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May 5th, 2019
Lucilius eased the brake and looked back at the trailer load. The stack of solar panels were all still in place atop the camper and the compost containers, seed cache, and drones were still secured where the backseats used to be. He looked forward, towards bright blue sky cracked by the dark silhouette of the ridge top. He turned to a set of filing cabinets that were bolted in place where a passenger seat used to be. He unclicked the lock and pulled one of the drawers open revealing rows of gas masks that he had collected during his excursions through old urban areas. He checked the filters on the most recent mask he had been using.
They weren’t terribly dirty. So he fitted the mask over his head and wiggled the seal into place on his stubbled skin. He had forgotten to shave and the seal was not as tight as it could be.
He pulled out a pad of paper and noted down an instruction to shave before eastern planting excursions.
Again he looked up at the ridge blurring from the bright sky. A high pressure, so the likelihood of a dust storm was low. No need for a perfect seal, and good for planting. He volleyed the peddles gently and a light whine of electric motors sung out from the buggy.
Years ago he had cut down a Tesla to bare motors, battery-pack and seats. The missing body afforded room to install tractor tires, lifting the carbon fiber underbelly high above the underbrush and debris that littered the mountain trails he had carved out through the range.
Lucilius had been making these eastern excursions during the winter months for years, and now, with the heat of summer releasing some grasp he was mounting the last ridge, wondering what he’d find.
The Western slopes before the plains had all barely survived, much of it brown, but none of it had burned. He had replanted these slopes half a dozen times during the last decade and finally the soil seemed to be thick enough and rich enough to hold enough water throughout the hot months. Lucilius allowed no hope to be born of the thought knowing full well how the next year could bring again tornadoes of fire to whisk away his work in ashes.
The buggy jolted along the path, the Tesla motors whining. Lucilius lifted an old digital watch he had wired into the Tesla computer to give a readout on the battery life. He still had ample juice to get home in case any of the solar panels shorted out.
The wheels came to the ridge edge and Lucilius eased the brakes, getting a view of the plains extending out to the Mackenzie River all the way to Fort Simpson where the river forked into the Jean Marie.
The flat land had turned to desert and as the winds had grown hotter and fiercer over the decades, dunes began to appear.
Lucilius carefully lead the buggy over the ridge to a point where he could turn his train of equipment around and then back it out towards the edge of the eastern slopes. He got out of the buggy, and tapped an old and cracked Ipad to life. He initialized some programs he had written and with a hum and a jolt the solar panels atop the camper trailer began to unfold and spreading, lifted, as the team of panels angled to face the sun.
He then went to the seed cache and removed cartridges that were loaded with thousands of seed packets formed like arrowheads, arranged neatly. He clicked a cartridge into the first drone and a second cartridge into the other drone and hit their power buttons.
Picking up the cracked Ipad once more, he connected the drones via Bluetooth and initialized their scanning program. The drones buzzed to life and shot up into the sky and zipped out over the eastern slopes.
Lucilius had been experimenting with different lattice patterns for planting his trees over the last decade, constantly trying the optimal spacing between trees so that the natural growth pattern could advance fastest on its own. Only within the last year had he amassed enough data from planting patterns and recorded growth results to feed a neural net in order to find a more precise answer. After much tinkering with the neural net, it finally seemed to produce a result: it was a strange fractal pattern that looked both messy and sensible, reminding Lucilius of old static patterns on dead T.V. channels. He was a little disappointed, but unsurprised: it looked nothing like the beautiful lattice and grid patterns that Lucilius had tried over the years.
The drones were scanning the eastern slopes for topographical information and soil composition. All the information was relayed back to the Ipad to calculate optimal spacing for seed pods and compost deposits. Meanwhile, Lucilius opened the camper door and then tapped another program to life on the Ipad. The camper thudded as electric motors whined to life. An old Boston Dynamics Atlas robot stamped out of the camper door, easing the wheel suspension. Years ago Lucilius had managed to snag three of the heavy robots from an Amazon warehouse, and now only one remained as parts in the three bots had worn and broken forcing Lucilius to swap and recompile the pieces that still functioned.
The robot walked around the camper to the compost bins and lifted one over it’s head and rested it on hooks welded onto the back of it’s frame. Then it jogged off towards the eastern slopes where Lucilius’ program had determined optimal spots for planting.
Lucilius watched the robot, sighing at the fact that technology had never managed to develop a personality to put behind the robot before everything crumbled. It was a silent automaton, and Lucilius pondered for a moment about the old space dramas that he had soaked up as a kid. How much lighter the situation could be with a stale joke, or some cynical observation. He smiled to himself beneath the mask and lifted the Ipad once more.
The drones moved through their patterns in the sky, pausing to launch steel-tipped seed packets at earth freshly composted by the Atlas robot, Lucilius went into the camper and removed a telescope and tripod and casually set it on the horizon. He went back and took out a 50 caliber Barrett rifle and tripod and set it up next to the telescope along with a beach chair that he unfolded. He flopped down into the beach chair and rubbed his eyes.
The man was tired. He had been driving since long before sunrise and sleep was threading its sticky fingers through his mind. He thought for a moment about sitting up and scanning the horizon for dust storms with the telescope, but he was tired. He had his mask on, he reasoned, and slowly his closed eyes softened to a slumber. As he drifted off to sleep he remembered from a different life a time when he had an office job, everyday sitting in a cubical, every morning falling asleep on the bus, and thinking now how his new office job was no different. Everyday the same, fine tuning programs, fixing hardware, venturing further, planting, watching growth and hoping that disaster would keep at bay just long enough for tiny efforts to get the upper hand. All the years of effort were probably for nothing, he figured, knowing how one extreme event in the new weather could roast all his work through the many mountains and valleys. But he couldn’t care and never would, smiling ever so slightly as he relaxed into sleep.
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