virus, a transmission vectoring in the heads and hands of everyone who has passed through their loamy avenues. Their city—your city—walks on scores of feet in every direction to bloom wherever fallow soil is rich enough and the land runs wide enough. A virus, an invasive species, a wave of change designed to outlast the marbled halls of capital which already burn in Seattle, Chicago and the paved-over Northeast.

* * *


Cardoza walks straight toward New Kid with her rifle on her shoulder. The rest of her freshly retrieved weapons she keeps hidden. She wills him to see her as he expects: a tired soldier coming home. He wouldn’t know a frontal assault if she dropped a flash-bang down his shirt, but New Kid ought to recognize an approaching friend.

Even if she isn’t.

The fundamental disorderliness of the greenfreaks work to her advantage here. They’d never acknowledged the value of uniforms, barely possessing basic security discipline. Cardoza figures she could talk her way into even a more experienced guard, with luck and no reinforcing authority close to hand.

So long as this young fool doesn’t shoot her in the dark, she’ll be headed up the hill soon enough. Still, the cranberry taste from her dinner bar is turning sour in her mouth.

Nerves kill more operatives than the enemy. A maxim she’s always lived by, regardless of its statistical truth.

“H-hey,” New Kid says, not quite shouting. He’s got an old Mac-10—What happened to the bolt-action rifle she had spotted earlier? —Too easy to make a mistake, shoot to kill in a moment of reflexive panic. The weapon has a short barrel and inherently lousy aim, but a dozen rounds on fast squirt could make anyone get lucky.

“Can it,” Cardoza says in a tired voice. “I been out on extended perimeter all god-damned night. And who the hell are you, anyway?”

Angry sergeant gets them every time. Even fish like New Kid, who’s never seen a sergeant before. Kind of like pissed off older brother, Cardoza guesses.

“S-sorry,” he stammers. The Mac-10 wavers, droops. Something clicks loudly.

She realizes the fool has pulled the trigger. Wisely, Otis has not left him with any rounds in the magazine.

“Do that again and I’ll feed you that god-damned weapon.” Cardoza mounts the last few steps to New Kid’s watch station. “You going to walk me in or what?”

This is the critical piece of social engineering. Getting him to let her in isn’t all that difficult. She’s already won that battle just by standing here and scaring him into lowering his weapon. But getting him to walk her up the hill into Cascadiopolis—that’s the important part here and now. Because without the escort, she’ll be tripping over every alarm and booby trap that Bashar’s fetid mind has dreamt up.

In without an escort is meaningless. In with an escort, well, she’ll figure out what to do next. Whatever’s going on up there, she needs to know. Her employers need to know.

“I’m not, not supposed to abandon my p-post …” His voice trails off, torn between a question and slow-building panic.

“Shithead,” she says with a heavy sigh. Don’t overdo it. “You’re not abandoning your post if I tell you to walk me in, are you?”

Somewhere he finds unexpected courage. “My n-name is Wallace.”

Great. Now if she had to kill him, he’d be halfway real to her. Handles like New Kid are so much easier when you need to gut someone like a perch. Real people are harder to handle.

“Of course it is, Wallace.” She smiles, confident that even if he didn’t see her teeth in the dark, her voice would bend with her lips. “So show me you know the way up the hill.”

“Ma’am, you already know it.”

She leans in close. Even at this range he was barely a darker lump in the starshine, without her scope to help. It might be time to kill him now. “Don’t make me write you up to Bashar, kid.”

A moment of indecision writhes between them like a wounded puppy. She catches the sweat-and-piss scent of his fear, musky even over the heavy fir-sap odor of the mountain air. He makes a small noise in the back of his throat, then shoulders the Mac-10. The tip of the barrel narrowly misses her hand.

“This way, ma’am.”

“Good,” she says to no one in particular.

He steps through the Granite Gate. She follows, marveling that it could ever be this easy. Together they hike upward amid the rhododendron flowers almost luminous in the deep, deep dark.

* * *

A key advantage of micron-scale technology is the sheer scale at which projects can be undertaken. While this statement may appear at first blush to be counterintuitive, consider the problem of distributing optical surveillance systems. Wiring in even miniature cameras the size of gum packs requires a dedicated team and a van full of equipment and parts. But a coffee can full of microcameras can be scattered like wheat on the wind, to settle around the target area in a spray of heavy dust.

They require no maintenance, and are sufficiently cheap to simply ignore once their quantum batteries run out. No single lens sees much, not with that aperture and depth of field, but the array of lenses is astonishingly precise. Remote processors modeled on the brains of fruit flies handle the disparate constellation of related images, but that investment needs to be made—and protected—once, while the camera dust can be scattered a hundred times.

More to the point, those hundred scatterings cost less than the parts and labor to install a few dozen miniature cameras.

There is a direct trend line from the Big Science projects of mid-century America—Grand Coulee Dam, the Apollo missions, the Interstate highway system—and the spread of micron-scale technology in the twenty-first century. That trend was charted by budgetary analysts, return on investment calculations, and the self-preservation of big capital.

The error that big capital made in this arc of change is Gödelian in its self-blindness. No single activist, no network or membership organization, could compete with the capital costs of projects in the old days. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, the same distribution of materials cost and dissolution of labor expense that serviced big capital’s ROI requirements had enabled technology transfer into the hands of any greenfreak with a little cash and some technical acumen.

Mob tech.

Nobody but the government could have built Grand Coulee Dam. Any fool can lay down a line of whale-fluke microturbines in a streambed.

The same micron-scale technology that was meant to bind the economy and the populace to the invisible will of big capital was soon turned against the power of money. “Green” went from signifying financial assets to another meaning entirely. That change rode into Western culture on the back of fractionated surveillance and widely distributed power systems.

* * *

Wallace—New Kid—leads her upwards along a path that is straightforward but by no means straight. Somehow Cardoza has expected more sidestepping and long pauses. New Kid knows his backtrail, or seems to at any rate. They made the first half-mile of the climb unchallenged by anyone or anything other than passive systems which remained passive.

