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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

THE ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS
Lawrence Uri

 

 

The Two Americas Barrier began as a metaphor that eclipsed all realities, and became a reality that eclipses all metaphors.

Jen is looking ahead, through the windshield, over the plain reaching to the joined edges of sky and earth, to where a white band stretches across the horizon.

“I see it,” she announces.
“Cloud bank,” Ron opines.

Jen goes back to watching Car’s guidance metrics. From the way she retreats confidently within herself, Ron knows she thinks she’s right. For relationship’s sake, he makes an act of lifting his sunglasses to his forehead and squinting into the distance. Closer already, because Car is going one forty, the white band looks uniform.

“You’re right,” he admits.
“Car, slow to seventy,” Jen says.
The glide to a lower speed makes them more aware of their surroundings.
“Car, map,” Ron says.

The screen shows they are three miles south of the last deserted town, and fourteen miles north of what displays on GMap as a straight white line with a single small gap. This is where they are headed.

“Car, should the barrier be visible?” Jen asks.
“With twenty-twenty or fully corrected vision, the Two Americas Barrier should be observable at this time, resembling a low bank of cloud.”
Car has a tendency to chide them, with his gentle-voiced humor track, for the weakness of their human perceptions.
“Car, metrics,” Jen says.

This is her way of scolding the vehicle for mocking her husband. The map is replaced with a display of self-driving sensor readouts. Jen feels safer if she monitors these. There hasn’t been a traffic injury associated with AI drive in more than seven years, but you never know. Here amid broad flat squares of alternating bare brown earth and dry yellow corn stalks, Car’s readouts flick like nervous eyes. There is nothing to assess, no traffic, no people, only the occasional driverless tractor moving slowly across a field, far outside hazard range.

We are arriving, Jen reflects, at what, in this moment, is the center of the earth. Where she and Ron will be among the few States North citizens privileged to witness live the last phase of Closure. Ten years in the growing, the Two Americas Barrier will be complete today.

“How are you feeling?” Ron asks, as if he has been watching her think.
“Apprehensive.”
He nods. She has found the word for them both.

Jen checks the mirror. Bus, his two decks of seats filled with his final charter group of southbound resettlers, follows Car at his assigned distance. Slowing down has tightened the schedule. Their resettlement company, JenRon Reloc, made its reputation by never being late for a crossing. To fail now would be disastrous. They must arrive at the barrier in time to send Bus through before the gap closes. Jen is acutely aware of the exposure. As she frets, a CNN drone speeds overhead on its way to taking up a position for the event.

“Car, resume highway speed,” Ron says.
The acceleration begins instantly and climbs back to one forty.
“Car, calculate arrival time,” Jen says.
“Arrival at eleven forty-eight twenty-three, provided we maintain optimum velocity. One minute and thirty-seven seconds ahead of schedule.”
Car’s monotone conveys the system’s pique. AI units hate being treated like machines.
“Car, how did the barrier project happen?” Jen asks. She knows the story, because she lived it. Car was activated two months ago. For him, the barrier’s origin is history.
“Everyone agreed,” Car begins. “Minutes after a Mississippi sociology professor posted his map, the MasDix Solution started trending. A spontaneous jeté of public opinion overleaped the news cycle, landing the nation, which was really two bitterly entangled nations, on a different stage. The United States suddenly felt to everyone like a household in need of a divorce.”

After a stagey pause, Car continues, “The early morning commentators couldn’t deconstruct their opinionations fast enough to corner the rapidly emerging mood. Senators and Representatives, silent at first in their reflexive impulse to ignore any action the public broadly favored, reversed their attitudes within hours and began parroting scripted vows of support. Their corporate masters scented an opportunity to swallow bid-free trillions from the biggest public works project ever pork barreled.”

After opinionations Jen and Ron exchange muted grins of the kind they used to share when their children were learning to speak. They don’t interrupt Car’s narrative. 

