SHYLOH’S ASSISTANT entered the meeting room and walked briskly to the head of the table where her boss sat.
“Judith has asked that you join her in the situation room immediately,” she whispered in his ear. “Aiya is on her way.”
Shyloh was relieved. It was becoming more difficult for him to be civil at meetings like these.
All around them chaos reigned. Countries were falling into anarchy as devastating droughts caused crop failures and widespread famine sparked violent conflicts for arable land and potable water.
Rising sea levels combined with storm surges from catastrophic weather events were obliterating populated coastlines killing tens of thousands and causing untold human and economic deprivation. Recently a category six hurricane with sustained winds of two hundred and thirty-five miles an hour and a thirty-six foot high storm surge obliterated Miami. Neighbourhoods in major coastal cities worldwide including New York and New Orleans were now under water. The Maldives, Solomon Islands, and the Seychelles were uninhabitable saltwater shoals. Half the year Bangladesh was flooded by seawater, the rest of the time it was a barren wasteland, the salinity left behind making farming impossible.
Millions were dying, millions were on the move.
So far Cascadia had been lucky. There was enough food to eat though variety was becoming more limited. There was enough clean water to drink though lawns were a thing of the past as were golf course greens, car washes, outdoor pools and fountains.
The only obvious hardship was the air was harder to breathe during the summer months due to the smoke from forest fires, the number doubling in the past twenty years.
But Shyloh had no illusions. Climate change threatened food availability and destabilized supply chains. Market prices were rising, purchasing power falling and his country still had not attained food security. Yet despite increasing hardships Cascadia was one of the few countries in the world with a stable government and a functioning society. Millions of climate refugees were desperate to immigrate legally or otherwise, and foreign interests were keen on exploiting their diminishing and non-renewable resources. The next few years would be critical. After that the pressure would ease off as the population of human beings began to decline–dramatically.
Shyloh looked at the faces of Cascadia’s Economic Counsel. The academics were eager to continue arguing using theories that were no longer relevant. The bankers appeared shocked and befuddled as they tried to grasp what for them was an out-of-context reality. Only the business leaders seemed thoughtful, considering the new rules and how their companies could adapt and be profitable.
“I’m sure I’ve left you all with a lot to think about,” Shyloh said. “At our next meeting I’d like to hear your ideas on how we can improve and move forward with this economic agenda.” He stood. “But be advised, the time for debate is over.”
Judith was sitting down when they arrived and quickly got to her feet. She looked tired. Shyloh thought she hadn’t taken enough time to recover from the gunshot wound that had collapsed her lung.
“We have a small flotilla of ships approaching the north coast.” Judith pointed to a spot in the North Pacific about three hundred miles east of Cascadia.
“Human traffickers?” Shyloh said.
“Five vessels; four fishing trawlers and a small freighter. There’s the potential of one thousand illegal migrants on board.”
“Where are they from?” Aiya said. She sat down. Where Judith had looked radiant when pregnant, Aiya looked pale and haggard. Judith had been twenty, Aiya was now thirty-four.
“China, Fujian province.” Judith clicked a remote, and a monitor showed a video of three of the vessels pitching in high seas. The gunwales of the ship in the foreground were discolored with rust, the deck crowded with passengers huddled together against the wind and rain.
“This was taken from our Aurora patrol plane an hour ago. We’re broadcasting on all channels in English as well as Hokkien and Cantonese instructing them to turn back, but they refuse to make radio contact.”
“What do you propose?” Shyloh said.
When the military ceded power to the Triumvirate the first thing Aiya demanded was the promise of citizenship be fulfilled. It was, but at the same time a moratorium had been declared on all further immigration including family reunification. One criterion for the success of a steady state economy was a stable population. You couldn’t ask your citizens voluntarily to restrict the number of children they had and not do something about migrants.
“We have two patrol vessels and a frigate converging on them. We’ll reach the snakehead’s boats while they’re still in international waters.”
“Meaning those aboard are not entitled to Cascadian rights and freedoms.” Aiya’s tone was defiant.
“We have to send a message,” Judith said. It was an order not a suggestion. She folded her arms and looked at Aiya.
“We all knew it would come to this eventually,” Shyloh said.
“There are women and children on those ships.” Aiya was shaking. “Maybe even babies.” Her hand went to her swelling stomach. “I won’t allow anything to happen to them.”
“It’s their choice,” Judith said. “Turn back or be sunk.”
“That’s not a choice. It’s death either way.”
Judith’s lieutenant entered the room. “General, we’ve established contact.”
Judith pushed the speaker button.
“We need help.” It was a man’s voice with a Chinese accent. “We have run out of food and water. There is sickness. Many have died.”
There was silence.
Another flu pandemic was sweeping the planet. H7N9 was highly contagious flu and decimating the populations of Russia and China. Every time the World Health Organization announced a vaccine had been discovered the virus mutated and became even more deadly. There was a rumour the melting permafrost in Siberia had exposed corpses of victims of the Spanish flu of 1918 and the pathogen that had caused it had been preserved in the cold, airless, dark environment and now had been resurrected by climate change. A hundred and twenty years ago it killed fifty million people and if reports were to be believed it had surpassed that mark months ago.
Judith and Shyloh looked at Aiya. They needed a consensus on this. Aiya had incredible influence among the new Cascadians. They revered, even worshiped her as a spiritual leader. Many of her followers had made a similar journey to find a new life. Perhaps some even had relatives aboard these ships. It had to be Aiya’s decision.
“If they won’t turn back, then do what you must prevent them from landing.” Aiya stumbled into a chair and put her face in her hands.
“We’ll air drop supplies and medicine,” Shyloh said. It was an empty gesture, but he felt he had to make it.
Judith left with the soldier.
“It was the right decision, Aiya.” Shyloh put his hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged it off and got up. “I must go and pray for the souls of those people–and for ours.”
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