She is unsure of what surveillance has reported, but trailing New Kid with her chin tucked down, Cardoza feels safe enough. Cascadiopolis will in no ways be miked and monitored like downtown Seattle—the greenfreaks don’t stand for that kind of oversight. If she gets in among them, she’ll be safe enough until it’s time to run.

At that point, her choices will be different. She has her uplink tucked into her undershirt. Her contract includes an evacuation bond. So long as no one kills her dead, Cardoza figures on getting out of the green city.

When New Kid is finally challenged, she is almost surprised. A change in the air tells her they are close. Hundreds of people in close proximity bring their own warmth to the chill of a Cascade spring night. Likewise, the faint odors of smoke, of metal, of food, of oils.

Sniffers would have found this city, she realizes. Smarter minds than hers have worked on this problem for some time now. Sniffers couldn’t just walk in like she has done.

Until now.

“Wally, who you got?” The voice drifts down from a Douglas fir. A faint violet spot circles the loam in front of New Kid, targeting something that would have no difficulty shooting in the dark.

“She’s, uh …” New Kid’s voice trails off as he realizes the flaw in his current plans, such as they are.

“I’m one of Bashar’s specials,” Cardoza says with a rich confidence she does not in fact feel. It’s total bullshit, but that slang is regrettably common. “No names will be mentioned.”

“You’re not turked out,” the voice drawls. “No comm bud, buddy.

“Not where I been,” Cardoza responds. “Now get out of my way, or explain yourself to Bashar later.”

A grunt from up in the tree. With a click almost too faint to hear, the violet spot vanishes. “Explain things to him your own self, then.”

Cardoza follows New Kid on up the hill, watchful for drifting violet spots. If the sentry is tracking her, they have her sighted in mid-back, where she can’t see.

Her spine itches terribly.

* * *

From The Daily Oregonian Newsblog:

Eruptions at Three Fingered Jack?

Observers in Santiam Junction have reported explosions along the flanks of the extinct volcano. “There was a rumbling for a little while first,” said Yellowjohn Hackmann of the Cascade Range Patrol, a citizen’s militia that controls Highway 20 through the Cascades. “We thought pulse jets at first, maybe running out of McChord AFB up north. Now it looks like a city burning up there.”

The University of Oregon reports that Three Fingered Jack is considered extinct. The geology department was executed by Creation Science activists during the Newport Crisis, but professor emeritus David Bischoff commented that government or private activity was a far more likely explanation than a geological rebirth. “Besides that,” he asked, “Where the hell is the ash plume?”

Fires raging along the tree line have made any efforts at direct observation impossible. Local residents have opened a reverse auction for satellite imagery, with no success yet reported.

* * *

She arrives at the city amid the sounds and smells of a feast. Improbably, most of the population of Cascadiopolis seems to be out among the shadows. The clack of chopsticks echoes along with the clink of soupspoons. They eat, these greenfreaks, even as the sky lightens above the shoulder of the mountain and the mist rises off the night-damp leaves.

Cardoza knows perfectly well that this is a time for quiet retreat and the covering of fires. Patient, stable airships circle high above watching for the flash of metal or color when dawn’s first long rays stab down among the towering trunks, the line of sunlight briefly following the contours of the land here on the west slope of the Cascades. Just as they search for the screened heat signatures and energy discharges, so they look for this.

Everyone goes to ground when the light changes because that is the moment when shadows turn traitor.

Still, they are here, clustered ever tighter around something she cannot yet see.

“Reckon Bashar’s in the middle of that crowd,” New Kid says sullenly.

Wallace, she thinks. Wallace.

He stares at her with an air of expectation.

“Get back down the hill, kid,” she tells him in a weak moment of mercy. “You’ve done your duty by me.”

Though Cardoza has no intention of confronting Bashar, she pushes into the milling crowd as if she seeks the center. She can feel Wallace’s eyes on her back like that microwatt targeting laser down along the path. Screw him, she let him live. If he’s smart, he’ll just walk away.

Though she only means to lose herself in the crowd, the scent draws her onward. It is a spell, this smell, bait for the monkeys inside all our heads. The call of the tribe, the campfire, the oldest camaraderie from long before basic training and hazing and politics and congregations.

Strangely, they are almost silent, far more silent than such a large group of human beings has any business being.

Thinking very carefully about what she is doing, Cardoza joins a line spiraling through the crowd. Exposure is risk. Crowds are cover. Lines are not crowds. Her worries circle like a mantra until she finally reaches the hotline as the shadows shift from gray to orange and the sun flares along the ridgeline.

A truly enormous man is serving. He looks vaguely familiar to her as their eyes meet, which makes no sense. He is ethnically diverse and overwhelmingly handsome.

“You are the last,” he says in a voice which floods her soul with sorrow.

Cardoza takes the proffered bowl—turned from some mountain softwood, she sees—and shrugs off the spell. Charisma? Pheromones? That doesn’t matter. This man is not the key to her lock, whoever the hell he might be.

The temptation pisses her off.

She steps away, realizes Bashar is giving her a hard look. Cardoza hopes like hell he does not remember her as well as she remembers him. Fifteen years earlier, she was a uniformed security hack just beginning to learn what he’d already known a decade on by then, one of a pack beating on a cornered greenfreak terrorist.

He’d broken a dozen arms and legs and killed two of her peers escaping. In time, this man had led her to ask questions. Cardoza had been a girl in a reflective visor back then. Now she is a dangerous woman among dangerous people.

With the slight nod of one professional to another, she steps away with her steaming bowl of paradise. The eyes which bore into her from behind are not Bashar’s, though, but the big cook’s. Somehow she knows that without ever turning around.

Then the singing begins.

* * *

Crown reviewed reports. Sometimes he believed that was all he ever did—review reports. Someone had to make the damned decisions, after all. The world was running down, and no amount of rewinding seemed to help.

Someone had dumped a load of hot death on a blank spot in the map in the mountains south of Portland. While not directly impacting Crown—his timber interests were confined to the much safer Coastal Range, and even the apocalypse still seemed to require toilet paper—the fact that someone could airdrop that much hell into his neighborhood was pause for thought. Warfare had been irretrievably asymmetrical for decades now. Truck bombs in urban areas were one thing, but it took a lot of juice to loft that kind of firepower. One of the few things governments were still good at was covering airspace.