“Within a week, legislation was enacted calling for a national referendum on the question of whether the United States should divide into two countries. Debate was nil. Plans were already being laid for the obvious outcome. Turnout approached ninety-seven percent. Approval of the proposition exceeded ninety-one percent. Exit polls suggested the nay votes were largely from people who were upset that the separation wasn’t happening faster. On the morning after the vote, the two-way migration began. Over the next ten years, half the population of the United States resettled, with approximately equal numbers going south and going north. The process is only now coming to an end.”

Car pauses a tic to be open for questions, then keeps talking.

“The referendum approved a shared boundary approximately following the latitude of thirty-nine degrees, forty-three minutes, twenty seconds north, a line first surveyed in the year seventeen sixty-seven by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. The so-called Mason-Dixon line was demarcated in an effort to resolve a border dispute involving the English colonies of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The line later found virtues to recommend it in the run-up to the Civil War. Now, with little variance except on the west end, where it veers south to include northern California in States North, it has been extended as the border between the two new countries and made permanent by a great rampart running from coast to coast and into either sea as far as the continental shelf: the Two Americas Barrier.”

“Thank you, Car. Very nicely stated,” Jen says.  
“You are welcome,” Car answers. “And, opinionation is a word. I looked in forty-two dictionaries and the consensus is—”
“It’s a lovely word, Car,” Jen says with the finality she would use to quiet an errant toddler. “You can tell us some more later.”

She suspects he composed this report from his algorithmic resources, rather than quoting database material, which would account for opinionation, as well as jeté, frothy, and virtues to recommend it. Car is a bit of a linguistic dandy. New AIs tend to develop an imitative emotional intelligence. As an additional conciliation to her self-driving automobile’s sensibilities, Jen replaces the navigation system metrics on the screen with an overhead of the Closure area.

The CNN drone has arrived onsite and is televising a panorama of the facilities for the Closure ceremony. Four concentric arcs of temporary huts face the barrier gap. More for form’s sake than safety, a military contingent with malign looking weaponry separates the huts from the gap. There has not been a single incident of government-sponsored violence between States North and States South, but Jen is glad to see the soldiers. You never know.

Tonight, she and Ron will sleep in one of the back row huts, those reserved for the less important participants. This will be after the celebratory dinner scheduled to take place inside the white tent visible in the overhead. When the toasts come, Ron and Jen will be hoisting their wine glasses from a table on the periphery. Jen hopes there is a dais for the head table. She wants a clear look at the President.

“What do you think?” Ron asks.
He lifts his right hand to the level of his face and wriggles the fingers inside his new leather work glove, his other gloved hand holding his wrist in a way that gives the motion a foppish air.
“Rugged,” Jen says.

She wonders whether his slightly effeminate gesture is an overture for a more personal discussion about gender exchange. There has been talk between them about the sound reasons for the movement, letting the first generation of States North children learn the true interchangeability of roles in the best possible environment, their home. What better statement than for Mommy to become Daddy and Daddy to become Mommy while the kids are young enough to be malleable?

“Approaching speed control zone,” Car says.

Deceleration initiates. Jen checks the mirror again. Bus is right behind them. Faithful Bus, about to cross the MasDix for the last time, never to return. She will miss him.

Car decelerates to one ten, ninety, seventy. Structures other than empty farm buildings begin to appear, all new and temporary looking and spouting antennas. Heavy off-road vehicles with Barrier Commission logos on the doors are parked outside. Some of these metal shacks will remain as part of the Oversight Authority. No other occupied structures will be permitted within fifty miles of the barrier.

An eddy of dust like an embryonic tornado spins across a bare dirt field. The clothing advisory provided to the ceremony participants recommended windbreakers. Jen and Ron bought matching blue ones, which are on the seat between them. Jen sneaks a look at the hairy legs revealed by Ron’s shorts. With gender reformation, his muscularity would smooth into curves. Her own reformation would thicken her arms, legs, and torso, and replace her breasts with flat pecs and a valley of hair. 
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Ron catches her looking. Good, that was the point.

