The sun rose magenta, touching the blinds and prompting them to open. Zephyr yawned, stretching his arms to the light that filled his bedroom. He commanded the south glass-wall to slide down. The canto of the robins and the scent of ripe saskatoons along city boulevards further stirred him from his slumber. He had hardly slept, anticipating his first real trip in seven years, and imagining the hot Saturna Island sands tickling his toes. He squinted, spotting the bird on the apple tree. His left eye had already healed. Just in time to take in the travel sights. His weekly VR travels to the South Pacific did not count, regardless of the marketing ploys dreamed up by the travel agents.

“Good-morning, world-traveller,” Saabia, his mind-assistant, greeted him, and the words reminded Zephyr that he must hurry. His hunger also called for attention. He rolled out of bed, bit into an elderberry bar ready on his bedside plate. It was moist and drenched in C and Zinc. His travel bag overflowed with ocean play-gear. He would remove the scuba suit. Better to rent a shoddier set at the resort, and save on the weight allowance overcharge.

In his velvet voice, Saabia listed the tasks for that Monday.

  • Vote on next week’s rainfall levels for the Crescent Heights neighbourhood.
  • Vote on the weekly plebiscites for Mohkínstsis city council, also the Bow bio-region and the WholeGaia governments.
  • Send note to Dr. Hector to postpone follow-up appointment for last week’s eye replacement.
  • Send Griffin feedback on re-drawing the Athabasca wind map currents after the tornado. Suggest SW mill re-alignments. Assure him of your TidalWorks Energy visit while on Coastal holiday stint.
  • Message Lacki that he can swing by next week to harvest the peas, lettuce and tomatoes from the rooftop garden.

For the voting platform summaries, he did not rely on Saabia. He could never be sure who would hi-hack the info Saabia relied on in order to sway the logarithms. Sometimes, even the AI makers had a wretched finger in the matter. He was glad that his BlockChain voting ID could never be wrangled from him. He appreciated fulfilling his compulsory civic duty from his bed, or while brushing his teeth. Now, that was modernity.

Zephyr had already decided he would vote against boosting the hydrogen cell production to accommodate a ten percent increase in industrial output and global travel credits. No way, Trumpé. He scratched his bald head, frowned at the bump, which he guessed to be a zit from excessive pesto sauce for breakfast. For sure, he would also vote against increasing the annual allotted travel miles, or increasing the individual carbon output. How could people ever forget the 2027 and 2045 pandemics that shrank the world’s population by half? Or the rising oceans and the rogue weather that had displaced and killed millions? Catastrophic each and every time, by golly. It took people three massive plagues and four ecological flood, fire and tsunami disasters, before they finally woke up to reality. He sighed. Humans were slow to change their tango steps on the planet. Even today, some folks continued to lobby a return to late twentieth century fantasies of travelling every year to the southern beaches, as if it were their birthright. Not him. Know your own backyard was his mantra.

He cheered Saabia’s quarterly house energy report while slipping into his maroon, sunshield Pritet outfit. For three successive months his solar rooftiles, and his geo-thermal well, had generated more kWh than he had consumed. He was already saving the surplus credits into the grid for his next holiday trip, and considering that his carbon savings account would be depleted after this two-week holiday to the Dunes of Saturna, that was a reason to celebrate. Luckily, he was faster than most to save. Lacki, his best friend, who worked at the Orphan-Wells government agency, was still halfway to his dream holiday in the Yucatán. Drinking and gambling was wasting his precious credits away. Zephyr realized that he should not underestimate that his volunteering with the elderly and the good social deeds in the cyborg community had supplemented a fair chunk of credit to his travel balance.

Zephyr stood by his open bedroom wall, staring at the Bow that trickled along its wide bed, below his Crescent Heights neighbourhood. It showed more boulders and rock than its refreshing, silty water. Swirling ducks fought for the few crumbs that a lone passerby tossed in their midst. Zephyr attempted to imagine the riverside pathway in a time before people had fled the cities to breathe and eat better, well before the mass tourism had dried up, and the trinket industry closed shop. He smiled, drawn to the sparkling glint from the once state-of-the-art convention centre across the river, now turned into a tomato and basil greenhouse facility. The thought of basil watered his mouth, and drew him toward the kitchenette.

