Fragments from “The Distributive Passions”

The Distributive Passions is a fiction project that I’ve worked on from time to time, mostly as a way to explore problems in my study of anarchist history and theory in a novel context. These are simply fragments from the notebooks, which give some idea of the world in which the episodes are set.

Gabriel Solly leads a quiet life in the tiny community of New Earth, Oregon Territories (Universal Code Union, Owenite-Orthodox), laboring in the Archives of the New Earth Institute, marking time through the last of his council-service years. His mother, Elizabeth Barchester-Solly, of the rifle family, would like him to assume the role, his by hereditary right, of directing intelligence and prophet of the Radical Babelite sect. The church elders would probably prefer that he disappear, much as his father did shortly after Gabe’s birth. His grandfather, the original Prophet, has bequeathed to him a legacy that might well spell the end of Radical Babelism.

Gabe is a child of Socialist America, a true Territorial, educated in a full tour of the Cibola System. But the clock may be ticking on the Territories. The New Federalists seem to be gaining ground in the East, and there are indications that when next the Federal Expeditionary Command turns its attention to the territorial republics they may have something more than the usual “flower wars” in mind.

With his forty-fifth birthday staring him in the face, Gabe knows it’s high time he did something with his life, beyond puttering in the archive and constructing elaborate collages in his studio/study. Or maybe it’s past time. Some years back, the love of Gabe’s life left him to be the female messiah and spokes-model of the revived Saint-Simonian cult, and his current “girlfriend” is quite literally damaged goods—roughly decommissioned military materiel, in the form of a “minor military Madonna,” the cybernetic product of an experiment the Federals would dearly love to forget. She roams the abandoned military reserve that stretches from New Earth west nearly to the ocean. So does the “Man-Bear of the Saint Mary’s,” (if the tabloids can be trusted,) and everyone knows the woods are teeming with insect-machines. Things have arguably always been strange in New Earth, but the strangeness seems to be growing—all over the world, really.

Enter the Council of Councils (Universal Code Union, Owenite-Orthodox), who call on Gabe to attend an “Intergalactic Encounter” in the Marianas, where, in accordance with Fourierist prophecy, the ocean is turning into something very much like lemonade, and the first stirrings of the Era of Harmony seem to be repairing environmental damage that decades of anti-radiation remediation has hardly dented. Ill-prepared and armed with the most uncertain of mandates, Gabe flies off to give Radical Babelism and the Universal Code Communities a voice in what promises to be something of a replay of the Babelites favorite story.

Landing at Enewetak atoll, Gabe arrives in time to witness in person what most of us watched on television—the terrorist attacks, the U. N. intervention, the Battle of the Lagoons—and those events send him off on a new journey, in the islands of the Free Fourierists and on the floating platforms of the Pyrate Archipelago, and there he begins his initiation in the mysteries of the Distributive Passions.


Day of Departure.

The images come unbidden, and mostly in dreams. The Absent Father, standing in attendance to Our Lady of the Shelter, making love to Our Lady of the Radar Array. Prophecies of or for La Femme, always to the tune of some Thomas Dolby song: “Radio Silence,” “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” “One of Our Submarines.” Windpower, switch off the mind and let the heart decide, what you were meant to be. If only it was that easy. He cobbles them together in the wee hours of the night, and in those hours, Gabe feels the Solly blood, strongly.

* * *

Meredith has always dreamed, as long as she can remember, dreams of strange places and strangely familiar people. There is one man in her dreams, more often than any of the others. Sometimes young, and sometimes older, though not so old as her father, who is not so very old, but is certainly no longer young. Meredith herself is no longer very young, though sometimes she feels like a newborn, faced with a world in which she has traveled so little, aside from her nightly excursions in dream, but which she feels pushing at her more and more. With the pushing comes a vague anxiety for the man in her dreams. This is strange, she thinks, as the man seldom does anything in her dreams. He sits and reads old books, some of which she thinks she recognizes, or works away at some fine business with tweezers, craft knives, photographs and scraps. She has walked with him in some sandy forest, and along some very rocky beach. Always he is alone, palpably so—except for the night where some dark and looming shape, a bear perhaps, paced along behind him as he walked a narrow, rutted mountain road, all unaware. Meredith feels she is, in some sense, his guardian angel, but never has she felt so impotent to guard than in the course of that long dream-journey.

