2046 - Sonoran Desert, near US/Mexico border
I paused, unsure of how to answer. “I stopped counting the days.”
He nodded. “My brothers and I, we got here from Ecuador. We’ve waited three years for this day.”
Marcos looked around my age. Under the van’s pale green cargo light, I could see scars on his forehead, nose, and chin. He wore the scars of a fighter, of someone who fought for every moment of life he was about to risk. His brothers, Roberto, Andrés, and Juan, didn’t look more than sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. They wore their own scars. They avoided eye contact.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened the last time you tried to cross over?” Marco asked. “You said this wasn’t your first time.”
“Once we got to the wall, the guard, the one we paid off, he didn’t show. We waited, but then the drones found us. They shined their lights on us. We ran back, but a few of the other men tried to run forward, climb the wall.”
“Did they make it?”
I shook my head. I could still hear the machine gun fire. It took me nearly two days to make my way back to town on foot, and nearly a month to recover from my sunburns. Most of the people who ran back with me couldn’t make it the whole way under the summer heat.
“Do you think it will be different this time? Do you think we’ll make it across?”
“All I know is these coyotes have good connections. We’re crossing close to the California border, where a lot of our kind already lives. And the crossing point we’re headed to is one of the few that still hasn’t been fixed from the Sinaloa attack last month.”
I could tell that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.
Marcos looked at his brothers, their faces serious, staring at the dusty van floor. His voice was severe when he turned back to me. “We don’t have the money for another try.”
“Me neither.” Glancing at the rest of the men and families sharing the van with us, it seemed everyone was in the same boat. One way or another, this was going to be a one-way trip.
2046 - Sacramento, California
I was hours away from the most important speech of my life and I had no clue what I was going to say.
“Mr. Governor, our team is working as fast as we can,” said Josh.“Once the numbers come in, the talking points will be finished in no time. For now, Shirley and her team are organizing the reporter scrum. And the security team is on high alert.” It always felt like he was trying to sell me on something, yet somehow, this pollster couldn’t get me accurate, up to the hour, public polling results. I wondered if anyone would notice if I threw him out of the limo.
“Don’t worry, honey.” Selena squeezed my hand. “You’re going to do great.”
Her overly sweaty palm didn’t give me much confidence. I didn’t want to bring her, but it wasn’t just my neck on the line. In an hour’s time, our family’s future would rest on how well the public and media reacted to my speech.
“Oscar, listen, we know what the numbers are going to say,” said Jessica, my public relations advisor. “You’re just going have to bite the bullet.”
Jessica was never one to fuck around. And she was right. Either I sided with my country and lose my office, my future, or I sided with my people and end up in a Federal prison. Looking outside, I would give anything to trade places with someone driving on the opposite side of the I-80 freeway.
“Oscar, this is serious.”
“You don’t think I fucking know that, Jessica! This is my life… the end of it anyway.”
“No, honey, don’t say that,” said Selena. “You’re going to make a difference today.”
“Oscar, she’s right.” Jessica sat forward, leaning her elbows into her knees, her eyes drilling into mine. “We—You have a chance to make a real impact on US politics with this. California is a Hispanic state now, you make up over 67 per cent of the population, and ever since video of the Nuñez Five leaked onto the web last Tuesday, support for ending our racist border policies has never been higher. If you take a stand on this, take the lead, use this as a lever to order a lifting of the refugee embargo, then you’ll bury Shenfield under a pile of votes once and for all.”
“I know, Jessica. I know.” That’s what I was supposed to do, what everybody expectedme to do. The first Hispanic Californian governor in over 150 years and everyone in the white states expected me to side against the ‘gringos.’ And I should. But I also love my state.
The great drought has lasted for over a decade, getting worse each year. I could see it outside my window—our forests had become ashy graveyards of burnt tree trunks. The rivers that fed our valleys had long since dried up. The state’s agricultural industry collapsed into rusted tractors and abandoned vineyards. We’ve become dependent on water from Canada and food rations from the Midwest. And ever since the tech companies moved north, only our solar industry and cheap laborhas kept us afloat.
California could barely feed and employ its people as it is.If I opened its doors to more refugees from those failed states in Mexico and South America, then we’d just fall deeper into the quicksand. But losing California to Shenfield would mean the Latino community would lose its voice in office, and I knew where that led: back to the bottom. Never again.
Hours passed that felt like days as our van drove through the darkness, crossing the Sonoran desert, racing towards the freedom waiting for us at the California crossing. With some luck, my new friends and I would see the sunrise inside America in only a few short hours.
One of the drivers opened the van’s compartment divider screen and poked his head through. “We’re getting close to the drop off point. Remember our instructions and you should be across the border inside eight minutes. Be prepared to run. Once you leave this van, you won’t have much time before the drones spot you. Understand?”