Uncle Sam might not be able to fix a highway anymore, but he had orbital assets that could tell whether you’d dyed your hair this week. Which meant that whoever had flown this load had done so with payoffs in Colorado Springs.

Not inconceivable, even for William Silas Crown, but damned if he could see the value proposition of such an effort.

He had a much nastier feeling about the business, too. A hundred thousand acres of heavy timber didn’t get nuked just for the entertainment value.


It wasn’t her shift, he realized a moment later. A clerk would be covering, but he didn’t want a clerk. He wanted Streeter. She was old school. Maybe the oldest. Good people stayed bought.

More reports—old recon and traffic records for Highway 20. Rumor mill stuff off the nets, all three generations. Correlations of arrest records, at least where those were still used.

Had the greenfreaks been building another city a hundred miles south? Cloning Cascadiopolis, maybe. He’d known for a long time that was possible, even reasonable. Trying to capture their tech was like trying to capture minnows. Every now and then you got something, but most slipped away like moonbeams.

But burning out an entire city by air express?

Short of pure, unreasoning hatred, he didn’t see the point. And hatred didn’t pay a lot of bribes in Colorado Springs.

* * *


Tygre lets his voice flow outward. Like the morning mist rising off the damp loam to fill the spaces between the massive trees, so his singing fills the space between the tired voices of the people of Cascadiopolis.

It is an old song, almost the oldest most people know. The doxology, unmoored from the trappings of Church and Eucharist in this post-denominational community, still holds great power among the people. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” The tune is simple and old as the modern English that they share. And no one who lives on the shoulders of the Cascades can avoid the infusion of spirituality that seeps with the glacier melt out of the cracked basalt rock faces.

His singing weaves through theirs, carrying a strange contrapuntal rhythm to undergird their threading melody.

It is not the habit of Cascadiopolis to sing a sunrise hymn. It is our habit to rest uneasy during the time of transition, then for most working shifts to lie quiet during the hours of daylight. Some jobs require the sun’s presence—Anna Chao and the other masons would not cut stone in the dark for fear of simple attrition of fingers. The Security Subcommittee likewise never sleeps easily.

But today the people are out, as they have been since his arrival. Today they sing with a strange sense of liberation about them, as if the burden of being free and green has fallen away and they are merely innocents in the forest.

Gloria storms through the group, enraged. She lashes back and forth with an old lacrosse stick made heavy at the tip with tire weights, shouting: “Shut the hell up, you stupid bastards. They can probably hear us down in Estacada. Idiots! Everybody in this place is going to get a god-damned extra work detail if you don’t move it right now.”

The song dies a rippling death. People scurry away, vanishing amid the heavy green leaves, the bright ferns, the deeper shadows, all to their various lairs and dens with a renewed sense of purpose—stung, shamed, regretful.

In moments there is only Tygre with his escorts of Bashar and Anna, facing Gloria’s quivering indignation. A few others loiter close by, either bravely eavesdropping or foolishly slow to remove themselves.

No one from the Citizen’s Executive is present except for the two them.

“What do you want here?” Gloria demands, brandishing her lacrosse stick.

“What everyone wants,” says Tygre. By daylight he is rendered strangely prosaic. “Food. Shelter. Freedom.”

“You will destroy us.”

Bashar stirs now. He has tired of defending this man who is not his, but no one has asked the right question yet, issued the correct challenge. “We’re not down inside Symmetry now,” he tells Gloria quietly. Anna Chao looks uneasy.

The edge in Gloria’s voice turns on him like a swallowed razor blade. “What do you mean by that, Bashar?”

“I mean you are not interrogating this man.” Bashar lacks the grace to look uncomfortable, but he forces a frown for the sake of diplomacy. He has never liked Gloria. Still, visible glee at her discomfort would suit no one’s purposes. “He was released from your custody.”

“He walked out.”

“And you let him,” Bashar reminds her. “Out here is my domain. Who stays or goes is up to me.” He glances around at the watchers, the listeners, frowns at the woman who seems familiar but isn’t. A question forms on his lips, but Tygre interrupts again.

“I destroy no one,” he tells Gloria. The big man steps from behind the hot line and drops gracefully into a lotus position, bringing his eyes almost level with hers. It is somehow incredibly dignified and horribly patronizing all at once.

Bashar knows this woman has killed for lesser offenses.

“You are walking death,” she breathes. “The Lord of Bones.” She begins to shake, something coming loose inside her.

He reaches an impossibly long hand out and touches her forehead. “You do not know me. No man knows me. But I am here for all of you. Even you who would spear my side and leave me behind cold stone forever.”

Bashar wonders what the hell is happening. Anna Chao looks no more enlightened than he feels.

Gloria slaps Tygre’s hand away. “I’ll stop you, you big buck bastard.” She turns her back and walks. There is a sobbing sound, but it cannot possibly be her.

Looking for the woman he does not know, Bashar finds everyone but Anna Chao has made themselves scarce.

“I’m going to patrol the perimeter,” he announces.

She nods, too overwhelmed to speak.

Tired as he is, Bashar can still walk like a hero into the rising sun, and so he does.

* * *

Part of a retrospective report from the Security Subcommittee to the Citizen’s Executive, compiled from notes made during Tygre’s stay in Cascadiopolis:

Subject joined in several work details during his first days in the city. He demonstrated considerable physical skill in aiding the Labor Subcommittee, but also displayed craft skills. He was able to braze the leaky Lyne arms on the Recreation Subcommittee’s number two and three stills. This act alone won him general acclaim.

The unusual social effects seen on his entry to the city were not noted again in those early weeks. Gloria Berry continued to agitate against the subject, until she was advised by the senior directorate of this subcommittee to cease her activities and resume her ordinary work assignments.