Meredith always dreams, sometimes prophecies of world events and conflict, and these dreams at times come true.

* * *

Half a world away, Margaret, the Holy Wife, the one they call ”La Femme”, checks her roots, and decides that tomorrow she will see her personal stylist. “Time to touch up the uniform,” she thinks. Once upon a time, the female aspect of the Messiah was expected to be dark of hair, eye, complexion, a bit swarthy even. Then came the revelation that God himself was one of those gentlemen who preferred blondes. Slightly before her time, that advance in the dogma, and, she suspected, most likely an innovation of Enfantin—the False Enfantin, she reminded herself—himself. She had her own reasons for preferring the imposture, her own reasons for continuing to fill a role which—she could finally, after all these years, be completely honest with herself—left her not only cold—as did her “husband,” the False Enfantin—but, increasingly, a bit nauseous.

So. A touch-up on the bleach job. The usual rounds, and the increasingly usual excuses to Him, as she took her lunch with an important group of potential patrons—matrons, she supposed, to be precise, rich old women sufficiently susceptible to His veneer of charm and her well-tuned routine to donate to the cause.

“The lost cause,” she thinks.

— It’s too bad you won’t be here for the official release. You’ve done so much work…

— right. And now it’s time for you to do some.

— Sure. While you go off gallivanting…

— While I fly off to the Island of Misfit Reformers and try to network for the System. Honestly, I think I would rather ride herd on the servers.

— C’mon. A week in the Wondrous Isles?

— Sun, sand, razors-harp coral, hot and cold running kooks and spooks…

— Etzlertech, seas of lemonade…

— Or Yellow Dye No. Whatever.

— What’s your problem with this? You were more excited to go to Nauvoo. Of course, Pearl was at Smith-Cabet at the time…

— Do you think she’s going to be there?

— Who? Pearl?

— Don’t play dumb with me, son.

— I don’t know.

— Does Priss?

— Young Priscilla, unlike some of my friends, knows how to leave sore subjects alone…most of the time, anyway.

— Admirable. You oughta marry the girl.

— Dammit, Will! Can you just lay off?

— Sorry, man. What is it? Really?

— Not much sleep. Walked up into the Reserve last night.

— To see Kaylie.

— Yeah. She was pretty bad. They brought up the stuff about Father again.

— Hmm. Tell you what. Soon as you get back from the Encuentro, we’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of all that. There’s a guy at Krotona, Chester Wing, who’s working on language therapy for Mollies. I had meant to pass along an article on it to you. Maybe he can do something for Our Ladies, and we can get some answers about your dad in the process.

— Hmm. Worth a try, I suppose. It’s tough to see her, see them like that.

— Well, you’ll be back in a couple of weeks. I’ll try to get in touch with this Wing character in the meantime.

