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Fiction Fantasy People of Color

I throw my keyboard across the room so hard it cracks the mirror and breaks my coffee mug that rested innocently on the conference table. My too sweet French vanilla brew coats the corner of the table, the pile of environmental reports, and drips liberally onto the floor. Normally the mess would be my focus, but not today. Especially not after that phone call.

           How did we get to this place so quickly, I grumble under my breath to no one. I’m talking about the undressing I received a few moments ago and another one I invariably have coming shortly. But there is a bright side. For some reason in these crazy times, I took a walk on the wild side last night. I guess I haven’t stopped walking either. I brokered my first Baniwa deal worth more than gold, literally. Water is everything now days and Baniwa is the new unit of measure for the water trade. One Baniwa is about five hundred gallons of the cleanest, tastiest water and I am in a unique position to take advantage of the fact that you can buy anything with a single Baniwa.  All about supply and demand, right? I’m making moves on the black market, and I feel naughty but also wealthy. The side effect is that I’m still jittery. I could lose everything, be disgraced, and spend the rest of my life in prison…if I’m caught.

Just then my phone rings again and I am loathe to look at the screen to see who’s calling. I reluctantly touch the accept button and prepare for an earful. I decide to be pre-emptive as I lift the phone to my ear. “I am not God, Reese!” I answer, a little too much volume and frustration in my voice. I hated that as the running joke during my Senate confirmation. It was a condescending quip that a GOP Senator made about my extensive educational history. “I believe she is aspiring to know more than God Almighty,” he said, with his trademark southern twang. The entire room got a good ol’boy chuckle at the Black girl’s expense. And, of course, it stuck.

           “I’m sorry, I thought you were the Secretary of Advanced Resource Development! God damn it, Shanice! It’s your job to know before the rest of us that our most precious resource is dying off at an astronomical rate and the world is going to soon die of thirst!” Reese screams into my ear.

Normally I would quietly and imperceptibly judge his overreaction as absurd and classify him in my mind as the buffoon he actually is. He’s the White House Chief of Staff, my boss’s right-hand man, and this time I am actually scared! He’s not just blowing hot air—air that usually smells like garbage if we’re face to face—but this time he is right. And he did not even go to the God joke.

           I’m Shanice Hughes, a forty-something, divorced, government executive. I am an African American woman and I have stacked degrees in my life like I am trying to compensate for something, but I am actually just super smart and very driven. My PhD is in Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering. I have ten years’ experience in the federal government. How could this have happened? Detail should be my middle name and meticulous attention should be my first. Yet I am faced with this disaster!

I have somehow missed the fact that Worbles are dying to the point of eminent extinction, and I didn’t even know they were dying until today, not to mention why. I’m in hot water! It cannot end this way. The world cannot end this way!

           So, breathe, and let me circle back. I am the first Secretary of Advanced Resource Development for the United States. It is a cabinet-level post and a department that came into being after we were hit by waves of consistent and intensifying record heat across the globe for just one year before water resources began to dry up worldwide. It happened so quickly and caught most people by complete surprise except for “alarmists” like me. I had this feeling that something dark was on the horizon and I was prepared, even if I didn’t know Worbles were dying.

What sealed the deal for me getting this position wasn’t only my education and very specific experience though. I had the good fortune of collaborating with a old friend of mine on a project involving a newly discovered species deep in the Brazilian Amazon. From the Baniwa do Icana language of the native people in the area, the name of the animal translates to Water Giant. Someone, not me, came up with the name, Worbles. I thought Water Giants was better, but oh well. It was an unbelievable find for an animal, a mammal, larger than a hippopotamus, that spent ninety percent of its life submerged in water. So, we found these animals quite accidentally and thought we were rescuing them from swamps in the Amazon that had been contaminated by fuel from the heavy machinery of illegal logging companies. Anyway, to make a very long and interesting story short, we found out these magnificent beasts didn’t need rescuing. In fact, not only were they able to live in the contaminated waters but they served as a natural water purifier!

Get this! They had a special organ never before seen that filters the water consumed in their diet and converts it to pure, clean drinking water disseminated through their udders. Needless to say, this was an extraordinary find, particularly in a Post-water World as we now call it. It got my name in front of some pretty powerful people and then my education and experience did the rest.

           Only twenty minutes ago Reese and I had been in the same meeting at the White House. It was my first time in the Oval Office? I never imagined getting cursed out by my boss, the President of the United States. It was actually a trigger for me. I had worked so hard and been a part of practically saving the world, yet I was read the riot act by the most powerful man in the world. I felt belittled and taken for granted.

           Even though I had already started the dirty business of trading Baniwa on the black market before getting reamed by the president, I found myself pushed further toward aspirations of making my mark as a black market Baniwa Boss. In my mind the plan is already crystalized. I am thinking of all the things I can do and there it is! I know what my first project is going to be! I am making big boss purchases in my mind already. But before that, the most critical thing is to discover what is happening with the Worbles!

*******

           Reese walks into my office with secret service guys and two FBI agents! I am doing my best not to show how terrified I am that my misdeeds have been discovered. Has someone sold me out? He would not come to my office so accompanied for anything routine. He would not come to my office at all for anything normally. Fuck! My stomach is churning with the realization that I am about to take a figurative fall.