In this same period news came of the bombing of Jack City. No verifiable rumors or hard data accompanied the reports, though the social chatter was overwhelming. Subject’s arrival was timed very close to the date of the attack, such that certain members of this subcommittee were concerned about his role as a spotter or spy. Ms. Berry herself cleared that issue, showing that the last data netted from Jack City via smartdust was far later than the subject’s possible departure time, given his known presence in Cascadiopolis. Subject’s general invisibility in the datasphere has never been properly assessed, but Ms. Berry’s analysis presumes that had he been present in Jack City, his data trail would have been available to us, just as it is in our own systems here.

* * *

After several weeks in Cascadiopolis, Tygre joins the unarmed combat circle. They meet each day under the aegis of Bashar or one of his lieutenants in the hours after dusk. The goal is to provide a training regimen and support for anyone tasked with security, but also for anyone interested in fitness or defense.

Large as he is, the newcomer draws immediate challenges from several middle-rankers—those who have risen high enough in the standings up to feel the need to make a show against him, but not so high as to be secure in their position.

Tygre just laughs. “I do not attack,” he says. “I come to watch you defend.”

With a nod from Bashar, Reynolds rushes Tygre. He steps into the attack with a smoothness unlikely in such a large man. Hands slide slowly, far too slowly to anyone’s view, then Reynolds is over his hip and windmilling into the loam.

No one has thrown her in at least two months.

The man turns, arms wide, and smiles at his watchers. “I will not challenge, but I will not be taken down.”

That, of course, is the worst challenge of all.

One by one they step into the circle. The affair quickly assumes the aspects of capoeira more than the mill-and-kill of defense-grade unarmed combat. There is a dance, a measure of beats and moments which passes between Tygre and each opponent in turn. By the time he has thrown his third, the others are softly clapping tempo.

They dance, deadly and beautiful in the moonlit darkness at the edge of an old burn clearing.

Tygre effortlessly works his way through the juniors, then the other middle-rankers who should have stood with Reynolds. After twenty minutes, he has not even broken a sweat. Moments later, it is over except for Bashar himself.

And Anna Chao, who steps into the circle.

She has been alternately stewing with an inexplicable crush on this man and sparring with Gloria Berry, whose anger has grown boundless. During her days she has cut more rock lately than any mason in Cascadiopolis’ brief history. Slab after slab of basalt has come down in recent days as if sliced away by some godlike knife. Frustration in the fracture lines. Unrequited passion amid the dust and splinters.

Now she is covered with gray from another shift on the slopes. Tiny beads of blood glisten black in the pale silver light of the late evening. She is almost a revenant, a ghost from beyond.

The gentle clapping picks up the tempo. These people know they are about to see a battle. Anna is one of the few who can stand against Bashar, and he has been known to defeat a moving truck with his bare hands. Her mason’s muscles and torturer’s ruthlessness combine to make her unstoppable.

Her infatuation with Tygre is a seam painted on her armor with bright lines.

He clasps his hands and bows to her.

She does the same, and begins to circle. Tygre does not respond in kind. Instead he merely stands, arms loose at his side, smiling slightly as she passes behind him. The profound vulnerability of his exposed back combined with his proud, uptilted chin inflames everyone’s passions.

Anna feints from behind. Tygre knows it, he must know it, but he stands still as the Douglas firs as if to take the blow. A head strike from her could be carelessly fatal.

Now she passes to his left. Frustration makes her quiver. His smile widens slightly, just enough for all to see.

It says: Come to me, woman. Be mine.

She spins toward him in a classic tae kwon do strike, foot flying toward the unprotected side of his knee, fists arcing for a follow up. He steps in so close to her they might have kissed in passing. The knee blow misses completely. Tygre stops her fists with the broad grip of his own hands.

Anna grunts as one of her wrists snaps. Someone among the onlookers keens in sympathetic pain. She just stares at him.

“Impossible,” she says.

“Nothing is impossible,” Tygre replies. He takes her wounded arm in his hands and sets the bone with a nerve-rending scrape. Her breath passes her lips like fire in an oxygen line, but she holds steady. “You should have that seen to,” he tells her, releasing her bad arm to the care of the good.

With a bow that turns to include them all, Tygre walks away.

Bashar has had enough. “You are not finished,” he tells the big man.

Red mist is rising in his vision. Bashar knows what this means. He once killed an entire town when the red was upon him. Cascadiopolis is a place where the red stays far away, exiled from the country of the green. Tygre is a man who soothes some part of his soul that Bashar did not even know was damaged.

But still, to so casually break one of his city’s strongest people—that is a cruelty to which cats could only aspire.

Tygre looks over his shoulder. “Yes, I am.”

All Bashar sees is red mist and an exposed, retreating back. He begins to run, toward Tygre, then past him, into the darkness beyond where night swallows all sins and regret is invisible.

He will have to kill this man, and soon, if something does not change. Bashar hates himself most of all for the realization.

* * *

How It Works: The Newcomer’s Guide to Cascadiopolis:

Cascadiopolis is a self-organizing anarchist collective that aspires to the self-actualization of all citizens in accordance with green principles. Welcome to your community.

When decisions must be made outside of the context of the collective consensus, the Citizen’s Executive sits in proxy for the will of the whole. Subcommittees of the Citizen’s Executive in turn manage specialized tasks that might require unusual knowledge, special experience, or organizational efforts beyond community norms.

Any citizen of Cascadiopolis is free to volunteer for the Citizen’s Executive, but the coordinators are appointed by the will of the whole. An election may be called at any time, for any reason, by any citizen, so long as a minimum of ten percent of their fellow citizens agree.

This practice is a compromise between our anarchist principles and the unfortunate realities of existing in a world of governments, corporations and capital-intensive infrastructure. Every citizen’s core aspirations should include a dedication to the day when the Citizen’s Executive will wither away and we are all self-actualized without interference from each other or the city as a whole.

* * *

Tygre arises from his bed of heather and ferns and muslin. He has been sleeping in the higher slopes, where the elk browse. This is well within Cascadiopolis’ perimeter, but far away from most dosses inhabited by his fellow citizens.

Privacy is a limited commodity in the green city. Tygre has his reasons, two of which are yawning themselves awake now in the little hollow he has just left behind.