Morning in The New Earth, Oregon. Late summer. Shadowy still in the canyon of the St. Mary’s, here, at least, where there is a canyon. Sun bright on the coast range, glinting here and there from some military cast off in the old Reserve: the half-ton on the slide, the radar array, a guy-wire string across the gorge from the Central Beacon. Far up the slope, a moving glint: a hill-climbing ATV perhaps, or a large insect-machine. For sounds, rustle and flow along the river, the drone of the mill just upstream. More traffic these days on the main drag, with the road more or less open again to the coast. A few pickup trucks and a jacked-up “backwoods cadillac” pulling a small trailer. Insect chorus, of course, with here and there the tell-tale creak of a tiny tree-feeder, assembled since the sprayers were last out, or blown in on the evening breeze. The far-off drone of a cropduster, out marking the forest edges and spraying the fields with anti-nano spray. Groggy, from much too little sleep. Errands and leave-takings have filled days to overflowing, spilling over late into last night, my last night, at least for awhile, here in New Earth. Wandering the reserve roads by moonlight, searching for Our Lady of the Central Beacon, alert for any sign of The Bear. Kaylie, Our Lady, my friend and, let’s be honest, sometimes at least a bit more, sitting by the shelter-gate with the Madonna (Federal Expeditionary Forces, decommissioned) of the Radar Array. Very much decommissed this time, both of them, glitching hard in and out of the most formal phrases of greeting and farewell. Voices stammering, buzzing at odd intervals, sounding for all the world like the Harvester or one of the big saws up at the mill. ”Welcome and thanks you. Farewell. On behalf of the Fededdedederal Ex. Peditional fofarewellell. For thank for you for visit this fac. . . God blessess. May He go with you. Gabriel, I. . .” Tears in the eyes of My Lady. Awkward silence. Tears. The package under my arm. ”Umm. From Ben Burr. Can you carry it up a ways, by the den? Keep the machines off?” Nods. Unsteady. Gabriel, certainly. From the other: ”Your father was with us, you know.” I don’t know, though this is well-worn ground. If my father was here, sometime, and they’re so notoriously bad with time, he is clearly not here now. He’s off with the circus now, I expect. It’s the old joke, not funny, though he did, I’m told, in youth do just that. Run off and join the circus. Eleven hours til my flight and my bags are packed. More baggage at the moment I just can’t take on. For Benjamin. Handing over the package. Yes. Silent, awkward embraces, though the silence seems to help. I see a bit more Kaylie in Our Lady of the Central Beacon, a little less of the broken clockwork girl. May he go with you. . . ? She tries. I’m already out on the suspension bridge. It comes across faint, plaintive, difficult to hear, and impossible to decode. ”I’ll be home soon.” In the moment, as on reflection, I’m just talking, because I can. Because my voice doesn’t break into cicadas and heavy machinery. For better or worse, my voice doesn’t break at all. I’m not sure it speaks well of me.


Upstairs at the White Eagle, 4:30 AM and the lodgers are stirring long before sunup. Gabe finds himself caught in the pre-dawn bustle of Wobbly longshoremen and commercial travelers. He’s let himself “sleep in” a little, and the shower queues are already daunting. A kid comes up the front staircase with a stack of morning news-sheets and pretty much shoves them into Gabe’s arms, then turns and dashes back downstairs. Fortunately, there is no shortage of takers in the line, and he passes off handfuls to the bleary but eager readers around him.

With the sun just coming up, Lombard Station was already a circus. Gabe hopped off the bus at the last stop before the street was swallowed by the tents—along with nearly everyone else on board. He thought that the stop was a block or two back from the last time he had been through, though it was a little hard to tell. A sort of Delhi bazaar was sprouting up amid the strip malls, and the landmarks were constantly changing. The bus lanes narrowed and veered off the painted stripes to weave in under the canvas. He darted across them and cut through a bike corral, bypassing the first rank of carts, where the fly-by-nights served coffee—or maybe one more “one more for the road”—to the remaining ‘crawlers. He made his way in as straight a line as he could manage across the lots, toward the trolley stops across Interstate, through the sprawl of tents and carts,—and cars, and blankets spread on the ground,—and more gingerly across the choked-in car lanes that still challenged the agorist rezoning action here and there. The wind from the gorge was blowing—stirring bits of trash around his feet, and turning an odd assortment of turbines, ventilators and such-like above. Under the “big tops” the air was heavy with all sorts of odors and aromas—grease and biogas fumes, roasting coffee, brewing yeast, the spices of two or three dozen nations and cuisines—but all-in-all breathable, with no particular element overpowering the others, or the passersby. The noise was of a different order—at least for now—as the workers roused themselves and each other to the night’s final efforts. Within the hour, the regular commuters would begin to arrive, taking possession of the nascent agora from the drunks and night-owls, travelers and swing-shift crews. And the jungle would present a very different face—and voice—and smell.

Gabe enjoyed the atmosphere “backstage,” the sense of chaos destined to order. The marketplace seemed well on its way. From his limited vantage, it struck him that it must have doubled, perhaps tripled in size since he last passed through—only a couple of weeks before. He crossed a partially depaved parking lot—still without signs of either neighborhood or Metro authorization, but without protest markers either. Where there was one, particularly this close to the street, there was likely—or likely would be—more. Coming down off a curb and up on a wall of carts, he realized he had reached Interstate. Once he found a path out to what was left of the street, he could just follow the MPTC tracks north and then west to the platforms.