With his upcoming trip in mind, Zephyr decided to skip the morning news and left his wall screen sleeping in. He already spent excessive time dating on screens. He could not afford another eye replacement for a long time now. He rummaged in the fridge for his breakfast ingredients. Holographic Saabia had followed him to the kitchen, and the nervous humming, in light of this new screenless morning pattern, showed Saabia’s discomfort.

“I really, really think that you should tune into the news,” Saabia finally said in his most polite tone, index finger tapping blue lips in the process

Distracted, staring at his nearly-empty jar of pine nuts, Zephyr pondered whether to wear his purple Graphenac shoes or the red Hemplees to the airport. The ominous soundtrack blasting from the screen jolted his thoughts. He turned. A swarm of flying drones captured every imaginable angle of the destruction along an ocean shore, and the reporter spoke well above a reasonable speed limit, considering it was so early in the morning.

Zephyr cringed, frowning at Saabia, “Why spoil my morning with freshly-harvested tragedies?”

Saabia raised his blue-pink eyebrows, then scratched his forest-green cropped hair. Turning around, he busied himself zapping up the air control settings, and increasing the negative ions in the home atmosphere.

Zephyr gaped at the screen, realizing he stared at the Salish coast where he was supposed to land, later that morning, aboard the Co-op AirSolar Express. He swivelled on his bare feet, carried on separating the leaves from the basil stem. All-knowing-Saabia hummed him the favourite Lennon tune, Imagine. Yes, he had a weakness for the Oldies. He smiled. Wise Saabia, understood that the tune would bring down Zephyr’s heart-rate and stoke his spirits. Hope was still the best medicine.

In the midst of preparing pesto sauce to flavour the breakfast bowl of wild rice, and clasping a garlic bulb harvested from his garden bed, Zephyr commanded the food processor to slide out of the wall. Petrified, he absorbed the close-up image of the mangled body of a father frozen in the act of clutching his daughter to his chest. The rescuers did not attempt to pry the child’s body from her father. The pictures jumped from overview shots of crumbled multi-storey buildings to sweeping ground views of uprooted trees, human and natural landscapes erased without distinction.

“Do you think I should cancel my holiday trip?” Zephyr turned to his singing assistant, who sensibly, had muted the screen. Saabia seemed already busy scanning the flight database in his head for an alternative destination, all within the allotted travel credits and geo-range constraints.

A shudder of gratitude for his late husband’s seemingly neurotic compulsions travelled through Zephyr ‘s chest. A mere six years ago, despite Zephyr and his then teen daughter’s valiant year-long resistance, Sadpra had convinced the family to relocate from shrinking Vaanich Island and the expanding shores of the Pacific, to Mohkinstsis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. All the while he warned, “When the blood-thirsty earth plates shake our island, when the ocean catches the falling bodies for salmon fertilizer, then the fine wall of rock between the St. Andreas fault and our lives in the Rockies’ shield will prove a reliable defense.” Sadpra had emphasized the word shake with a frown and a shake of the fist as if he were on his Sunday pulpit. Zephyr and their teenage daughter had raised their eyebrows in unison and joined forces in arguing the million and one reasons moving to the pastel, arid foothills, equated to a move to the dinosaur age. Zephyr had discounted the probability of falling into the ocean. “Unlike climate change, the likelihood of St. Andreas fault going lambada is too remote to come in our lifetime,” he had claimed. His daughter Alia agreed that the event seemed bound to happen in some other century. The seismologists predicted and warned about the overdue shimmy, and yet there was a four-hundred-year window, wasn’t there? Think positive, husband and daughter had insisted. Sadpra responded with a snort and a sarcastic glance at the east window. “Maybe your positive energies will prove the experts wrong, and instead of moving mountains, you’ll be able to stop mountains from moving.”