She redirects her curiosity to their surroundings, and gasps. Arching upward from a spread base and rising in unfigured whiteness to the height of a ninety-story building, the Two Americas Barrier looms over them and stretches away uniformly to the edge of sight.

“Perfection,” Ron says.
“Three thousand four hundred-ninety-three and eight tenths miles,” Car volunteers.
“Speaking when not spoken to is outside your protocol, Car,” Ron grumbles.
“Except as to traffic issues,” Car replies.
“Which this is not,” Ron says.
“Arguably—” Car begins.
“Tell us about the barrier,” Jen interjects. 

She does not want the three of them to be in a snit when they arrive at the gap. Having Car recite will let him feel important, while hearing him babble will let Ron feel superior. This ability to counterpoise male egos is a feminine attribute Jen thinks she could easily lay aside. If she became a man, she might want her AI unit to have a female persona. Changing Car’s gender would be inexpensive, but would doing so without his consent be a kind of euthanasia? 

“Like the first transcontinental railroad,” Car begins, “the growth of the barrier started simultaneously on the east and west coasts of the former United States. The barrier is made of living cellular concrete. This revolutionary material was result of a cooperative effort of the best academic and engineering talent North and South. The organism they devised is like dryland coral, but much finer in composition. Once it began the growth process, all the barrier needed to complete its march to the center of the continent was a constant supply of raw organic concrete. Today, the barrier will close into a single structure at a point exactly in the center of the land mass.Throughout the interior the structure is the same, from the two-mile-wide base to the peaked top, with rootlike extensions delving into the earth to provide stability. The barrier is structurally sound enough to outlast the projected duration of the Rocky Mountains. Like human skin, the outer layers regenerate, which allows the barrier to retain its smooth texture. The barrier is an organic being, finely tasked by its AI assisted human originators. Each cell has the ability to grow identical new cells from the powdery residue left by its predecessors. The barrier built itself, and will renew itself for what may as well be forever. Weight is minimized by the cellular structure, which—”

“We’re here,” Ron interrupts.
“Thank you, Car,” Jen says. His report was less flowery, she notices. Opinionations had been a good programming moment.

During his recitation, Car has slowed to twenty, the speed limit dictated by the signal posts along the thinly paved streets of the temporary hut village. Jen and Ron are close enough to see the brown stripe on the bottom fifty feet of the barrier. Car leads Bus through the military encampment to the debarkation zone and comes to a stop in front of the reviewing stand, where he opens the passenger doors and announces, “Arrival, eleven forty-eight twenty-three.” Jen and Ron step out. Car closes his doors and drives off to recharge. Bus is left idling in front of the gap between the ends of the barrier. Already the opening seems almost too narrow to let him pass through. His passengers remain in their seats and stare ahead as if their surroundings do not exist.

An honor guard armed with white rifles lines the way to the reviewing stand. Other last-minute arrivals are walking between the files of soldiers; nearly all the seats in the stands are taken. Jen and Ron mount the steps and are greeted by Barrier Authority executives and Resettlement Agency officials. An usher leads them to their assigned places in the top row of the tiered seats. Jen has worried she might be too casually dressed. She is relieved to see that nearly all of the three hundred and fifty invited dignitaries followed the event guide’s wardrobe advice. Lots of khaki slacks and shorts, everyone wearing their Barrier Committee polos. Many of these people she and Ron already know from their years of work on the resettlement.

Jen is not accustomed to thinking of herself as a dignitary. But on this occasion the word fits. It was she and Ron who, while still digital engineering grad students, devised Reloc, the software that so easily enabled fair exchanges of property between the people headed north and those headed south. JenRon Reloc is credited with making viable the largest nonviolent migration in human history.
To mark the solemnity of the Closure, no one is present except the small crowd in the reviewing stand, the military contingent, and support staff. No reporters have been credentialed. Media coverage is limited to the camera drones, which now cluster at an angle that will let them peer under the reviewing stand’s canvas roof. Jen wonders if her face and Ron’s are visible to the billions of people watching. Though the event guide recommended that participants try to ignore the cameras, Jen sneaks a brief shoulder-high wave toward the nearest drone. Ron picks up the idea and mimics her gesture. At home their children will be watching.

