What I saw from the bullet train must have been buried in the dunes outside of Tucson for centuries. The next morning, Gomez and I set out on our bikes to find it, two old friends riding side by side in the shade, a precious cool darkness cast by the canopy of aging solar panels that covered the length of the old abandoned interstate, all the way to Mesa-Phoenicia. There wasn’t a single electric shuttle or fusion bus on the road, just us, two old men pedaling alone into the vast empty desert of lifeless sand dunes that surrounded our subterranean outpost.
Used to be a zillion crested saguaros out here, iridescent thanks to fallout from Palo Verde’s meltdown God knows when. They got wiped out by “The Change” along with every living thing out here except cockroaches. If folks didn’t give a damn about the coral reefs dying in the 21st century, they sure as hell weren’t going to care about some cacti in the 22nd. Nothing out here now but dunes, dust devils, two ragged old men on their bicycles and the relentless sun.
Gomez rolled to a stop. “I need a drink.”
“What’s in the Camelback, Gomez?”
“Desalinated!? Black market?”
“‘Agua de Sea of Cortez’. Actual fresh w-a-t-e-r.”
Old Gomez is O’Odham. His people were here before us. “We’ll be here after you. Our elders will tell stories about how you destroyed the earth. And the price you paid. We’ll pray for you, brother, long after your race has died out. Drink?”
We rode past rolling dunes, past windmills and past endless expanses of solar arrays, until we came upon the old refugee camps that welcomed the thousands upon thousands of Sea Rise Refugees during the Great Warming in the late 21st. Our militias insisted they stay behind the barbed wire. Californians. Floridians. Folks from the late great New Orleans. “Hot as Hell but high and dry, right, Gomez?” We cycled past the roiling, broiling humanity. I looked at the empty white-hot sky ahead and wondered what it must have been like to see a Harris hawk back before they went the way of the dodo, coral reefs and the collective will to survive.
“Why do you stay?”
I told Gomez I stayed because I had a sweet job working security at the Tucson Space Port. “Work’s been steady thanks to the Great Exodus.” Millions of climate refugees keep flooding our way by bike, foot or rickshaw to escape our gasping world, to escape the mega-hurricanes and the heat, the blinding heat that gave Gomez eyes like a mole and gave me skin like a lobster. People were desperate to escape to a Martian colony or into servitude on an asteroid mine or worse, to a lawless quarry out beyond Jupiter. Any place but here.
I told Gomez, “Here isn’t that bad.” From the air, Tucson was a vast random patchwork of millions of hot black solar panels and silver shade sails blocking out the sunlight, a Mad Max quilt of techno detritus shading the teeming subterranean pueblo below. Hundreds of windmills stood on the barren hillsides and peaks of the sun-bleached Catalinas where beautiful cool, green living forests were said to have once stood.
I discarded my nostalgia for a world I never saw. We rode on.
“There it is!” We couldn’t believe our squinting, bloodshot eyes. We parked our bikes. We waded 30 yards through knee-high sand to the small, flat piece of plastic peeking out of the dune. I pulled it free. Gomez grinned. “What is it?”
“Old yard sign … from the year … 2016.” I read the faded words aloud. “YES on … 127.”
Gomez cupped his ears. “What?”
“Clean, renewable energy for … something I can’t make out ... for a healthy … Ariz … something. …”
Gomez laughed. “Know what you got there, hombre?”
“A genuine artifact from the ‘Age of Denial.’ From back when the ‘know-nothings’ and the fossil-fuel consortiums joined forces to obstruct the efforts of scientists to stop climate change. And right when the earth was beginning to warm, these folks here were fighting to save the planet.”
I nodded like I cared.
“During the Second Enlightenment, many ‘know-nothings’ were cryogenically neutralized by the Second Eco-Tribunal.” Gomez thought that was a mistake.
Once again, I nodded like I cared.
An overcrowded Ark from the Space Port of Tucson lumbered into the sky over our sun-fried heads as a threatening haboob rolled across the distant horizon. It was time for us to pedal back to the safety of our subterranean barrio with my find. “This’ll work great. The shade sail that protects my rain-harvesting tank needs a patch. Man, it’s scorcher today.”