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An excerpt from my novel Loose Ends: The Wall, Book 6 of Volume 1 of DRAGON DRIVE

. . . Suddenly sobering, Al asked him, “We’ve been hearing about the crazy weather up in the central and northern part of the state, too. Freak storms, all sorts of stuff – and, of course, the wildfires. From the rumors, you’d think most of the state was on fire at times!”

“It’s not just rumor,” Monty told him, sighing. “Wildfires keep breakin’ out all over, ’specially in the areas where there’s lots o’ chaparral an’ manzanita, which is all up an’ down the coast from here to northern Oregon an’ mebbe beyond, if’n anythin’s growin’ on what’s left o’ the Washington State peninsula again. Damned things are botanical pyromaniacs – they set seed under fire, so o’ course they’ve learned how to draw lightnin’ to start the fire. They build up a huge electrical charge in their roots an’ finally it draws a big bolt o’ lightnin’, which sets ’em on fire (along with ever’thin’ else around ’em). Since the fire makes ’em release their seeds, they’re the first things to colonize the burned-over area. (Nasty way to die, but it gives ’em one hell of a competitive edge over other plants.)

“Where there’s been drought in the chaparral forests, as you can imagine, there’s fires breakin’ out all over the place, an’ once a fire gets started in there it’ll go forever, ’cause the conditions are right for it. So an awful lot o’ the state is burnin’ right now. Same’s true of Oregon an’ several other states. I’ve heard that the smoke from the fires there an’ in Oregon is as bad as it was in 2008, when the drought in California was at least as bad as it is now, and they had all those fires caused by those weird lightning-storms come in from the Pacific – like it was then, the smoke piles up behind the Sierra Nevadas an’ the Cascades, headin’ north until it blankets most o’ Central Washington an’ eastern Oregon, an’ comes down the passes in the Cascades like a dirty flood-tide, all the way to the eastern shores o’ that ghastly volcanic lake that makes up most o’ Western Washington,” he said, shaking his head, frowning.

“Greenhouse Effect causing the droughts, do you think?”

“Yeah – that and a positive-feedback effect. As the greenery dies off, there are fewer an’ fewer plants to transpire water upwards to keep the air hydrated. That makes things hotter, which dries things out more an’ causes more plants to die off, an’ so it goes. Plus, a lot o’ the aquifers that used to carry water to lots of areas in the West are either dried up, or shifted their beds, or have become so toxic that the water they hold kills all the plants it touches. So more an’ more land in the West is becomin’ barren an’ stayin’ that way, an’ the areas fringin’ the barren lands are burnin’ like torches ’cause they ain’t gettin’ any rain, or the chaparral is doin’ its firebuggy thing, or both.”

“Yeah, but they’re having floods in places this summer, too – we’ve been hearing about freak rainstorms, even snowstorms in some places! Northern Utah, northern Nevada, northern New Mexico and Arizona, even the northern parts of this state. Always the north, for some reason – I mean, it’s summer in those places, too, so why is it only hot and dry in the southern parts of those states?”

“Hey, there’ve been some freak storms this summer over by Lake Havasu City, the Chocolate Mountains, even one close to Rockland, Nevada. Not so many as in the northern areas o’ those states, but they’ve happened, an’ they’ll prob’ly continue to happen. All that the Greenhouse Effect means is that there’s more heat in the system, an’ it’s gettin’ pumped around faster than it used to be. That means that things’re gettin’ more an’ more chaotic – storms when an’ where you least expect ’em, rainfall patterns changin’ unpredictably from one year to the next, droughts followed by floods followed by droughts in ways nobody can predict. The reason that the southern parts o’ the states are more likely to be hit by drought is that at least as far as our state, Nevada, Arizona, an’ New Mexico go, those areas was already largely desert or close to it by the time the Greenhouse Effect really started sockin’ in. Without more water comin’ in from elsewhere than they already had, rivers diverted into ’em, or that sort o’ thing, they’re gonna stay desert, an’ that means that they’re far more likely to lose rainfall. (Can’t really call it ‘drought’ when you only get 1-10 inches o’ rain a year at most, anyways, an’ then start gettin’ less, can you? Even so, a desert area gets used to so much water per year, an’ when the amount drops by a significant percentage, the life it sustains suffers terribly, ’specially since parasites tend to burrow in hard into their hosts, to have the best chance o’ keepin’ what water they got.)4

“Northern parts o’ those states tend to be higher in elevation than the southern areas, so they’ve always gotten more o’ whatever moisture there was available, an’ held onto more of it, an’ longer, than the southern areas. From reports we get from the Fleet from time to time, places back East like Georgia, say, or South Carolina, have the reverse patterns, ’cause their highland-lowland topography is diff’rent than ours. Plus, the ocean there is east o’ them, not west, an’ ’cause o’ the way the winds set in the Atlantic versus in the Pacific, that changes things, too.

