I’m a little late with this sub-genre mash-up that Chuck Wendig gave us at the beginning of the month. But it took time to leave my Princelings books behind and find some new inspiration. The genres I got from Chuck’s list were Cli-fi (climate change fiction) and Musical. Eventually I came up with this piece (which is probably act 1), set in that arctic archipelago that I visited in March last year. It’s just over 1200 words.
The Green Green Grass of Svalbard
On a beautiful day with wall to wall sunshine, Jenny threw open the shutters, lit the stove, fed the dog, then went out to collect any eggs she could find. The chickens roamed free, confined only by wire netting at the edge of the ranch. Jenny looked at the row of houses being built down the hill and wondered how long netting would be enough.
Lots of things weren’t safe in Svalbard any more, but at least they could grow their own vegetables and let chickens roam from February through to October, except on stormy days. They still got those, more than ever. She checked the cables tied over the house as she returned for breakfast. It was such a beautiful morning, she broke into song.
“Howdy, Ms Jenny!”
Curly Barnstrom, the postman, came over the ridge behind the house, bag on his back and a wad of letters in his hand. “I guess these are for you. Want them inside?”
“Yeah. Coffee’s nearly ready.”
Settled in the airy kitchen, Jenny made Curly a round of French toast.
“What’s this?” Jenny asked, pushing a large envelope with the seal of the Svalbard International Liaison Committee on it.
“Oh, you’re not the only one who’s got one of those today. I reckon there’s more immigrants on the way.”
Jenny sighed. The first immigrants, their ancestors from Norway, hunted polar bear, seal, walrus, and elk. After gaining independent territory status in the 1980s, the community promptly banned sport hunting, shooting and fishing, with licences for food fishing carefully controlled. Tourism had become their main industry, people on cruise ships drawn to polar bears or the Northern Lights.
Once the polar bears went, the tourist industry dwindled. The few boats that came brought refugees, just one or two families each month, who fitted into the life of the community, hardworking, and often well educated. Once the ground started yielding vegetable crops, gangs brought migrant workers, who stayed through the dark of winter. The gang bosses abandoned them and a new town grew up, with the help of the newly established SILC, who had contacted Oslo, told them of the refugees, and been advised to take more robust steps than Europe had. Ten years later there was no government in Norway, or Sweden, or any of the European states. Anarchy had descended as everyone became refugees from the dry, infertile wastelands between the sub-Alpine region and the Transvaal.
“You coming to the dance on Saturday, Jenny?” With breakfast inside him, Curly was less formal.
“I don’t know. Nobody’s asked me.”
“You don’t need to be asked on Svalbard!”
“Well, I used to think that, but sometimes, you know. Some of the kids, it seems like they just want to make trouble.”
“They need work, that’s all. The SILC should think about ensuring everyone has a job, however small.”
“But who would pay them?”
“They has to earn their food and housing, don’t they?”
Jenny nodded. The way things were going, all they did was community based, and those people who still thought of themselves in terms of how much they earned, needed to think about how much they contributed. “I’ll speak to Arne.”
“He’s best.” Curly was satisfied. His idea had got across. They had regular meetings to involve people, but not everyone went, or wanted to speak up in such a meeting.
Curly went on his way, and Jenny did the rest of the early morning chores. Six eggs could go down to the market, along with a few pots of last year’s honey. She looked out on the fields, wondering how the bees would do this year. The ship coming with the new immigrants needed full disinfection and quarantine. They had to be vigilant to destroy all the foreign biomatter people smuggled. Another attack of the virus could wipe out the bee population entirely. She grabbed a pencil and drafted an ‘Ode to the Bee’. It wasn’t good, but the idea was there.
At Saturday’s dance, tensions were rippling around the room. Jenny and Arne chatted about the problem of the teen gangs, and how to get them to start working for the community. She put Curly’s idea forward.
“That would only work if it was the same for everyone, though.” Arne was right. But the only people with money had it in the Svalbard bank, which was more of a concept than actual coinage. The worldwide banking system had disappeared, save for a few enclaves, like Svalbard which still maintained a branch of the non-existent Norwegian State bank.
“So, a system of universal credits, then. Everyone gets their basic right which exchanges for food and housing, provided they do a set amount of community work.”
“If nobody makes a profit, how do we invest in the future?”
“We’re talking investing in the people here and now, Arne, aren’t we? Oh, god!” Jenny’s musings were interrupted as a young man lurched onto her table, pushed by another who held him down and yelled in his face.
“You keep your dirty hands off my sister, geddit?”
“I’m only trying…”
“Don’t try! Don’t even think of it!” He threw the hapless youngster onto the floor, tipping the table over. Arne stood up.
“What’s the problem, Desai, isn’t it?”
“Keep your nose out, old man.” Desai turned on his heels and swept back into the throng on the dance floor. The band changed from the traditional songs to the new music these kids preferred. It was fast and furious and the kids gravitated into lines, throwing their arms about and stamping in unison. Then the lines drifted into opposition, and the gestures clearly targeted across the floor.
“There’s going to be a fight.” Arne’s face showed his fears.
He went over to the band, telling them to stop, but the leader grinned back inanely. The dancers started to push and shove. The music went on, driving them into a frenzy. Arne blew a whistle to attract attention, but it might as well have been the tinkle of a spoon on a glass.
He waved at the few other older people, pointing at the exit, and gestured to Pedro to pack the bar away. Pedro hadn’t got much left to pack.
“Come on, we’re leaving,” Arne said, taking Jenny by the arm and steering her past frantic bodies towards the door.
They had reached the safety of Arne’s house across the playground, along with five couples who lived further up the valley, when the screams started. The kids started pouring from the exits; sounds of smashing furniture and glass behind them echoed in the cool arctic air as the band scampered away into the dark, hauling their instruments.
“Quick, steer them to the school.”
“No, split them up, the chapel, the school and the library.”
“What if they won’t go?”
“Leave them. Move the ones who want to go.”
At three, the morning light dawned, high above the town. Shade covered the wreckage of the community hall; the sun wouldn’t see it again. Twenty young people lay broken on the floor and in the street outside. The rampage was over.
Svalbard was no longer the paradise that people had hoped and worked for.
But maybe it was still a work in progress.
© J M Pett 2016