The beating rotor blades of a helicopter send all eyes peering toward the slice of sky not hidden by the canvas shade over the reviewing stand. The helicopter descends to a landing zone at the near edge of the military encampment. As it touches down, the blade sound changes to a whirr. The backdraft stirs a faint cloud of dust off the prefab landing zone surface.

The honor guard reassembles to define a walking route from the landing zone to the reviewing stand. A military band strikes up a march. It is not Hail to the Chief. Jen is momentarily disappointed at this signal that the President is not in the helicopter. Then the Vice President emerges. Jen and Ron join the cheering for her. She wears tan knee-length shorts and a matching long-waisted two pocket shirt. She presses a floppy-brimmed hat on her head while she hurries from under the rotor wash, then lets the hat fall down her back on a cord. The last eddy of downdraft from the helicopter blows her hair free.

“She looks amazing,” Jen says to Ron, lifting on her toes to bring her lips close to his ear amid the crowd noise.
“Younger,” Ron agrees, bending his cheek to Jen’s so his reply can be heard.
Discovering how close they are to kissing range, they touch lips. The moment makes them feel that good.

She does look younger, Jen thinks as, arm in arm with Ron and leaning on his shoulder, she watches the Vice President mount the steps of the reviewing stand. No one had been trolled harder than her. Every day the rumor stream invented vile new lies about her. Now the last of the people who justify their existence by redefining truth to fit their fantasized orthodoxy have gone south, and the Vice President’s public and private life has been subject to the relatively benign and largely accurate scrutiny given to any public figure. As the resettling wound down, the air of discourse in States North took on a tone only the older citizens could recognize. A milder consensus as to the nature of reality was revived, the kind derived from facts. The difference could be seen on people’s faces and heard in their voices, as if a poison had been drained from the civic bloodstream.

The Vice President’s arrival has crowded the Closure ceremonies schedule. She declines the offer of a microphone and waves to the crowd.  

The band plays This Land is Your Land. Jen and Ron join everyone else in locking elbows and swaying while they sing the words. To the Gulf Stream Waters has been replaced with To the tall green corn fields.

The ushers hand out binoculars. On her pair, Jen discovers her name engraved in gold lettering under the official commemorative seal of the Closure. She tries them out by looking at the farthest visible point of the barrier. It goes on and on, flawless and forbidding, curving with the planet, providing States North and States South with an impregnable boundary.

At precisely noon, Bus drives into the gap. His passengers do not look toward the reviewing stand. Their collective focus lies ahead. To them the Vice President is anathema. Every value enshrined in the States North constitution violates their most deeply held beliefs. Love of a place or a person has kept them from resettling until this last opportunity. In the end, faith, contempt, and party affiliation proved stronger.

As Bus’s taillights recede into the gap’s deep shadow, Jen follows his progress with the binoculars. Her eyes fill with tears. Bus was JenRon Reloc’s first vehicle. Their relocation software had adapted easily to the task of scheduling transportation for those people who chose to leave everything behind when they moved south. At the height of the relocation, they were running nine thousand self-driving buses, each double decker making trips to the border constantly. But Bus remained special. When the children were younger, Jen would take them along on some of the runs. Bus would sing songs and tell stories as he drove down the road.

Jen had asked him to stay with the business, though it wasn’t clear what use he could be now that the resettlement was over. He insisted this trip was his duty. She knew he wanted to go out of service in way that mattered, rather than rust into decrepitude.

At what must be the halfway point of his journey through the gap, his hazard lights flash three times. This is his goodbye.