We all nodded our heads, his clipped speech sinking in. The driver closed the screen. The van made a sudden turn. That’s when the adrenalin kicked in.
“You can do this, Marcos.” I could see him breathing heavier. “You and your brothers. I’ll be right beside you the whole way.”
“Thank you, José.You mind if I ask you something?”
“Who are you leaving behind?”
“No one.” I shook my head. “There’s no one left.”
I was told they came to my village with over a hundred men. They took everything that was worth anything, especially the daughters. Everyone else was forced to kneel in a long line, while gunmen placed a bullet into each of their skulls. They didn’t want any witnesses. If I had returned to the village an hour or two earlier, I would’ve been among the dead. Lucky me, I decided to go out drinking instead of staying home to protect my family, my sisters.
“I’ll text you guys once we’re ready to start,” said Josh, stepping out of the limo.
I watched as he wormed his way past the small number of reporters and security guards outside, before running forward across the grass to the California State Capitol building. My team had set up a podium for me at the top of the sunny steps. There was nothing left to do but wait for my cue.
Meanwhile, news trucks were parked all across L Street, with more along 13th Street where we waited. You didn’t need binoculars to know this was going to be an event. The swarm of reporters and cameramen huddling around the podium were only outnumbered by the two crowds of protesters standing behind police tape on the lawn. Hundreds showed up—the Hispanic side being far bigger in number—with two lines of riot police separating either side as they shouted and pointed their protest signs against each other.
“Honey, you shouldn’t stare. It’ll only stress you out more,”said Selena.
“She’s right, Oscar,” said Jessica. “How about we go over the talking points one last time?”
“No. I’m done with that. I know what I’m going to say. I’m ready.”
Another hour passed before the van finally slowed. Everyone inside looked around at eachother. The man sitting furthest inside started vomiting on the floor in front of him. Soon enough, the van stopped. It was time.
The seconds dragged as we tried to eavesdrop on the orders the drivers were receiving over their radio. Suddenly, the static voices were replaced by silence.We heard the drivers open their doors, then the churning of the gravel as they ran around the van. They unlocked the rusty back doors, swinging them open with one driver on either side.
“Everyone out now!”
The woman at the front was trampled over as fourteen people rushed out of the cramped van. There wasn’t time to help her. Our lives hung on seconds. Around us, another four hundred people rushed out of vans just like ours.
The strategy was simple: we would rush the wall in numbers to overwhelm the border guards. The strongest and fastest would make it. Everyone else would be captured or shot.
“Come! Follow me!” I yelled to Marcos and his brothers, as we started our sprint. The giant border wall was ahead of us. And the giant hole blown through it was our target.
The border guards ahead of us sounded the alarm as the caravan of vans restarted their engines and their cloaking panels and u-turned south to safety. In the past, that sound was enough to scare off half the people who even dared make this run, but not tonight. Tonight the mob around us roared wildly. We all had nothing to lose and an entire future to gain by making it through, and we were just a three-minute run from that new life.
That’s when they appeared. The drones. Dozens of them floated up from behind the wall, pointing their bright lights at the charging crowd.
Flashbacks raced through my mind as my feet propelled my body forward. It would happen just like before: the border guards would give their warnings over the speakers, warning shots would be fired, drones would shoot taser bullets against the runners who ran too straight, then the guards and the drone gunners would shoot down anyone who crossed the red line, ten meters ahead of the wall. But this time, I had a plan.
Four hundred people—men, women, children—we all ran with desperation at our backs. If Marcos, and his brothers, and I were going to be among the lucky twenty or thirty to make it through alive, we had to be smart. I guided us to the group of runners in the middle-back of the pack. The runners around us would shield us from the drone taser fire from above. Meanwhile, the runners near the front would protect us from the drone sniper fire at the wall.
The original plan was to drive down 15th Street, west on 0 Street, then north on 11st Street, so I could avoid the madness, walk through the Capitol, and exit out the main doors directly to my podium andaudience. Unfortunately, a sudden three-car pileup of news vans ruined that option.
Instead, I had the police escort my team and I from the limo, across the lawn, through the corridor of riot police and the vocal crowds behind them, around the mass of reporters, and finally up the stairs by the podium. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I could almost hear my heart thumping. After listening to Jessica at the podium giving the initial instructions and speech summary to the reporters, my wife and I stepped forward to take her place. Jessica whispered ‘good luck’ as we passed by. Selena stood by my right as I adjusted the podium microphone.
“Thank you all for joining me here today,” I said, swiping through the notes on the e-paper prepared for me, carefully stalling long as I could. I looked up ahead of me. The reporters and their hovering drone cameras had their sights locked on me, anxiously waiting for me to begin. Meanwhile, the crowds behind them slowly grew quiet.
“Three days ago, we all saw the horrible leaked video of the Nuñez Five murder.”
The pro-border, anti-refugee crowd jeered.