A little mystery is good for the soul. It does not follow that a lot of mystery is better.

He knows better than to silhouette himself against the skyline, but there is a rock knee he climbs halfway up every day to crouch in a niche and look west into the failing light of dusk, toward the Willamette Valley, the Coastal Mountains, and somewhere beyond, the limitless depths of the Pacific Ocean.

This place has a smell and sense of home beyond anything Tygre has ever experienced. It saddens him that his project here will almost certainly fail. In the short term, at least. But the game is long, lifetimes long if one takes the most enlightened view.

He has come from a very hard school, hidden deep within the folds of the culture since long before this latest round of collapse-and-apocalypse was played out. Heresies within heresies, ancient wisdoms hiding in plain sight.

The school, nameless as the wind, had gone to a great deal of trouble during the last century to make itself and its precepts a cliché. No one would know to look, think to question, or believe what they found.

Tygre stretches in place against the rock. His skin seems to blend in to the lichens, so even his two lovers of the night before don’t glimpse him as they scowl and stare about.

Go on, boys, he thinks. The day is just starting.

Fuddled, they do just that, the two young men gathering their clothes and heading down into the deeper trees, unselfconsciously holding hands. Even now, especially now, that is difficult in the cities.

He watches them with a tinge of sadness. So many never find what life intended for them. Or who.

In time, his thoughts turn to the woman who came late to the singing the night he arrived in this place. Bashar was obviously concerned about her, but she has vanished into the shadows. This is Cascadiopolis. No one carries an ID. Subcutaneous chips are pulsed to ash. It is a reputation economy, assisted by labor traded for value without the intermediation of State authority or capital markets.

That’s what they tell themselves, anyway.

The result is that a woman who doesn’t make trouble, gets along well, and moves quietly among the dripping night-dark trees can vanish in their midst. Tygre is fascinated by this. Those crafts are not unknown, but they are rare. Even in a place as populated with exceptions as Cascadiopolis.

He has thought since the beginning that either Gloria Berry or the man Bashar would be the one who turned him. Now Tygre is beginning to wonder about this woman-who-isn’t-there.

It would be nice to talk openly with her a while. They could stand in the center of some chuckling stream, in an open space where passive listeners or ordinary eavesdroppers would be unlikely, and mutter to defeat distant lip-readers. He can imagine the conversation, the ground they might cover, the common interests their divergent agendas ultimately represent.

Collapse will kill everyone, eventually. His school sees that as clearly as the die-hard defenders of capital do; as clearly as the generals in Colorado Springs; as clearly as the muftis in Baghdad and Mecca. The days of denial are long gone, swept away with the collapse of American politics and Wall Street. The days of agreement will never come.

But still, they have common interests: survival, prosperity in some form, clean air and water. Children, even. A future that will arrive no matter what.

Tygre knows full well he will never speak with the woman. She may be the knife in his back; she may be no one at all. It does not matter. He is a culture-bomb in search of a fuse. She is hiding from Bashar and the Security Subcommittee.

Everyone is who they must be.

In time, he climbs down from the rock, gathers up his clothing, and wonders yet again if this will be the day.

* * *


Happiness Cardoza has come to hate this city with a passion. She is a hunted animal. Not in actuality, of course, for the greenfreaks could have run her down in the first twenty-four hours if they’d been willing to call a general assembly, then have security beat the bounds while most citizens were locked down.

That isn’t the way Cascadiopolis minds its business. Not inside the perimeter. Instead of the ruthless efficiency of corporate security, or the brutal force multipliers of the military, Cascadiopolis wars with weapons of rumor and shadow. The same people who would gut her like a line-caught salmon if they found her outside don’t even look twice at her on the inside.

The dispassionate part of her mind, the internal observer, is fascinated by the dichotomy. The city is too big—know-your-neighbor security doesn’t work among several thousand people with a churn-in transient population. That’s a tribal practice, useful by the dozens or the scores. There is a reason military companies were sized the way they were. You know everybody.

This place isn’t a company. It isn’t even a battalion. It’s a brigade. Only there is no brigadier.

If it were not her life at stake, she might laugh at the way these people are betrayed by their own anarchist ideals.

Instead she keeps her chin tucked down, works in the sawpits concealed deep in ravines where deadfall and the harvests from ultra-low-impact logging were processed into usable wood. She doesn’t ever sleep in the same place twice. People talk here, all the time, in soft, pattering voices, but they never ask questions.

A capable woman willing to work a two-man saw for an entire overnight shift is an asset not to be doubted.

She has met hauliers, bargemen, teachers, engineers, farmers, lifelong activists, bereaved parents, orphaned children, people lost within their own drug-addled souls, and even one ancient, renegade venture capitalist who likes to talk about the old days on Sand Hill Road down in Silicon Valley. Cardoza says little, but when it is her turn to tell some story she talks about a fictitious childhood on Vancouver Island, recalling lost Victoria before the winter hurricanes and the sea level rises finally overwhelmed that city.

“I’m just here,” she says. It’s a common refrain, one heard time and again.

Sometimes watchers from the Security Subcommittee pass by. Cardoza has made herself shorter, wrapped herself in tie-dyed muslin with lumps beneath that mask her muscles. They will not do face checks, these people—against what they stand for—so the pit boss just nods and security moves on.

All it takes is one chance meeting on a path, or one question too many, and she is done.

Her weapons and body armor are stashed amid a cache of such personal gear. They would mark her out in a moment, but she does not need them now. She has only kept the chirper, to bounce the simplest codes off satellite overflight and report back to her employers.

Cardoza is in, but there is no obvious next step.

This is not a city that can be set on fire. There are too many people to kill them all in their beds. They are too spread out to be gassed or strafed.

It would take fire from the sky, as has happened further south along the Cascades recently if rumor is to be believed, to stop these people.

Worst of all, in her hiding, she has not seen the singing man since. Tygre, his name is, and it’s on everybody’s lips. He spends too much time around the Citizen’s Executive, around that stone bastard Bashar—people she can’t afford to be near. Close, but not close enough. Far, but not far enough.