Ron presses Jen’s hand. He understands she feels grief, but he does not understand how sorely she feels it. This is as close in emotion as a man can get to a woman, she reflects. Unless he becomes one.

She dries her eyes and refocuses her binoculars in time to watch Bus pass into the sunlight on the other side of the gap. A large crowd is there, distinguishable as individuals but not magnified enough for her to make out expressions. They are all wearing what look like white shirts with billowy sleeves. Behind them a glint of gold is visible. Something large is being revealed.

Everyone lifts their binoculars to their eyes. Aiming her circumscribed view toward the brightness beyond the narrowing defile, Jen sees a giant golden cross, half as tall as the barrier itself. The sound of singing comes from the white-costumed Southerners. With their amplified lyrics distorted by echoes of the gap walls, Jen takes a moment to realize they are performing the Halleluiah Chorus.
“Last chance at salvation,” someone behind Ron says. Everyone nearby laughs.

Jen feels shaky again. Ron’s arm drops around her. Tonight when the party is over, or in the morning when they drink coffee, she will share her thought. What she is witnessing has become irreversible. The emblem and enabler of a complete separation between opposing American dreams, the Two Americas Barrier is a few hours from closing for, as Car put it, what may as well be forever.

Led by the Vice President, people file from the reviewing stand. Obediently they allow National Park Service rangers to marshal them into work groups. The Helper movement started soon after the growing of the barrier began. People showed up at the site, wanting to be a part of it. There was little to do, but the authorities decided to accommodate. Wooden safety fences needed to be taken down, moved, and reassembled hour by hour as the barrier grew toward the center of the country. The fences were fashioned so that loosely supervised teams of inexperienced workers could disassemble them into parts light enough to be carried easily by groups of three or four to the next stage, where the same people would assemble them. Task done, the volunteers were treated to lemonade and sandwiches and given their commemorative T-shirts before loading back on their charter bus in order to make room for the next arriving group. Transporting Helper groups had been a major offshoot of JenRon Reloc’s business.

Aware of the camera drones, the Closure Day dignitaries join the work with hearty smiles. This near, the barrier smells biological. Most of the odor comes from the brown-colored lowest fifty feet, Jen knows. As a living thing, the barrier absorbs carbon dioxide and other nutrients from the air. Waste percolates downward, and is the cause of the brown stripe. To the surprise of the designers, the waste is highly toxic. It consists of a distilled amalgam of the world’s airborne pollution. Breathing within two feet of the barrier is hazardous. To touch the barrier is fatal. Warning signs announce, Danger! Contact of skin to the Two Americas Barrier causes immediate death.  The barrier protects itself.

Ron and Jen, needing no help, lug a fence board a hundred yards to the next setup site. Ron takes his grip closer to the center, his broad shoulders assuming more of the burden. Even so, Jen is glad to finally lay the board down. She hopes he doesn’t notice her arms trembling. How would it feel to be the strong one, instinctively pulling extra weight to compensate for her mate’s comparative weakness?

For the rest of the work hour, they make themselves useful wherever they can. The safety fences are reassembled directly in front of the gap. Already it looks narrower. Jen does not think Bus could fit through if he tried to come back. The idea is impossible anyway. On the other side, they will have disengaged his cognitive circuits. Bus as an aware entity no longer exists.

The Vice President is escorted to a hut in the center of the inner arc. Done for now, the crowd scatters. Car is waiting for Ron and Jen.
On the way to their hut, Car asks, “How was Bus?”
“A trooper,” Ron answers.

Inside, the earthen colored hut is faux luxurious. The bathroom has imitation marble walls and floors. The bed is made with the quality of sheets and blankets you would find in a three-star hotel. The kitchen is equipped with a microwave and a plastic espresso machine. The fridge holds frozen snacks, fruit, and soda water.