           “Madame Secretary,” Reese begins. I get a little relief from the formal, respectful way that Reese has entered my office. He doesn’t seem to be here to gloat, which is definitely in his DNA.

           “Good afternoon, Reese. To what do I is owe the pleasure?” I respond, my eyes locked on the closest agent as I extend my hand to Reese. My “business” phone rings in my ear and I flinch as though everyone else can hear it and has any idea why it’s ringing. Reese’s eyes narrow at my out of sync movement as do those of the FBI agent standing directly in front of me.

           My composure begins to unravel. I part my lips ready to share some random incriminating comment just so that this can be over. My nerves aren’t exactly cut out for crime both to my dismay and my disappointment.

           Before I can speak, Reese sighs heavily and begins.

“The President has been informed that the threat level against you and your department is high right now. You are the target the usual crazies and of some of these water syndicates, crime bosses. You need to come with me to receive a briefing immediately. The president doesn’t want your work interrupted. We’re all counting on you,” Reese finishes.

           Wow! I find myself physically exhausted when Reese and the agents prepare to leave my office.

           “Reese, this is a lot. Can you give a moment to catch my breath and close out here and then I am following you to the briefing?” I asked, my exasperation true and not contrived.

           “You got it, Dr. Hughes. We’ll wait right outside, good?”

           “Yeah, thank you, Reese.” I say, exhaling to let all of that tension escape my body. I check my phone and see that my funding of thirty-five Biosphere Worble Purification Habitats in Western Africa is underway and laundered free of any direct or easily discoverable indirect links to me. The process is a lot more rigorous and sensitive for additional habitats in urban centers in the US, like Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, and a long list of others. Rural habitats are also being planned in the poorest parts of America and my very careful Baniwa trading is paying for it all. It feels good to be bad in cases like this, kind of like Robin Hood, right?

*******

           “Mom, I don’t care about your church retreat or frankly your church. We have to go!” I plead.

           “How dare you! Jesus have mercy on your soul!” my mother proclaims in tears as she turns away from me distressed. “I didn’t raise you to turn your back on the Lord, Shanice!”

           My father is not even speaking to me. So, I am faced with the very difficult decision of leaving my parents on a deteriorating and dangerous earth to try to survive on their own with an aversion for weapons of any kind other than my mother’s rolling pin. My dad does have his shotgun that he hasn’t touched in twenty years, but that’s the extent of their preparedness to survive in a world and country with armed white supremacist militias and growing water cartels. While I am happy to be free enough in my own mind to make moves that are in my own interest, I feel tears streaming down my cheeks because my own parents have no sense of urgency or understanding of what is happening. They have been conditioned to believe that protecting themselves, looking out for their own safety, surviving, is somehow a bad thing! God damn it!

*******

Well, it’s D-day, departure day. Surprisingly this is not ceremonial the way you would expect something so monumental to be. There is a lot of pressure to be low key for safety as we have slipped almost to anarchy as a society.  Factions have proliferated not only throughout the United States but throughout the world. We discovered that the Worbles were not dying they were being killed. Our Biosphere Worble Purification Habitats had been exposed to a manufactured virus. At least I was able to build my Biospheres virus free. So, the question became who would intentionally doom the entire world. Unfortunately, the time to solve that problem of evil was too short.

My work in both the Baniwa trade and in giving to the poor, under the cloak of secrecy and anonymity, has become legendary. I am in fact a boss, but I can’t brag about it to anybody or declare it, which makes it a little less satisfying.  I should be on the cover of Forbes magazine or be the Time Person of the Year, but it is so much more satisfying to have saved lives in a different way. I became a water mogul, a Baniwa Boss, and I made the world a better place even if I could not save it.

I prepare to board the shuttle for the 13-hour journey to the off-planet colony. I am relieved to set foot on the ramp but the moment I exhale, I hear my name. It was Reese!

“Shanice! May I have a word before you board, please,” he demands. He never calls me simply by my first name, it is clearly not a question, and he is not alone. Though this departure is really under the radar with not many people present, the agents with Reese are still looking tentative about being too aggressive. However, I do see the handcuffs held discretely at the side of the younger of the two agents.

There isn’t anything Baniwa cannot buy, and I play chess not checkers, Bitches! My team swiftly and efficiently sweeps in and quietly removes Reese and the agents with him. I guess they thought it wouldn’t take much to apprehend a little black girl.

On the shuttle raging through the atmosphere with the earth far below, I breathe easily again. My advance team has been embedded in the off-planet colony for quite some time now. I am safe. I reach over a touch my mother and father’s hands. They are asleep, involuntarily. I think I’ll get some rest as well. I’m a Baniwa Boss and I play chess…

August 18, 2022 03:38

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2 comments

Michele Duess
14:16 Aug 25, 2022

Hi I got this story from the critique circle. I like the idea of water as currency in a world where there isn't much of it, and laundering money through saving the worbles. But maybe you can show more than tell. How did she discover the virus that invaded the biospheres? Who wants to destory earth and why? And who ratted her out to the president? It would be interesting to expand on this, it would make a good story.

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Erriel Roberson
18:19 Aug 25, 2022

Hi Michele. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! I am relatively new to Reedsy and look forward to reading your work as well. Great, constructive comments by the way! It actually feels good to have someone read your work!

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