“An’, o’ course, the storms in the Caribbean as well as out in mid-Atlantic an’ mid-Pacific are gettin’ bigger an’ bigger. Heard tell there was a hurricane late last year close by the Gulf o’ Mexico had average wind speeds – average, mind you, which don’t say nothin’ about top wind speed – o’ 350-400 miles per hour! An’ monster tornadoes in the Midwest up to two miles across, movin’ at an average ground speed of up to 100 miles per hour, with winds o’ somethin’ like 500 miles per hour in the funnel. Kind o’ thing that can rip mountains apart.

“That ain’t even mentionin’ the fact that the Jet Stream is startin’ to descend all the way to the ground regularly, sandin’ off towns here an’ there like you or I would brush grit off a tabletop. It did that once’r twice back at the end o’ the last century, an’ up until the War it only did it about ten more times. But ever since the War, it’s started doin’ that in the temperate zones o’ both hemispheres, north an’ south, two or three times ever’ single year. It ain’t happened at all at latitudes less’n about 40 degrees, so far, so we’re prob’ly safe, at least for now, but I ain’t takin’ any bets on it about the future.

“An’ then there’s what’s been happenin’ with the monsoon season in the Far East, things like that. That’s what the Greenhouse Effect is doin’ – screwin’ ever’thin’ up. Winters are becomin’ wilder an’ harsher, too, far more so in a lot o’ places than they ever used to be – one report I got last year said somethin’ about temperatures recorded in Siberia in the Winter o’ ’44 by some o’ the Admiral’s researchers who made an expedition there. It was a hundred an’ twenty degrees below zero Fahrenheit there, an’ Alaska’s reported similar things there, too. An’ that’s not countin’ wind-chill factor.”

“Jesus – one hundred and twenty below zero? Monty, that’s – that’s like something you’d expect on Mars. On Mars in the winter!”

“Yep. Oh, yes, the Greenhouse Effect is causin’ more droughts – but also nastier Winters, as well. Not to mention floods that’d give Noah a fright, lightnin’ storms that burn whole counties out, hailstorms that flatten vast tracts o’ conifer forest, literal tornadoes o’ fire that go screamin’ across the Midwest, burnin’ ever’thin’ they run across, you name it! The thing that makes for planetary heatin’ is that no matter how much snow an’ ice get deposited in the Winter, more of it melts the followin’ Spring an’ Summer than got laid down the Winter afore. Overall, the amount o’ the Earth’s surface covered by ice an’ snow has been goin’ down steadily over the past 70-80 years, ’cept for a slight reversal o’ the trend the past couple o’ years or so (an’ don’t look for that reversal to be permanent, or even just long-term, by any means). That’s what makes for global heatin’ – but a hell of a lot of snowfalls, freak storms, falls o’ hail, an’ every other damn thing you normally associate with Autumn an’ Winter in temperate or arctic zones comes with it.”

“I’ve always wished I’d taken one of your classes on ecology, Monty – God, a man can learn more from you about that or just about any other subject in one hour than from most others in days, or even weeks!” Al told him wistfully. Then, his face lighting up, he added, “– Oh, I almost forgot. We do have one more item you might want to take a look at before you leave.”

“What’s that?” Monty asked him.

“Bulk white sugar, would you believe! Cane and beet sugar, both.”

“Hey, I heard that cane an’ sugar-beet was comin’ back!” Monty told him, smiling. “Where’re you gettin’ ’em from?”

“Cane sugar’s mainly coming in from the Pacific coast of Mexico, though we do get some from Costa Rica and a little from Hawaii. The beet sugar comes from Colorado – you know they’ve recovered a lot of the land east of the Rockies there? That’s where they’re growing sugar-beets in quantity. Good land for it. Guess they bring water in from elsewhere, though – not a lot of rainfall in Colorado any more, I hear.”5

“We’re gettin’ stuff from Hawaii?”

“Yeah – we’re trading with the Admiral’s people, who bring it in from there. It’s not a lot – Lord, the Islands were hit pretty bad in some ways by the War, even though they weren’t nuked. But they’ve got a few cane and pineapple plantations going on the Big Island again, and part of Kauai and Maui are under cultivation again, too. Guess the Admiral’s people stop here first on the way in from the Islands, before they go on to anywhere else, because we must be getting most of Hawaii’s sugar production – it isn’t much to start with, they tell me, and the amount of it we’ve been buying must be almost all of it!”

“What’re we payin’ for it?”

“Cloth, paper, needles, pre-packaged vitamins and minerals, cat food (they keep lots of cats, because the cats keep down the rats, but to keep the cats and their kittens healthy they have to supplement), dog food (same deal – and dogs don’t eat much fish, the way cats will), venison, all kinds of stuff they need or want. Heck, they do deals with us for some of the comic books that those crazy kids up on the 16th floor turn out!”

“You mean the science-fiction an’ military an’ the X-rated stuff?” Monty asked him, chuckling.

“Yeah. They’re pretty good, I have to admit that. We don’t sell most of those down here – a lot of them are a little too, uh, juicy for most people’s taste. But I have subscriptions to some of them – as long as I don’t let the kids get into ’em, my wife doesn’t object,” he said with a grin.

“I can imagine. Bill Jamieson told me about some lines o’ comics like that that come out in the last couple o’ decades o’ the 20th century – ZAP Comix, an’ Kitchen Sink Press, things like that.”