Ron lets Jen shower first, so her hair will have longer to dry. While she is toweling she peruses a National Park Service pamphlet about the Two Americas Barrier. The project cost seven trillion dollars, established an astonishing variety (the Park Service’s term) of new technologies, unexpectedly contributed to the campaign against global warming by consuming as much CO2 as a rain forest, and despite the forebodings of doomsayers, did not prove to be heavy enough to alter the revolution of the Earth. Inside the tri-folded flyer, the Park Service has summarized the changes of the past decade in staid government style.

Territories

The territory of States North includes the entirety of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon, and northern portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. In central Nevada, the border angles south to encompass Northern California. (See attached map.) By plebiscite, Hawaii joined States North.

The territory of States South includes the entirety of Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and southern portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. (See attached map.) By plebiscite, Alaska joined States South.

Various noncontiguous territories voted to align with States North or States South. Territorial residents were afforded full relocation privileges in States North. States South limited relocation privileges to territorial residents of European heritage.

Following the adoption of Constitutions for States North and States South, populations relocated in accordance with their values. 

Major Differences Between the Constitutions of States North and States South

States North

 

States South

Freedom of faith does not exempt religious organizations from taxation.

 

Christianity is the national religion. All other faiths can be regulated by the states.

The government shall ensure that opportunity is distributed equitably. Corporations and other business entities may sue and be sued, but possess no other civil rights.

 

Capitalism is a basic liberty, and wealth is a sign of God’s favor. Christian-spirited entities may participate fully in all phases of public life.

Congress shall make no law establishing rights for an embryo in the first trimester.

 

To seek, possess, or provide the means of ending a human life in the womb after the moment of conception is a capital offense.

Implements designed to kill or wound humans may be possessed and operated only by law enforcement and military personnel.

 

The bearing of arms is a basic obligation of citizenship and may be enforced by such measures as the states find appropriate.

Civil rights common to all people include the right to an adequate education, the right to health care, the right to just compensation, and the right to a secure retirement.

 

It is left to the states to determine how resources and privileges shall be allocated among ethnicities, with due regard for the primacy of European Cultural Heritage.

Privacy is a basic human right.

 

An orderly society demands adherence to Christian precepts.

Jen puts the pamphlet in her shoulder bag. It will make a nice memento to show the children. Reading it has eased her grief at losing Bus by reminding her of the reason for his life’s work. North of the barrier and south of the barrier, there is nothing left to argue about.  

She and Ron walk through the cool night air to the party tent, leaving Car to his recharge slumber. The evening begins with a cocktail hour. Jen and Ron circulate, speaking to everyone they know and making new connections. They each nurse a single flute of champagne through the hour. Jen notices others doing the same. No one wants to look wobbly when the drone cameras focus in for the vigil.
They are taking their turn for a photograph with the Vice President when the sound of another lowering helicopter lifts all eyes toward the tent top. The Vice President, tall and bare armed in shimmering floor-length sliver, leads everyone out into the evening. Under the klieg lights the President stands waiting. The lineage of his famous family shows in his handsome face and his air of optimism. Applause rises as the Vice President joins him. The lights are redirected to the gap. Candles are passed out. The same young people who acted as ushers earlier now circulate quickly to light the wicks. The flames are protected from a flitting breeze by small paper cones. For the drone cameras, the effect is as if a glow emanates from the hands of each dignitary.

During the hours since the work session, the gap has narrowed until it barely exists. No light can be seen from the other side. Sighs of awe are exhaled as the two ends of the barrier touch and meld. Closure is complete.

Some of the candles have flickered out. The mood is tentative. The President dispels it with a wave of his arm and leads the way to the tent. Tables have been spread with place settings. A pair of video cameras on raised platforms behind the tables point toward the dais. Bottles of wine are uncorked. The President raises a glass and offers long toast. Jen will remember lighting the way forward and the promise of a new nation.