So she clicks out her simple codes, ignores the whispers about government spies in hiding, and watches the path ahead of herself with the paranoia of a hunted animal. Something will break soon, Cardoza is confident. So long as it is not her, she will survive.

* * *

Crown stalked his office, worried. Two weeks had passed since the bombing at Three Fingered Jack. He’d sent people into the resulting burn zone. There had definitely been something there. A fraction of the size of Cascadiopolis, perhaps a hundred people total, but it had been there.

Like aspens spreading along a mountainside, the greenfreaks sent out runners.

What drove him nearly to distraction was a complete vacuum of information about who had ordered the strike. Colorado Springs was uncharacteristically silent—the Air Force leaked like a sieve at command levels, when the right questions were asked by the right people at the right cocktail parties. Not this time. Likewise corporate chatter was mute on the subject. Not even Edgewater was talking, and that hit was very much their style.


It was a wildfire, nothing else. Nothing to see here, citizen, move on, move on.

Reports from his Cascadiopolis assets were just as thin. Asset Tau had fallen silent, though Asset Chi had indicated in code that Asset Tau was still active in the city. Their codes were too thin to communicate everything Crown so desperately needed to know now, though.

“Streeter!” he shouted.

Another silence, which was even stranger.

Crown stared out the window, looking across the sullen brown waters of perennially flooded Willamette toward Portland’s east side. Despite the recent rain half a dozen smoke plumes rose. More warehouse bombings, some street front rising against the dammed capital represented by stored merchandise.

“What the economy does not kill on its own, we kill for it,” he whispered. “Streeter!!!”

A clerk stepped diffidently through the door. Berry, his name was. A fairly recent promotion to his personal staff. Crown couldn’t remember the young man’s first name.

“Ms. Streeter has gone out for coffee, sir.”

“Coffee?” Crown was incredulous. “Seven years here, she’s never gone out for coffee. Besides, we have catering.”

Berry shrugged.

Crown realized the young man was dressed oddly too. Though his coat was cut the same as all staff uniforms in the arcology, the weave was too dark and glossy.

Even before he’d framed the thought as to why someone would be wearing Kevlar in his presence, Crown sprinted for his desk. He dropped and rolled as Berry opened fire with something that hissed like a fire extinguisher. The blast-grade window behind him rattled hard under a rain of darts.

A riot gun was clipped to the bottom of each pedestal of his desk. Crown snatched the right-hand one free, flipped the slide, rolled once, and fired through the modesty panel. It was sheathed in the same mahogany of which the desk was built, but thin fiberboard on the inside for precisely this purpose. The scattershot from the riot gun left a cloud of splinters.

Beyond the ragged hole, Berry slipped in his own blood.

Crown put a second burst into the young man’s head as he fell. He counted to three, listening for footsteps, then low-crawled around the left side of his desk.

Nothing. No one.

And killing Berry meant no questions could be asked.

He rose, dusting himself off. He’d been played, and he knew it. Streeter was compromised, possibly beyond repair. A little too old school, maybe, to stay bought. And Asset Tau was in the same position. No one on his staff could be trusted now. Not even for money.

Only Asset Chi, a contractor, seemed to have remained loyal—out of reach of the infection here.

Riot gun at the ready, Crown tapped out 911 to reach arcology security. That at least was answered.

“What is your emergency.”

“Suite 900,” Crown said. “Challenge Buster.”

“Seven niner Eugene,” security replied promptly.

“I need a hard team up here now. Trust no one except me.”

Strobe lights began to flash as blast doors slammed all around his level.

Waiting for rescue or death, whichever came first, Crown tapped out a coded message to Asset Chi. Whether the asset would ever receive it was an open question, but he had to try.

Maybe something could be salvaged—if not here, with his backups in Istanbul or Hong Kong.

* * *

The chirper embedded in the seam of Cardoza’s microfiber camisole buzzes as she works a log. A week on observation and two on penetration, the only message she’s received from her employers was a single-bit ack to her informing them of the contingency penetration. Now she’s on one end of a two-man saw and the stupid buggers want to talk.

She ignores it. The chirper’s memory will keep the message in place until she can sensibly retrieve it. No way to parse the click code against her skin when she’s working this hard. And stopping to scratch where it itched isn’t her way.

They work a while, she and her saw-mate—a whippet of a boy named Mueslix still struggling to be a man. Human sawmill is hard work, but at least the wood stacks up like bodies so you can mark your progress. Mueslix has a very misguided case of the hots for Cardoza, and smiles too much, but he’s okay.

His callowness makes her wonder what ever happened to New Kid for abandoning his post and bringing her in. Cardoza has stayed away from anything to do with security, for fear of discovery. Not to mention fear of Bashar.

Cardoza has missed something Zazie the gang boss called out. She can feel Mueslix slacking off through the change in the tension of the blade, so she slows her own effort.

Moments later they are all silent. This is a day shift, for safety reasons, so everyone can see Zazie just fine.

“We’re on a stand down,” she says, her voice carrying despite its softness. Zazie has a command voice Cardoza has admired, much more difficult for a woman to accomplish than a man. Deeper voices mean bigger muscles, after all.

It’s all monkey politics in the end.

“What’s up?” Mueslix asks.

“Security Subcommittee says we might be seeing incoming soon.”

Crap, Cardoza thinks. Someone sussed her inbound signal. The chirper has no battery, only a static accumulator powered by the movements of her body, and it’s small enough to pass anything but a very thorough pat down. A tight enough sweep with the right gear would detect the fragment of silicon and carbon fiber. Or a strip search.

I am just one of two thousand here, Cardoza tells herself.

They drift off into the woods by ones and twos, leaving the site behind but taking their tools. She finds a moment’s privacy and scratches where it itches despite her principles. She must ditch the chirper very soon, and wants to understand the message that may yet be worth her life.

* * *

An excerpt from the Bacigalupi Lectures:

We talk about secret societies all the time. The Masons, the Illuminati, Opus Dei. Paranoid fantasies, right? How secret could they be, with their temples and their lodges?