Looking around, he found himself relatively alone. He checked his watch—found he was still running ahead of schedule. Walking back to the shelter of one of the big central uprights, he surveyed his surroundings: No cops. Land trust donation buckets out—and far from empty. His impression was that—here in the midst of the rezone, at least—things were rather comfortable.

Convinced he was free of unwanted attention, Gabe cozied up to the support column and quickly unbuttoned his coat—an old L. L. Bean “Working Traveller,” with a few alterations—and then the flannel beneath it, to access the trader’s belt he wore bandelero-style underneath. He took a deep breath, took one crisp bill from an inner pocket, and then thumbed restlessly through most of the outer ones. He pulled his wallet—a worn, modest two-fold, jammed with an odd assortment of small bills—from his back pocket, and made a few transfers between wallet and belt—thought for a minute—reversed a couple of his choices—sighed—and reshuffled one last time—for now, at least. He took the coins from his pockets, eying and jingling them softly before returning them to his jeans. He was, he decided, still a few steps shy of a currency strategy for this trip, but he was generally satisfied with his resources. A little rusty, he thought, and probably over-thinking things. There’s still time for adjustment. Another cup of coffee would probably be a good start…

He shouldered his way out into the northbound lane of Interstate, through a gap between two carts so narrow that his backpack threatened to catch. In what remained of the street, sparse traffic crawled through clusters of cyclists and pedestrians that would soon be real crowds of commuters. On the shared tracks, light-rail and trolley cars snaked by, nearly bumper to bumper. Manual switch attendants saw to it that things kept snaking by, as they sorted traffic back out to the various private service lines.

Gabe walked to the still-operating crosswalk on the north side of the Lombard intersection, and waited for the light—a rather incongruous sight here under canvas, but a safe means of gauging the train and bus traffic. The big tents—and the agora itself—ended abruptly at the fences of an elementary school, though the fences themselves had become a kind of community bulletin board. Back in the open air, less than a block west on Lombard, he could get a sense of the current size of the marketplace, reading the lines of the tents and the wind-generator poles. He could also see his immediate destination, the original cart-pod alongside the MPTC platforms, almost immediately ahead.

In the “custom” line at The Popular Press, Gabe wound up behind an obviously out-of-town suit—a business traveler strayed somehow from the usual routes and deck out in one of those buckskin bush-jacket-meets-business-suit monstrosities that seemed to have taken over from the Armani (or knock-off) Kevlar-lined flak-jacket/money vests of the last season. The monstrosity was at least well-worn, and the guy seemed more than comfortable as he ordered a twenty-five dollar coffee-and-whisky concoction, negotiating the options—a vast and ever-changing array of offerings from local roasters, dairies, distilleries, etc.—with all the decisiveness and determination called for, asking just a few pointed questions to guide him.

Here at the trolley platform, the morning rush was already on, and the “slug lines” on either end of the coffee cart were doing a brisk but simple business—straight coffee of various varieties for local service tokens. The big presses cycled through the most popular blends and roasts, with baristas announcing each new selection as it appeared. Commuters milled, chatting and waiting on favorite blends, travel mugs at the ready, or took their chances with a pick from the current offerings. Coffee poured, they dropped a token in a slot and moved on. At the busiest times, the crowds around the ends of the cart would tend to hem in the central lines (serving high-end and custom coffees, espresso drinks, alcoholic beverages, as well as providing currency exchange), so mobile mini-carts would be rolled out to various points to form a kind of pod-within-the-pod. At the height of the morning commute, at lunch hour or during street fairs, it certainly wouldn’t be unusual to find at least a dozen different coffee selections—all available, self-serve, for the price of a local exchange token. Gabe could see the preparations in progress for that phase of the morning’s business, as crews busily prepped the rolling mini-carts behind The Popular Press. And he could hear the nearly constant, if not entirely consistent, clatter of token-on-tokens, as payment piled up in the slug-bins. He didn’t need to look to pick out the dull sound of the old “wooden nickels” or the ring of the fake “copper pennies” as they hit. But he did look to spot the source of a bright, thin and persistent tink! which quite clearly marked the entry of a new phase in local currency fashion since his last visit. The new slugs looked as thin and bright as they sounded—and they were in coined in multiple colors, from something like anodized aluminum. To each their own, he thought, but let’s hope this doesn’t catch on too well

