Brother Leo sat in a chair at the head of the crowd and looked over those representatives of the families of the City of Nod chosen to take part in city meetings. After Transit, this meeting space within the Council Chambers was built to hold up to two hundred people, but with the population boom of the last few decades, it was decided that only one representative from each family unit was needed. They could then pass on any important information. It was also a useful setup for the farmers and other families who long ago built their homes on the outskirts of the city.
The room was at full capacity today. Eventually, they would need a bigger meeting place or have to come up with a different arrangement. Maybe, Leo wondered, they could divide the city into parcels and let the residents of each choose a representative. He had learned about this type of arrangement in his history classes when he was a child. Now it made sense, if only in the management of that many people.
“Folks, settle down,” Leo said. He stood and motioned for everyone present to take a seat on the benches provided. It took a moment, but eventually all attention diverted to the man in charge and the five aldermen beside him.
“Let’s begin by thanking Father Elijah and Elder Jackson, who gave us this land which we call home.” Leo bowed his head, and most everyone else followed. After a moment of silent thanks, a ritual performed before any meeting, Leo looked up.
“After our elders’ Transit,” Leo said, “we were told that there would be good days and bad days, days when we celebrated together and days when we mourned. As the bible which Father Elijah brought with him tells us, there is a time for everything. Solomon asked, ‘What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live, that each of them may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all their toil.’”
He paused for effect and looked around the room at the assembly gathered. They knew what was coming. Leo had given this speech too many times. “Since the Transit of Father Elijah,” he continued, “we have both celebrated life and mourned its passing. We have toiled with the burden laid on us all. Through all of this, however, we have survived and prospered. We have built farms and windmills. We have stored water in reservoirs and built a city of almost nine hundred people. Despite our lack of resources, we grow. Despite our losses, we grow. Yet toil and strife does not go away, and it is with a heavy heart I tell you that tragedy has struck us again, today.”
Leo paused once more to gather his own thoughts. “Three of our children were taken from us by this land. For what happens to one family, happens to us all. Before any rumors get started, let me give you the facts: Trisha and Killian Lucas and Ryan Page were lost in a hole on the Barren Sea. The hole, we are told, filled with water and we believe they drowned. A rescue was attempted, but they could not penetrate the hole far enough.”
A shocked, mournful quiet settled on the room. Leo looked around at those gathered, the representatives of the families of the City of Nod. Some were still wet from being caught in the rain as they came inside, while others appeared to weep quietly.
“What about the Victor girl?” someone in the audience said, his voice not raised, but loud enough to break the silence. “Wasn’t this her fault? Shouldn’t we talk about her?”
Leo heard a few rumbles of agreement in the mix of people, but they soon merged with others disgusted by the question.
“We’re not assigning blame to anyone. This was a tragic accident, nothing more. Yes, it was avoidable. Nevertheless, it was also an accident that brought with it some additional information about Tishbe, this world we call home.”
An indecipherable murmur rose. Leo raised his hands again, and the room fell silent.
“As you all know, the Barren Sea has been dry since the elders’ Transit. That is no longer the case. As it was reported, since the accident, water has been gushing up from the holes and, rather than being absorbed back into the soil as it has in the past, it remains. It is pooling. Brother Henry here has sent a crew of researchers to the shore in order to calculate what it means for all of us. It may be nothing, but even after four decades, we are new to this world. It is not known what is unknown. I will let Brothers Henry and Moses explain the rest to you.”
Leo stepped back and sat as Henry and Moses both stood. Henry held a pad of paper in his hands and looked nervous. Because Henry had always been a poor public speaker, it was Moses who spoke first.
“As we reported last cycle, the water in the wells has been rising. The windmills no longer have to work as hard to refill the reservoirs. What we thought might be a gift that would make our lives easier may, instead, have been a message of doom.”
Leo closed his eyes and shook his head. The last thing anyone needed at this moment was dramatics, but Moses was an exaggerator, an instigator of panic. The word “doom” wasn’t lost on the assembly, either. The indecipherable murmur returned, this time louder.
Moses raised his hands, but the murmur continued. Although the Council was set up as a governing body, not all the aldermen were powerful enough to elicit obedience.
Leo stood and raised his hands again. The crowd obeyed him. “Let Brother Moses speak, please,” he said.
Moses cleared his throat and continued. “That the water level in the wells has risen coupled with the water pouring from the holes in the Barren Sea, tells us we may be entering the Shift, as predicted many years ago by Eldress Donna Farrell, may she rest in shadow. We don’t know if this means the lakebed will fill to what we consider the banks or if it will rise higher to Helen’s Esker at the edge of Brewer’s Forest. If it rises over the banks, it may displace the few farms built on the periphery of the city to the east. We don’t know that, of course, but we should consider it.”
A man stood, younger and built strong like many of the second and third generation. He pushed back his long red hair and wiped a meaty hand across a beard. “If my farm floods, though, won’t that be a good thing? I have to pipe the water from the reservoirs now, and that water is shared with the farms to the west and those around Cemetery Hill. If I can get it from the Barren Sea, it doesn’t seem like doom to me. It seems like a gift from Father Elijah’s God.”