“Those kids even turn out a line of SubGenius comics, would you believe!”

“Hmm . . . mebbe it’s time I did an inspection tour up on that floor, just to sorta, you know, make sure nothin’ untoward’s goin’ on . . .” Monty said with a wink.

“Swipe some for me while you’re at it, Monty,” Al told him, laughing. “Anyway, we finally have white sugar in – a lot of it. Engineering just bought about half our current stock for making absolute alcohol and methanol for themselves and Medical.”

“Baby-Girl, shall we get some white sugar?” Monty asked me.

“How much is it, Al?”

He quoted the price. “Oh, Lord, that’s one hell of a lot more than we can really afford –” I began.

“Hey, this’n’s on the house, paid outta General Accounts. It’s just this one time, so why not take the opportunity an’ get a few pounds o’ the stuff? It’s been so long since I’ve eaten a cake with icin’ made with real white sugar . . .” Monty said. His voice sounded so wistful that I hadn’t the heart to say no.

“Okay, Al,” I said, “we’ll take ten pounds of white sugar. I don’t know if we’ll ever purchase any more, but just this once can’t hurt, surely. Oh, and a grinder to turn some of it into confectioner’s sugar – you can’t make decent icing out of anything with a coarser grind.” Monty’s solar grin was all the thanks I needed.

Then something else occurred to me. “Al?”


“I’d like to place an order out of my own account.” Giving him the number, I said, pointing, “What I’d like is one of those giant picnic baskets you have over there, and I’d like it filled with several things that I’ll also purchase from you. I want it delivered tonight when the carts come up with our food – could you have it boxed, so the contents aren’t visible?”

“Sure!” Briefly eyeing the boxes, which sat on a shelf to his left, he said, “Let’s see . . . I’d guess a carton about two by three by four feet . . . Sure,” he said again. “We’ve got plenty of cartons at least that large in the back, and there’s no shortage of popcorn for packing. – Okay, what do you want to go in the basket? This is a gift for someone, right?”

“Er, sort of,” I said, aware of Monty’s growing amusement and curiosity.

“I can attach a big red ribbon and a nice card to the basket’s handle, if you like,” Al told me, smiling. “No extra cost – it’s kinda fun to do that sort of thing every so often.”

“Sure, if you want to. What sort of card?”

“It’ll be blank, so you can put your own message in it. The picture on the outside can be whatever you want – I’ll run it off on the computer here from our image collection.”

“Okay, how about a collection of cactus in bloom against a desert background?”

“Prickly-pear cholla? With fruit? And maybe a couple of nesting desert birds?” he said, grinning – I swear sometimes Al was telepathic.


“Okay, you got it. And the envelope’ll be desert tan with marbling of blues, purples, and earth colors. That suit?”

“It sounds lovely!”

“And what do you want in the basket?” he asked, taking out his notepad again.

“What have you got in the way of fancy cheeses? You know, the stuff that costs extra because it’s been packed in wine or aged in the keg or whatever they do with it?”

“Well, we have Cheddar, Brie, and Gouda, and several other classic varieties in both rounds and blocks. As you probably know, the rounds are covered with coats of red wax, and I recommend them rather than the blocks because the taste seems to be better, somehow. We’ve also got cheese spreads in tubs of various sizes ranging from half a pound up to three pounds.”

“Good Lord – I didn’t realize Dairy was getting that sophisticated!”

“Well, we get a lot of dairy products in trade from Bee & Dee Dairies6 – they work with goats, regular cattle (as far as I know, we’re the only keep processing milk from the big guys), and even animals such as sheep, horses, rabbits, hamsters, and, I swear to God, cats and dogs. (They’re the ones who provide mother’s milk for prize dogs, cats, horses, and so on – the vets all over the southern part of this state buy from them regularly. If there’s any kind of milk you want, they’re likely to have it, except for Tyrannobos milk, which, like I just said, is only produced by us.) What kinds would you like? – Here, come over to the big dairy case so you can see what we have,” he told us, walking over to the case and gesturing to us to follow him.

Stores really did have a superb production of cheeses. I selected some rounds of Gouda, Brie, and several other types of cheese, plus several one-pound tubs of various cheese spreads. To that I added three bottles of a good white wine, a basket of several varieties of dried fruit that had been sweetened with honey, a selection of potted meats, and a number of other luxury items.

“What’s goin’ on, Sugar?” Monty asked me, smiling. “Who’s the basket for?”

“It’s going to be a surprise – I have some different surprises for you, sweetheart, I just don’t want you accidentally giving this one away to the people who’re going to get it.”

“Bill and Rach’?”

“Now, now – you’ll just have to wait and see,” I admonished him gently.

“Okay, darlin’ – but I got to tell you, you got my curiosity goin’.”

To distract him, I said, “There’s something else we need to do – could you make a phone call to Dan, and ask him if we can buy a couple of his Best for this evening?”

“Oh, Lord,” he said, “I was gonna do that anyways. Good thing you reminded me. – Al, can I borrow your phone here for a minute’r two?” . . .

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Yael Dragwyla

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