The suit wasn’t carrying loc-toks, and he wasn’t making any apologies as he deliberately fished a shiny, new, oversized Federal “A” note from one of his vest’s inner pockets. It would be safe to say that, here in the Western Territories, there were plenty of bankers who never saw

He catches the first MAX of the morning to the Lombard, and grabs a fancy breakfast sandwich from a cart, while waiting for the MPTC trolley. Even this early, there’s a crowd. With security so tight around the International Terminal, all the local traffic to Hayden Island is obviously making an end-run. No point in dancing with the transit cops—let alone the federales—if you just want to jog, or fish, or spend your morning at the Agora.

Indeed, when it arrives, the first trolley is full, and the driver slows down just enough to wave, and shout “’Nother on the way!” Just minutes behind comes a second, already half-full, which the steadily growing crowd at the transit center manages to fill almost completely. The driver—a veteran whom Gabe knows from past trips—shakes her head and says, to nobody in particular, “How do you like the old ‘Empty-C’ now?” Gabe flashes his territorial pass, which the driver barely acknowledges, and drops a couple of New Earth “trade squares” (from the 2000 “gunmetal” issue) in the tip-slot.

Sardine-can full, the trolley becomes an express, at least as far as Harbor View, which is as far as two-thirds of the passengers—including Gabe—need to go. While the Lombard line rolls off to “St. Johns, Kelley Point, and points between,” most of its erstwhile passengers roll down the switchback ramps to the Peninsular station, deep in the railway canyon, where the shuttle waits at the platform and freight shuffles in the small switchyard.

Compared to the quaint Lombard trolleys, the Penisulars look like glorified cattle cars. Pulled by bio-gas dinkies, strung in trains of two to four, depending on weight and demand, they’re certainly inelegant, but flexible and functional for the unpredictable mix of passengers and cargo moving back and forth between the Northwest Industrial District and the island. The big windows, screened with what Gabe has always thought of as “designer chicken-wire,” are without glass, weatherproofed with clear plastic when the weather really demands it, but generally left alone, since the increase in stuffiness and noise, and decrease in view, is seldom made up for by the increase in warmth. Regular riders know to bundle up, and—at least until the troubles in Vancouver and the security crackdowns—the Penisulars have seldom had anything but regulars aboard.

The morning is chilly, and there’s a touch of fog down in the cut, but Gabe loves the open-air ride.


Escape

In the end, they just walked across the makeshift airfield, all six of them, pushing their treasures in front of them or clutching it against them, counting on the growing gloom to cover what their brazen advance couldn’t. Will pushed his grandfather in a battered, old wheelchair, and in the old man’s lap rested the duffle, full of contraband—the duck included—which was, by itself, probably enough to get them imprisoned, if not shot—provided anyone could figure out whose job it was to do the imprisoning or shooting. The Madonna walked beside him, pulling a small suitcase, dressed in the costume of a New Catholic nun. Did the duck make seven? Did the faux-nun make six? Doc pushed the thought back—he supposed he had questions enough for one day—and shifted his grip on the cask of golden water, looking over his shoulder to see that the others were close—and that nobody else was too close.

So far, so good. Gabe Solly had apparently done his job, buying them the time to get this far without inspection, and was now making his way rapidly—but not too rapidly—across the uneven ground. At the sound of his approach, Nettle and the kid from the land office—Sutton, no, Sutter—were slowing.

And that was all that Doc had time to see before, shifting the cask once again to lift it better, he began to hurry himself towards the plane.

Thunder shook the distance—shook in the distance—sounded in the distance, Doc supposed. “The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl.” Perhaps the earth shook. The tremors seemed almost constant these days. But Doc was doing it again—all tangled up in some half-remembered quote from Ruskin—community college stuff—Linn-Benton—G. I. Bill—after the War—and he had to find some fixed point on which to stop his mind, if he was going to keep moving his body forward—and manage to pull off his rather critical part in all this. “The state of mind which attributes [something something] of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief. All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things.”