The cameras are removed. After dinner, there is dancing to the brassy renditions of the military band. Exchanged couples stand out because the men are the same height as the women. There are other well-known conformities. Genetic level gender switch allows structural reformation within bodies. During the passage from female to male, bones grow thicker, muscle mass increases, and arms and legs lengthen. Growing pains are an expected part of the transition. A male transforming to a female experiences slimming of bone structure, reshaping of muscle tissue, and diminishment of body mass. No way has yet been found to decrease height or shrink feet. The extremities of new females, still man-sized, become more delicately structured. In couples who have been married long enough to form shared speech cadences, the female and male voices can seem to migrate eerily from each partner to the other.

What stands out with every exchanged pair in Jen and Rob’s circle of acquaintance is the deep communion between the partners. Three members Jen’s coffee group have been replaced by the women who used to be their husbands. The former wives have joined the other men in drinking beer and watching ball games. With the patience of explorers made wise by their journey, the exchangers talk about the understanding, the fascination, the satisfaction.

Jen sees Ron eyeing the exchanged couples on the dance floor with a thoughtfulness that mirrors hers. Late in the night, underneath him on the bed in their hut and released from sobriety by the excellent free wine, she wonders how it must feel to be the penetrator instead of the one penetrated.

In the morning they carry their things to Car’s open trunk. Their windbreakers feel comfortable in the breeze. During the night the military units have decamped.  The helipads are gone, their places marked by the circles their weight pressed into the ground. The President and Vice President must have flown away before dawn. A Barrier Authority crew is dismantling the reviewing stand. There is nothing to show that a gap in the wall ever existed.

The tent is open for breakfast, with a buffet line and tables arranged in long rows. Much of the conversation near Jen and Ron concerns the increasing comity between States North and Canada. Soon the crossings between the two nations will be completely open. Talk of merging systems and eliminating visa requirements is progressing. No one mentions that States South is nearing completion of another barrier along the Mexican border.

Car is waiting when they leave the tent. In the growing sunlight, the barrier dominates the site in a way it did not when the gap was unclosed. It towers, vast and endless, designed to be more eternal than any structure humankind has previously put on the earth.

“Is it big enough, do you think?” Ron asks.

He isn’t joking. Jen has no reply. From overhead comes a sound like distant thunder, though the sky is clear. Jen has her souvenir binoculars hanging from her neck. She directs them upward and sees four silver aircraft trailing faint contrails. They are flying in formation. The States North Air Force patrols the airspace above the barrier. So far, the governments and populations of States North and States south have been content to ignore one another. But Jen is glad to see this evidence of vigilance. You never know.

She feels lightened when Car carries them out of the compound, yet comforted to have the barrier firmly at her back. They will not pass an inhabited town for hours. Four fifths of the rural population in the North States Midwest moved to States South. Their counterpart resettlers who moved north repopulated the larger places. Other tiny towns that had lasted since the original homesteading days, each the home of a few hundred or a few thousand people, were left deserted. There hadn’t been enough people left in them to keep them alive. Scavengers salvaged whatever was worth taking.

Passing a roadside park near one of the gutted towns, Jen and Ron see tents pitched, and pickup trucks loaded with hand tools and generators. The people who wave to them from the campsite are tall and black, Somalis maybe, and newly immigrated. They are pioneers in what some think might become a heartland repopulation.

Ron rests his hand on Jen’s leg in the way he has always liked to do. This time, she rests her hand on his leg in the same manner. They share a smile. The miles to their city will pass in harmony, the two of them reading, exchanging, tolerating Car’s quips.

“Let’s stop by a clinic before we go home,” Jen suggests. “Just to inquire.”
“Let’s,” Ron agrees.
“Arrival estimated at one hour and eight minutes before closing time at Genetic Sources Gender Reformation Clinic,” Car says. “Shall I phone for an appointment?”
“Please do,” Jen and Ron say together. They share a laugh.
Around them the territory of States North stretches wide, full of possibility.

 

 

About the Author:

Lawrence Uri has happily written umpteen overlooked works of fiction, while earning his keep as a lawyer and city manager in Kansas, and now as an online English tutor. He and his wife live in Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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