“I realize some of you may take offense to me using that word. There are many on the right who feel the border rangers were justified in their actions, that they were left with no alternative other than to use lethal force to protect our borders.”
The Hispanic side booed.
“But let’s be clear about the facts. Yes, a number of people of Mexicanand South American descent illegally crossed into our borders. But at no time were they armed. At no time did they pose a danger to the border guards. And at no time were they a threat to the American people.
“Every day our border wall blocks over ten thousand Mexican, Central, and South American refugees from entering the US. Of that number, our border drones kill at least twohundred per day. These are human beings we’re talking about. And for many of those here today, these are people who could have been your relatives. These are people who could have been us.
“I’ll admit that as a Latino-American, I have a unique perspective on this issue. As we all know, California’s now a predominantly Hispanic state. But the majority of those who’ve made it Hispanic weren’t born in the US. Like many Americans, our parents were born elsewhere and moved to this great country to find a better life, to become American, and to contribute to the American Dream.
“Those men, women, and children waiting behind the border wall want that same opportunity. They aren’t refugees. They aren’t illegal immigrants. They are future Americans.”
The Hispanic crowd cheered wildly. While I waited for them to quiet down, I noticed many of them were wearing black t-shirts with a phase written on it.
It read, ‘I won’t kneel.’
The wall was behind us now, but we kept running as if it was chasing us. I kept my arm under Marcos’ right shoulder and around his back, as I helped him keep pace with his brothers in tow. He‘d lost a lot of blood from a bullet wound in his left shoulder. Thankfully, he didn’t complain. And he didn’t ask to stop. We made it through alive, now came the job of staying alive.
The only other group to make it through with us was a group of Nicaraguans, but we split from them after we cleared El Centinela mountain range. That’s when we spotted a few border drones heading our way from the south. I had a feeling they would target the larger group first, their seven versus our five. We could hear their screams as the drones rained their taser bullets down uponthem.
And yet we pressed on. The plan was to push through the rocky desert to reach the farms surrounding El Centro. We would hop the fences, fill our starving stomachs with any crops we would find, then head northeast toward Heber or El Centro where we could try to find help and medical care from those of our kind. It was a long shot; one I feared we might not all share.
“José,” whispered Marcos. He looked up at me under his sweat-drenched brow. “You gotta promise me something.”
“You’re going to make it through this, Marcos. You just have to stay with us. You see those lights over there? On the phone towers, near where the sun is rising? We’re not far now. We’ll find you help.”
“No, José. I can feel it. I’m too—”
Marcos tripped on a rock and crashed to the ground. The brothers heard and came running back. We tried waking him, but he had passed out completely. He needed help. He needed blood. We all agreed to take turns carrying him in pairs, with one person holding the legs and another holding him under his pits. Andres and Juan volunteered first. Even with them being the youngest, they found the strength to carry their older brother at a jogging pace. We knew there wasn’t much time.
An hour passed and we could see the farms clearly ahead of us. The early dawn painted the horizon above them with layers of pale orange, yellow and purple. Just twenty more minutes. Roberto and I were carrying Marcos by then. He was still hanging on, but his breath was getting shallower. We had to get him to shade before the sun got high enough to turn the desert into a furnace.
That’s when we saw them. Two white pickup trucks drove our way with a drone following above them. There was no use running. We were surrounded by miles of open desert. We decided to conserve what little strength we had left and wait for whatever came. Worst case, we figured Marcos would get the care he needed.
The trucks stopped in front of us, while the drone circled behind us. “Hands behind your head! Now!” commanded a voice through the drone’s speakers.
I knew enough English to translate for the brothers. I put my hands behind my head and said, “We have no guns. Our friend. Please, he needs your help.”
The doors to both trucks opened. Five large, heavily armed men step out. They didn’t look like border guards. They walked towards us with their weapons drawn. “Back up!” ordered the lead gunman, while one of his partners walked towards Marcos. The brothers and I gave them space, while the man knelt down and pressed his fingers on the side of Marcos’ neck.
“He’s lost a lot of blood. He’s got another thirty minutes tops, not enough time to get him to the hospital.”
“Fuck it then,” said the lead gunman. “We don’t get paid for dead Mexicans.”
“What you thinkin’?”
“He was shot once. When they find him, nobody will ask questions if he was shot twice.”
My eyes widened. “Wait, what are you saying? You can help. You can—”
The man beside Marcos stood up and shot him in the chest. The brothers screamed and rushed to their brother, but the gunmen pressed forward with their guns aimed at our heads.
“All of you! Hands behind your heads! Kneel on the ground! We’re taking you to the detention camp.”
The brothers wept and did as they were told. I refused.
“Hey! You fucking Mexican,didn’t you hear me? I told you to kneel!”
I looked to Marcos’ brother, then to the man pointing his rifle at my head. “No. I won’t kneel.”
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11