“You OK, Doc?” Sutter wheeled up on his right, hand-truck loaded down with land records—legitimate, important, and on their way to Metro, to stave off a number of would-be land-grabbers—and those other records, stripped from the bunker under the butte where they kept the old man.

“Fine, kid. Can’t seem to get under this thing.”

“Why don’t you let me take it,” said Gabe, insistently enough that while everyone exchanged a look, no one offered an objection. And he took the cask from Doc, with a surprising ease.

It seemed to Doc that, in that moment, the evening became somehow darker—and clearer—although he stood under the very same sky. And then it was suddenly lighter—from the lights of a vehicle, turned towards them and advancing steadily. And the first raindrops began to fall. And Nettle touched him on the shoulder, and Sutter muttered something that registered somewhere between comforting and urgent. And he grabbed the handle of the cart that Gabe had been pushing and started off towards where Will was already helping Tucker—who had stayed to prep the plane—roll the old man aboard.

He pushed forward—and the lights behind pushed forward, too, slowly gaining ground—and then they turned, and Doc could hear, and then see, the old pickup truck roll past him and beyond, towards the temporary hangars on the far side of the strip. And he could breathe again, could think again—could see that Gabe and Nettle were stowing their loads aboard the big, old Lawson 443, and that Our Lady and Sutter, who had abandoned his load a few yards from the plane, were coming back towards him.

He pushed, his hands slipping a little from the rain. So close, and yet so far.

He saw the Madonna reach into her habit, as Sutter grabbed the poles on the front end of the cart and began to pull. And as the skies continue to darken, and the rain grew heavier—and as the sirens sounded in the near distance—Doc pushed with all his might, know that one way or another it would all be over soon. Had he been looking, he still probably would not have seen the insect-machines scatter as his rearguard waved her hand, in a gesture that might have been ceremonial.

The rain grew into a steady drizzle, and the sirens into a steady wail. Our Lady of the Happy Valley just stood there, in the rain, head tilted slightly back and eyes tilted upward—as if gazing up to heaven, or better aligning her forward antennae with the new repeater on Gabbert Hill. Scanning the network and processing the data coming in from the released drones, while her backbrain performed a scan of the emergency responder channels, she came up with little beyond “chatter,” inconclusive with regard to the security of their mission, before the signal came to join the others. She could see the flashing lights now, but they too seemed destined to pass them by, on down the old highway, which skirted the field, to the newly reopened hospital. Turning, and indulging in a smile and another of those vaguely ceremonial gestures, so walked to the waiting plane. By the time she buckled herself into her seat, the little swarm of flying sensors had gathered once again in the pocket of her habit.

And so the old plane, with its cargo of fugitives and contraband, bounded up, just a few minutes later, from the crude runway into a sky that seemed to Doc—whatever Ruskin might have said—more angry by the minute. He took her up the Groove, then back, circling up, over and around the East Buttes, dipping down again over the Cauldron, up steeply over the saddle and around once more, buzzing the coffee cart and Corbeau’s platform on the water tower, and—ignoring the automated alarms, and then the voices of startled controllers—set a course straight across the Happy Valley Reserve. Bridges burning.

_________

Corbeau, restless, had taken to the air with the first clap of thunder, and was soaring high above as Doc made his farewell pass over the Groove and its environs.


Life Gets into Everything

“The thing about life…,” says the voice from behind him. Capital-L. Pregnant pause. All lit up somehow, at least for Gabe, in the dark speakeasy. “The thing about life is that it gets into everything.”

Thinking back, Gabe is never sure if he really heard that phrase. He remembers the noisy, dark basement bar—one of those nameless places that always seem to draw a crowd—and the crowd—a mix of top-shelf sots, suds scholars, edge hipsters—settled in over their forbidden brews, and Will, uncharacteristically intoxicated and out of his cultural zone, talking a blue streak.

“How does it work, Gabe? All the facts are known, but somehow still shrouded in mystery….

Or he remembers that orphic utterance, as distinct as if the utterer had been the only one in the room.

But never do the twain quite meet.

He is perhaps a little drunk already. And the berliner weiss in front of him—“Wild Water,” from some gypsy brewery whose name doesn’t stick—is superb, in a variety of ways. Light—and difficult. Tart—and unsettling. He takes another sip, and scribbles in his journal.