“Yes, yes,” Henry said. He took a step forward and stood before Moses, his notepad in hand. Leo knew this was his area of expertise, and with facts and numbers in front of him, he could make a good show of speaking in public. It might bore the crowd, but this was important information. “But we don’t know how high the water will rise. If there’s any indication from the level in the wells and the speed at which it has been rising, it may reach the walls of the city, especially when aided by the rain that has fallen. I have here the measurements from the wells to the west and those built north.” Henry looked down at his notepad. “The water level had been steady at one hundred thirty-one feet west and about ninety-five feet north. With the elevation rise from the banks, that puts the original level in the Barren Sea at fourteen feet. If water is coming up from the holes, it explains why the level in the north was last measured at fifty-two and a half feet and in the north, eighty-five. That time between the measurements was only eight days.” Henry looked back at the assembly. “If the Barren Sea fills, the water will be at our doorstep before the Short Moon sets.”
The assembly burst into conversation. Questions, impossible to hear clearly, were thrown all at once at the aldermen and Brother Leo. This was what Leo hoped to avoid by letting the scientific minds speak. They were typically clinical in their explanations, and left future predictions out. Not this time. This time, it seemed, Moses and Henry wanted to cause a stir.
A man stood shakily, his weight supported by a stick and the hand of the woman next to him. He waited for the cacophony in the room to lessen. When it did, he cleared his throat. “For a year after we came here, it rained. It let up on some days and poured like a waterfall on others. Even with all that rain, which by some estimates was nearly two feet per month—or cycle, as you young people call it—the Barren Sea remained dry. The water that fell was quickly absorbed into the soil, the holes never filled, and after a while, we realized that we were safe.” The man smacked his lips. “At least from the rain. So, we collected what fell, dug wells, and filled reservoirs. The rain that has been falling now is nothing like it was back then. I can’t see why this is even an issue. So what if the Barren Sea fills? Let it. About time we had a beach.”
Henry looked at Moses, who nodded at him. He turned back to the elder who was still standing. “Elder Asa, while we appreciate your service and the years you have given to our community, there is much that we don’t know about this world. Eldress Donna, who came with you, spent a good part of a decade trying to describe a climatology based on what little information she could gather. That climatology pointed to a decadal period, one wet and one dry. Did you not believe that then?”
“I did,” Asa said, “but I was younger, and as young people often are, too full of myself to think rationally. We all were. This so-called period never came to pass, and all it really did was remind us of the politics of climate change back on Earth. Eldress Donna was wrong, and even Elder Jackson said as much before he passed into shadow.”
“Was she wrong?” Henry took a step. “You and all the other elders measured this world with the instruments you brought along. You lacked the satellite resources to measure the atmosphere, yet you still came up with a way to forecast the weather a day or two out based on measurements taken and what your generation knew about fluid dynamics. But what you knew—and what we all know—is that our knowledge of this world stretches only so far as we have dared to explore.”
A few nods and mumbles of agreement rose from the crowd, but Asa was not one of those. “Horse shit, as they said back on Earth. You want to sow fear into the population so you can enact some sort of rule. I’ve seen it before, and we elders know what it looks like. It’s a shame there are so few of us left to argue. What about you, Elder Gordon? Do you buy into this?”
Leo winced. He had spent a while talking to Gordon privately about what the bubbling holes meant, about what the rising water levels signified. The elder was reluctant to believe anything, but at one point, Leo thought he had made progress. Still, he didn’t want Gordon to speak at this meeting and had hoped the elder would skip out, complain about an ulcer or some ailment, and remain in his chambers. It wouldn’t be the first time. On the other hand, Elder Gordon represented the soul of Father Elijah’s Circle of Light and all its descendants. Elders were to be respected. To muzzle him now would raise too many questions.
Gordon remained seated, his bulk and old age a hindrance to movement. He looked at Henry and Moses, then both Alexis and Esther. Finally, he cast his gaze on Leo and scowled.
“I can’t say, Elder Asa,” Gordon said. His gruff voice echoed in the room. “The water rises, the rain falls. What was it that Father Elijah preached to us before Transit, usually when there was dissention and grumblings of abandoning the notion of leaving? ‘On that day, the springs of the deep burst and the floodgates of Heaven were opened. Rain fell on the Earth forty days and forty nights.’ Something like that, anyway. Tragedy brings us a future peace.”
“And he also said that Bible stories were allegory,” Asa said. “What do you suggest? We round up the animals two by two?”
Some of those assembled chuckled. Gordon waved his hand dismissively. “Do you not have an open mind about the climatology of this world, Asa? Are you not curious?”
“I wasn’t curious when we had a carbon tax levied on us on Earth, and I’m not now.”
Leo furrowed his eyebrows. A carbon tax? What was that?
Asa sat back down. Either he was done with this argument or he was too weak to stand. Leo knew the gravity of this world was greater than Earth, and the elders were the most affected by it. The second generation—his own—was a little better at coping with the way things were and their bodies, which had known only this world’s pull, had adjusted. Evidently, evolutionary adaptation was a thing.
Leo stood and stepped to the front. He motioned for Moses and Henry to sit and raised his hands to quiet the crowd. “We do not need to decide about what to do right now. Think about this. Think about what we have told you and go back to your families and discuss it. For now, let us mourn those we lost today. Let us think about the Page and Lucas families and put our collective arms around them. We can get through this together.”
The crowd mumbled in agreement as Brother Leo looked back at Gordon. Although his words supported the claims of both Henry and Moses, his face did not. Beside him, Esther and Alexis also looked conflicted.
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