Zephyr opened the food processor’s lid as he watched the sweeping image of a speckled sky blotted by the eagles descending on the West Coast rubble. The drone footage along the mile-long Oak Bay Avenue in Camosack City revealed rooftops under ocean waves, a street no longer located in a neighbourhood with a ten-million-dollar view. Zephyr ‘s gaze fastened on the eagles that descended on scattered and bloated bodies washing ashore. A close-up of the birds fighting over a body, and crowding the prized eyes, prompted him to turn his face. Zephyr returned his attention to preparing his breakfast and felt nauseated while peeling the garlic bulb.

He tossed the basil leaves, garlic, and pine nuts in the mixer bowl, sprinkled salt, added a dash of cayenne, and commanded the blender on. He watched it grind everything into a paste. The olive oil, he dripped in a slow stream, thickening the sauce.

It was no secret that many Mohkinstsian residents, including Zephyr, had covertly waited for the coast to slide into the ocean, hoping then to finally afford oceanfront property a stone’s throw from the foothills. This, of course, remained an impolite conversation avoided by most. The earthquake and tsunami tragedy had been a long-predicted event, but it was nevertheless unexpected. Much like the return of religious saviours, or the end of the world, such events were supposed to occur in another lifetime, a time other than his own. The vague and misunderstood consequences stood too close for focus, or detailed contemplation.

Zephyr continued to stare at the wall-size screen that enlarged the tragedy and made the colours more vivid, larger than life. The commentator’s voice drowned to a silence now, so in his mind he imagined the refrain: unprepared, unexpected, unfortunate. He dipped a finger in the pesto sauce. Hmmm. He added more cayenne and rock salt, grateful that the processor’s rumble had silenced his worries. On the screen, the slider footnote read, Parallel Indigenous & Colonial Parliaments Sit in Kanata House to approve national budget. Zephyr raised his thumb to Saabia, as if saying, ‘finally’.

The phone rang. Zephyr glanced at the flashing display: Government Travel Bureau. His new holiday destination had been arranged. He pressed his hands together over his heart, thanking Saabia. His assistant had outdone himself behind the scenes, and had saved his much-anticipated getaway.

“This is your lucky day, Mr. Zephyr. We still have one spot left at two of our nicest resorts. Would you prefer Lake Minnewanka or the historic resort of Sylvan-Kinabik Lake, sir?”

Saabia attempted to beam his most upbeat smile. He added a two-step dance from the time of cowboys, and pretended to lasso Zephyr with a long rope throw.

“You can also finally try the new Alberta intercity Harefoot Line.” Saabia’s grin looked exaggerated.

“Hydrogen powered,” the Bureau’s assistant added as if a cherry on a cake.

Zephyr shrugged. He was not one to be deflated easily. This was the time to live up to his favourite motto: dream globally, play locally. Words were always easier than action. He glanced at the screen one last time, sighing at the Pacific surf crashing over a high-rise tower.

“Giddy-up.” Zephyr tossed the imaginary lasso back to Saabia. “Yee-haw. Let’s ride that Lightening Hoof to Sylvan-Kinabik.”

“It’s the Harefoot, sir,” corrected the Bureau’s voice-assistant, still on the line, waiting to confirm the reservation.

“Same difference,” Zephyr said.

This time Saabia and Zephyr both grinned.

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paulo da costa
Born in Angola, and raised in Portugal, paulo da costa is a writer, editor and translator living in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. He is the recipient of the 2020 James H. Gray Award for Short Nonfiction, the 2003 Commonwealth First Book Prize for the Canada-Caribbean Region, the W. O. Mitchell City of Calgary Book Prize and the Canongate Prize for short-fiction. His poetry, fiction and non-fiction have been published widely in literary magazines around the world and translated into Italian, Spanish, Serbian, Slovenian and Portuguese. The Midwife of Torment is his latest book of fiction.