Wild Water

???

Berliner Weissbier / 3.0% ABV

Notes: Brewed with brettanomyces, Ralik lemon-water

Score: look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

He tosses back the last of the glass, savoring the last bits of funky magic there. Lactobacillus, brettanomyces, and…. It strikes him, strongly if not for the first time, that there is no more official name for “The Water.” Like the bar he’s in, it has about a thousand nicknames—Water, Life, Life-water, Wondrous, Water of the Wondrous Isles, Earth’s blood (after the infamous bomb), buzz-water, liquid glow, etc., etc., depending on who you ask—but no scientific name, no chemical formula. There is an Alwato word for it, though it doesn’t appear in the Lexicon.

Not that the lack of a name posed any insurmountable problems where the consumption of the stuff was concerned. From the moment that “the Wondrous” was discovered in the Marshalls, it was only a matter of time before Cascadians—and Portlanders in particular—poured it in their coffee, mixed drinks and brewed beer with it. Import regulations, health warning and then international crises be damned. For a time, the “Wondrous Black Shandy” (aka “Magic Cascadian”) was the forbidden drink of choice in certain circles—“mojito taste and absinthe attitude,” joked one of the free papers, in an unusually accurate display of snark. The regular press trotted out the usual drug-scare propaganda—“meth for hipsters”—with results that looked much more like postmodern tribute to “Reefer Madness’ than anything else. The same free weeklies gave the matter its tongue-in-cheek trappings.

The drinkers hardly noticed this tired stuff. The guardians of public morals hardly believed a word themselves, and they took their time getting to the stuff the advertisers had started with. “Ralik Lemon-Water”

THE WATER: “Looks like piss. Tastes like paradise.” Not exactly the most couth of slogans, but whatever works. A dirty joked, passed around, and waterbars are packing ‘em in in no time flat. It’s a good joke, a Fourierist Free-Four joke, teasing and sly. “From the Sea of Lemonade” would hardly have hooked anyone over the age of about seven. “Gimme a pint of the Wondrous” on the other hand. . .

THE CAMPAIGN: Worth thinking about, here on the Free Fourierist’s doorstep. With Nato and the Bloc doing their level bests to contain whatever is brewing out here, I would have bet on real urine getting by the FDA before “the wondrous.” But, sell it to the Japanese, always ready to buck the trend for risky eats. No amount of negative propaganda could make Isles water look half as dangerous as, say, fugu. Then sell the idea to all the alternatechs, hemp farmers flush from legalization, the natural health crowd, anti-genies, and to the free traders. Smuggle a bottle or two in a diplomatic pouch, and make sure the right folks get a taste. It doesn’t hurt if, like the Free-Fours, you’re not averse to a little urine-drinking, assuming the passions lead that way. It doesn’t hurt if, like the Free-Fours, you seem to be sitting at the heart of some sort of miracle. Brash is good. Kink is good. The bloggers love it, and the surfers love the bloggers when they latch onto something good. And suddenly it’s like the gov’t is holding back the water of the Fountain of Youth (not that there’s any scientific evidence for that yet) and something gives way in Washington and the President is talking about turning WTO rules on the FDA. Wham-bam, Congress authorizes the WATER talks, and it’s no time before the GATI initiative is hammered out, and the alternatechs suddenly take all the stock markets on a rocket ride. It’s on! The Isles weren’t starving anyway, but they were isolated. Now it seems like everybody’s in the game. And when folks stop to think about that, it isn’t clear who exactly is likely to be served. Which makes the 2010 Intergalactic, out here on Toupki-Ameeko (Kwajalein, for you Old Nomenclature types), about the least likely must-attend summit imaginable. What does it all mean? Why the sudden reversal on the part of The Established Powers?

MY GUESS: If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.

“Next round, gentlemen.”

A black saison, with a shandy twist—“High on Life”—served in a pint glass complete with throwback Miller parody logo. Brewery “unknown,” although it’s an open secret that some of the macros have been known to slide a foot over the line when it comes to “watered beer,” MillerMolson included. But all the little birdies seem certain that this particular brew was the work of a smaller member of the big-brewery class—one with enough remaining craft-brew street-cred to make the name and label an entertaining jab.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2238 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.