Nonetheless, behind the glare lie simpler, harder truths. From the earliest priestly cults in mud brick cities lost ten thousand years ago to the politic parties of today, memes propagate through channels of secrecy and trust. The cell system so beloved of revolutionaries has always existed. We call it family. Friendship. Lovers. The 1950s housewife gossiping over the back alley fence with the milkman. The beat cop having lunch with the City Hall reporter.

We no longer have beat cops or milkmen, any more than we have priests of Baal Melqaart. More’s the pity, some people might say. But they’re wrong.

Those relationships still exist. And with the world dying around us, they are stronger than ever. Secret societies of two and three are everywhere. The true unit of economy is the exchange between individuals. Forget capital markets and balance of trade. I give you something, you give me something else. Tomatoes from your windows box. Ammunition. Sex. Information.

It doesn’t matter.

We are all secret-keepers. We share with our intimates, share less with our tribe, and tell nothing to the Man when he knocks down the door to ask questions. Some people know where to score good blow, other people know the true reason for the street layout of Washington, D.C.

The substance of the secret is irrelevant. The form of the secret is everything. Carry what you know into the world, gather what people have to tell you, and you are one of the Illuminated.

We began in light, so shall we end in light.

* * *

Cardoza hunts. The message was clear, one of her employer’s own conditionals. She has a termination order.

This has become a suicide job. She’s almost certain of that. There are large bonds which will be paid in the event of her death, money to flow to a sister she hasn’t seen since early childhood. She doesn’t care so much now. Walking away would probably be just as fatal at this point, and accomplish less.

Newcomer, the message had said when she unpacked it. Terminate newcomer.

She knows who they mean. Tygre is everyone, everywhere. People say he’d already joined the Citizen’s Executive, the tenure and seniority requirements waived. Others say he’d charmed Symmetry’s torturers, and they do his bidding now.

Her body armor is still in the cache. She slips into the carbon mesh panels, tightens the straps with all the weight of ritual. She sorts through her weapons—some things cannot be carried openly here, even now in the end game. A gas gun with shellfish toxin-laced needles will do, she thinks.

Turning, Cardoza find Mueslix staring at her. How had he gotten so close?

“You’re on the Security Subcommittee,” he says, his voice shaking. “You was spying on the log gang.”

“Right,” she tells him. The lie is convenient, he already believes it. This way she might not have to kill him.

She is getting soft.

“It wasn’t nothing but a little dope.” Now he is whining.

Dope? she thinks. That’s not even against the rules around here, unless you’re handling weapons or delicate equipment. “Look, kid,” she says, letting exasperation creep into her voice. She really should kill him—his dead body will cause far less trouble for her than whatever he might say to Zazie or anyone else on one of the subcommittees. “Go back to your squat, lay low, and don’t come out for a day or so, no matter what.”

“You going after Zazie?” Now the fool sounds almost eager.

“I’m going after you if you don’t skid out of here and keep your damned mouth shut!”

At that, he backs away through the brush that conceals the hollow where the cache is located. “I-I’m sorry,” he says from outside.

“Me, too, kid,” Cardoza responds.

Her earlier burst of fatalism notwithstanding, she already considers her possible lines of retreat once she has terminated Tygre.

* * *


Gloria Berry takes up the hunting knife she uses for emergencies. The blade is longer than her forearm. She has carefully blacked it out, keeping only the edge sharp and bright.

Everybody is on high alert suddenly, and she knows damn well why. Tygre has finally betrayed them.

She will serve him his own fare, blood warm. And if that fool Anna Chao stands in her way, Gloria will serve her as well.

We are disturbed, we of the city. One of the wire mesh dishes strung high in the Douglas firs has picked up a signal, confirming the ghosts which had muttered at the edge of confirmation in the weeks since Tygre has come to us.

Something is on the move. A bombing, a murder, or simple old-fashioned betrayal. It does not matter. Cascadiopolis’ years of paranoia are bearing fruit.

In another lava tube called Objectivity, the Citizen’s Executive meets in a rare closed, emergency session. The man Tygre is not present. It is well into the day, and most of us should have been sleeping long ago.

“Anyone who has entered the city in the last months,” shouts the Chair of the Labor Subcommittee.

Manufacturing and Craft shakes her head. “We already know where the problem is. That bastard will have us all dancing to his tune in another few weeks.”

“Do you serious believe Tygre is taking orders from outside?” Bashar asks quietly.

“He doesn’t have to,” mutters Manufacturing and Crafts. “He’s plenty dangerous all on his own.”

“Popularity is not danger,” Bashar replies.

“Ever heard of demagoguery?” demands the Chair of Political Education and Theory.

Bashar cracks a small, deadly smile. “Leaders emerge from among the people.”

“We are a collective,” the Executive Chairman says. “We don’t have leaders.”

In that moment, Bashar knows they have lost. He rises. “Excuse me, but I need to go supervise the security arrangements.”

“Against an air strike?” demands Labor.

“Against Tygre, if you must know.” Bashar shakes his head. “And for him. Either one.”

* * *

A children’s call-and-response chant, used by early childhood facilitators in Cascadiopolis:

Why are we green?
Because nature is green.
Why do we hide in the hills?
Because nature lives in the hills.
Who do we trust?
Ourselves. And nature.
Who do we fear?
Everyone outside.
What will do?
Grow and grow, like nature.
Until when?
Until the world is green.

* * *

Tygre heads back to the kitchen where he cooked the first night. It is time to cook again. Wine at the wedding, catfish and cornbread for the crowd, blood beneath the plow boards—food is the oldest sacrament.

He has been here long enough to know more about the ingredients. Woodears grown in the deadfalls on these slopes can be as rich as a steak. Wild onions and sweet herbs from the water meadows provide a flavor that speaks of these high places. Saps boiled to bitter syrups add a tinge.

So he makes a stew, humming the Doxology. Different words are in his mind now than the old hymnals would have it, about the quiet green cathedrals of these high slopes and the basalt bones buried in the loam beneath his feet. Tygre is not sure whether he will share them.

