starts where George Orwell’s 1984 left off. The problem isn’t Big Brother and the leviathan government. It’s Big Brother, Inc., and the all-powerful marketplace.
In 2044, engineer Malcolm Moore discovers a cheap, easy way to take the salt out of seawater. Fresh water is scarce enough right now; by the year 2044, people will die and countries will go to war for water.
Malcolm’s discovery could help people everywhere – but it also threatens interests who are happy the way things are. Malcolm is branded a terrorist. People who know his secret are harassed, jailed and even killed.
With the assistance of Jessica Frey, an attorney he met on a bad date, Malcolm tries to stay alive long enough to bring his water to the world. Quickly they learn that change isn’t easy when big business prefers the status quo. Join them on an adventure filled with danger, invention and surprise in 2044.
Chapter One It was a clear cold night in April and the moon was glowing gold. Across its face scrolled the words, Microtech Corporation. Malcolm Moore tucked his chin into his coat to escape the chill breeze and walked as fast as he could. He was on his way home from work, and all he wanted was sleep. He slipped past a park with all its benches empty and a hair salon filled with people getting styled. The next shop sold water filters, “Microtech pure.” The message flashed brightly but didn’t move or make a sound, part of the order that brought people to New Angeles, a city that started as a corporate park on the outskirts of old Los Angeles, then outgrew the unruly original. A commuter transpo whisked past with an electric whir, the cold draft in its wake chasing him deeper into his collar. Beside him walked pedestrians on motorized rollways, heads down, hats pulled low, adding their own stride to the machine’s. Malcolm walked alone on the paved, unmoving part of the sidewalk. It cost him six minutes of productivity every day and his colleagues judged him for it, but he preferred the exercise. His apartment was close enough. The glass door of Cafeteria L’Express opened as he passed. He despised this place – but he was hungry and didn’t want to cook when he got home, so he stepped inside. He threaded through rows of people at gleaming countertops, bent low over meal cartridges, headphones on their ears, staring at their own television sets or the giant screens lining the walls. The only sound was the low buzz of private soundtracks and once, from a headphone as he passed, a gunshot. Malcolm grabbed a chicken cartridge from the rack and leaned to give a scanner a good view of his retina. It beeped, and eight Globos – Global Currency Units – disappeared from his bank account. The machine printed out a receipt: April 7, 2044 Speedy thanks from L’Express He slipped into a spot between a huge man eating from two dinner cartridges and an old woman dozing before an image of trees. He nodded greetings as he squeezed between, but the man was too busy racing around the channels and the woman just snoozed. Malcolm kept his headset off, but still his eyes followed the headlines on his screen. Vishnu Johnson beat Samuel Schmidt in the quarterfinals of the Singleton cup; coffee futures set a record high; water riots broke out in Karachi. Out the window stood the Tentek building, its tapered pinnacle dominating the skyline. Malcolm worked halfway up that tower in the Family Safety Division, designing weapons for home protection. His mind pressed back to work. The motion detector needed adjustment on an alarm system and a biological disinfecting agent kept dying in transit. Malcolm found it difficult to care. He never knew what happened after he did his part, or what problem might come next. He felt like a trained monkey performing tricks for pay, and he hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. An ad reminded him of his last decent meal, a blind date with attorney Jessica Frey, more than a month ago. In theory Jessica was an excellent match – attractive, accomplished and athletic – but the evening was just proof that dating was more trouble than it was worth. She spent the evening talking about international trade agreements and an upholstery service that rotated her pillow covers every month. Neither had called the other since the date. Suddenly, a hideous grinding screech, as of some monstrous machine running out of oil, howled through the room. Malcolm winced at the shock of sound; the sleepy woman beside him gasped and lurched upright. Lights flashed and every television together displayed the words, Action Alert. A bass voice thundered, “Breaking news. Terror in the streets.” A siren wailed. “This just in from the Counterterrorism Division.” Every screen flashed to the same image. Patrols in black body armor chasing a terrorist down a dark alley, cutting him down with bullets so powerful they ripped through his body and cratered the wall behind. The audience spiked to attention; the fat man froze with his fork in the air. The screens faded to black with the blood red letters, Terror Alert. Malcolm kept eating, indifferent to the perpetual crime alerts and terrorist warnings – but the next image brought him to his feet. His father. Not just on the little screen in front of him but on the giant screens along the wall. His father’s face filled the room. Bernard Moore of Pasadena, the screens declared. One eye was black. A bloody bruise darkened his forehead. A newscaster with the square chin of a security guard appeared on screen. "Bernard Moore of Pasadena was arrested this evening on charges of bio-terrorism.” The old woman gasped. “Doctor Barry Edwards of Counterterrorism has the details.” The official face of the Counterterrorism Division appeared on the screen. “Our water is scarce but at least it’s safe,” he declared. “A tiny quantity of the wrong microorganism could change all that.” He paused while new images filled the screen: guards patrolling the water supply, crop dusters spraying wheat fields, a baby with a face so distorted and skin so gangrenous the fat man dropped his fork and a gasp erupted from the far side of the room. But Doctor Edwards told everyone to remain calm and that matters were under control. “An alert shopkeeper noticed suspicious activity and notified the authorities with his Tentek Safe-T-Buzzer. Thank goodness he had it. Thank goodness he was paying attention. Counterterrorism took care of the rest.” The newscaster announced that the Tentek Safe-T-Buzzer was available “at retailers near you,” and the televisions returned to regular programming. A collective sigh washed through the L’Express as people realized that everything was okay after all. Shoulders relaxed, people sat down. Malcolm stayed on his feet. Doctor Edwards never said what his father had done. He wanted to shout at the television. What happened? What did he do? What did the shopkeeper see? He looked around for someone to talk to, signs that anybody still cared, but the L’Express had returned to normal, each screen carrying its own show. The old woman beside Malcolm sank back into the stand of trees and the fat man idly surfed the channels. The remaining sounds were slurps and scratches and the murmur of a baby against someone’s chest. Malcolm sat down and turned to the fat man beside him. “He’s not a terrorist,” he declared. The man kept skipping channels. “He’s not a terrorist,” Malcolm repeated. He leaned closer, made himself impossible to ignore. “He’s my father. He’s a department store manager.” The fat man didn’t answer but Malcolm had his attention. “He’s not a terrorist.” The man turned to him, unable to escape. He took another bite and worked it down slowly, then shared his conclusion before he returned to the television. “They couldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”
Eric Lotke is an attorney with a Masters in Philosophy. He has flushed every toilet in the Washington, DC jail, and won a million-dollar lawsuit against the private Corrections Corporation of America. He routinely publishes nonfiction on subjects ranging from youth homicide and criminal sentencing, to clean energy and urban infrastructure. He lives in Arlington, Va.