Fragment #001: Firebreak
From the journal of Rebecca K., August 12th, [Year 2], collection date unknown.
It is a fact of life in southern California: this land is a desert. Nearly everything in Los Angeles county is imported from elsewhere; it grows no food, supplies no raw materials. Even the water is piped in, through elaborate canal systems that reach as far as Colorado. And still the land here has been faked and duped by residents longing for the boons of a sunny climate with the benefits of lawns and gardens. Universities in Los Angeles used to pay millions of dollars every year to have their lawns recovered in carpet grass imported from more fertile climes. This city is fake, and flammable, and everything here must be cared for. There has been no one here to water those lawns, to cut the firebreaks, to tow the car wrecks off the roads, in three years.
When the plague finally, finally subsided, the worst of it was over. Nothing will ever compare to the sudden and vast loss of life that plague caused. But what I didn’t anticipate was the legacy we had left our survivors, these bits and pieces of our massive city-sized machines, slowly ticking down. Not just the obvious things, like the lack of medical care or emergency response teams. Even the environments we left ourselves could turn toxic without warning. I have to be constantly vigilant of the water purity. Any day, a pipe could rupture and contaminate my supply; miraculously, the city infrastructure still pumps it out automatically, but there’s nobody there to check the lines, repair the breaks, clear the septic systems. Nobody there to answer the call-in lines and tell me the extent of the damage. One of these mornings I’ll turn on the faucet and get sludge and that will be that, I’ll have to move.
It’s the same way with the sky. At first, it was astonishingly beautiful, like the weather itself was trying to counter the horror visited on us; with no planes in the sky, the air was clearer than I have ever seen it. Even the days after 9/11 didn’t compare to this; no airplanes, no factories, few cars. Nothing was pumping gas into the air. For the first time I can remember I saw the Milky Way from the center of downtown Los Angeles. Small recompense, of course, but the effect was astonishing. Then I started to wonder about the smog; those pollutants were destroying our atmosphere, trapping heat in, doing a number on the environment. But they were also a kind of cloud cover. What’ll happen now that it’s gone? Eventually the sun and the heat will cause enough condensation to have massive rainstorms, with that artificial cloud cover gone. In the meantime, Los Angeles is hotter and drier than it has ever been. Any day now the annual San Bernardino forest fires will start again, and there will be no warning from the government, no evacuation, no firefighters dumping millions of gallons of water onto the dry forests to contain them. It’ll simply burn, and escape containment, and cross the firebreaks on the dry brush that’s grown in the years since someone last scorched them clear, and southern California will burn hard enough to rain ash down on surrounding states. Maybe enough to darken the skies across the world, like when volcanoes erupt. I don’t know, I’m not an expert on this, I’m just guessing.
But one of these days, those fires are going to reach North and hit the city. And this place will go up like a boy scout campfire, all dry timber and paper and dead dry plants. The concrete buildings, for all their numbers, won’t save us from this. It’s naive to think we’ll be spared environmental catastrophe like this simply because we’ve already survived a medical apocalypse.