The stew comes along slowly and he hums. Cooking by daylight is not so common – smoke can escape sometimes, and most people shift their meals in the early evening and later night hours, to be well abed by dawn.

But he knows a strike is coming. Probably not the orbital kinetics which reduced Jack City to ash, though that is possible. Even the oldest schools, the most ancient secret-keepers, have some very modern codes. And their own quiet, bloody disputes.

Except he is not weapon, but target. The hurried busy-ness around him confirms that. It might have gone differently, lasted longer, been sweeter, but this is of no mind to Tygre now.

One way or another, these forests will burn bright, even if no match is ever set. Like those pines which only germinate amid flame, this city will not truly spread its seed until threat is overwhelming.

The dandelion flower must die before its children can fly.

With that thought, he smiles and cuts dried trillium into his stew.

“Was it you?” Bashar asks. Close behind, silent. The man is an arrow fired in the dark.

“It was always me,” Tygre says pleasantly without turning. He can smell the musk of Bashar’s desire for him that the other man will never admit. Bashar barely acknowledges women, finds men no fit object whatsoever for lust, but the scent will not be denied. “But I did not breach communications security, if that is your question.”

“Could you have?” Bashar sounds fascinated.

Tygre slices thin strips of garter snake jerky, then scrapes them into his pot. This will be a stew of the high places. After that, he faces Bashar. “Couldn’t any of us?”

Tygre’s clicker has been heel-smashed to black sand in streambed these past three weeks. That city man’s contract had its uses in getting him close, passage through certain difficult barriers, but had never been his true purpose.

“You’re in trouble,” Bashar says.

“With you?” Tygre cocks an eyebrow.

“With everyone, I think. The Citizen’s Executive is stirred up. There are other rumors, people with difficulties.”

“Everybody loves me.” He grins at Bashar’s stone face. “Well, almost everybody.”

“Everybody is coming for you. Jack City scared us all.”

“Jack City is dead,” Tygre says. He ladles out of a bowl of stew. “It would be better if it sat up for a shift or two. We don’t have that much time.” Handing the bowl to Bashar, he continues, “Here. Take, eat, and be comforted. Jack City is dead, but Cascadiopolis is going to live forever.”

Bashar plucks a spoon from the tabletop and eats. Everything he does around this man is wrong, he knows it. The flavor stops his thoughts. It tastes of the city, of Mt. Hood, of all the vanishing green in the world. High slopes and deep loam and the bugling of elk across the valleys. Glacier melt and the buzzing silences of the burn scars in summer.

He is consumed by a moment of transcendence, and in that moment, sees the future.

* * *

There is a woman with a gun. Another woman carries a knife with dire intent. A committee votes orders for their man Bashar to carry out. A satellite rotates on its axis, acquiring a target in the Cascades.

Children run through the bear grass shrieking at the flowers. City-building manuals are stored in quantum matrices embedded in small river cobbles that fit in the palm of a hand. Silences amid the high forests remember times before even the first nations had passed here on calloused feet.

The world is running down, but it will always be reborn. Coastlines retreat, and there are new beaches. Floodwaters recede and there is a dove on a drenched olive branch. Empires fall but people still break the ground for grain, and their grandchildren need to keep records, and so it begins again.

Capital, rebellion, chaos, climate change. It all comes together so it can all be pulled apart once again.

We wonder if it matters how he died. The city-kill will come soon enough—this day, next season, ten years down the road. There is no real difference.

Tygre’s stew, his song, his folding of the place of the green city into a simple taste and a few words—these are the winds that will scatter the seeds. Different mountains, different meadows, estuaries that have never seen a volcano piercing the sky. It does not matter. The city will be born and reborn again until stamping it out will be like stamping out worms after a rainstorm.

And this time, capital and rebellion and ancient scholarship have combined to ensure the future restarts without having to repeat every lesson of the past. We crossed a threshold, shed our Big Science and Big Industry in favor of little things which could be carried in a pocket and last a generation.

Ideas, ideals, and no small measure of love in a cruel and dying world.

* * *

Bashar sits with Anna Chao as she carves the marker. Such delicate work is not truly suited to her style of shaping stone. She is better at ashlars and slabs. Still, someone must do this thing, and by daylight, for it is too delicate to be worked in the shadows.

Though Anna carves a flame, the city has not burned yet. People are leaving anyway. Not in a rush seeking refuge, but in twos and tens and scores. The secret societies of couples and the tribalism of work gangs.

They all carry stones, and each stone is filled with data. Most carry tools as well, enough simple wedges and hammers and crucibles to jump start the first year of effort in some other wild place.

The grave contains three bodies. Tygre lies in the embrace of two women who did not know one another. The blood is on Bashar’s hands in the end. That is who he is, that is what he does, killing the only man he will ever love, and striking down the enraged assassins in the moments which follow.

His days are shortened, too. The darts that ripped into his arm have left him with a paralysis, which will be fatal in his line of work. Bashar does not mind so much. He just wants to see things set to rights before he walks off on his own. “I may be some time,” will be his epitaph, borrowed from half-remembered history but still true enough.

A stranger approaches through the woods, a man clearly not accustomed to running down roads. Bashar meets the newcomer’s gaze, an old but serviceable pistol ready in his still-good left hand.

“You won’t need that,” says William Silas Crown. “I just wanted to come see for myself.” He nods at the grave.

Bashar knows there is no point in asking how. Tygre’s flame was all too visible far from the night-dark forests of Cascadiopolis. He does have one question, though. “Did you send him?” Bashar asks Crown.

“I thought I did,” Crown answers slowly. “But we were used alike, you and I.”

Bashar, Anna and Crown stay by the grave ’til evening, watching the satellites transit the sky. One flares, possibly turning into the sun, possibly launching kinetics at some ground target.

* * *

It would be nice to say that Tygre arrived in Cascadiopolis on the wings of a storm. He did not, for he came as a man. But he left with everyone who walked away before the end, his power multiplied by his name on all their lips.

His stone yet remains, if you know where to look, blackened by ash, covered by creepers, silent and cold as the mountain itself.


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