Posts in scifi
#2: The Witchy Woman

This story was inspired by episode #130 - "Holdout" from the podcast 99% Invisible, which you can listen to here, and by my dear friend Alison, a true protector of the Wilderness. It is unfinished.

Rachel Bujalski for National Geographic.

Rachel Bujalski for National Geographic.


She lived in a tent, in a tree, in a Park, and they called her the Witchy Woman, and she was rarely seen by anyone these days. The Park was called Yosemite and it was beautiful. Oak stood next to pine and fir, amongst the last living bits of moss, mugwort, and madrone, and there was even a little waterfall that rotated the same 100 gallons of greenish water to the delight of tourists. The park stood in front of a spectacular HD view of Half-Dome, the windows of the HalfDome Home an ever-changing 9,000 ft tall video clip of where the monolith itself stood until it didn’t.

Like the filling of the Grand Canyon with trash, and the oil rigs now dotting Yellowstone, this didn’t happen because people hated the Wilderness, it happened because it was necessary. What do you do when the population hits 14 billion and no one knows where to put 3 generations of unemployed Americans? God knows trying to stop people from having kids didn’t work, the media screamed “eugenics!” and demanded that we add government funding to the Mars colonization project, and then the Moon, but those places filled up, and people got tired of living with their entire extended families in the tiny cramped housing units that were stacked higher and higher, until they started crashing down.

The first Apartment Collapse in China killed 3.7 million people when a building that had been designed to hold 250 floors was extended to nearly 700. It fell, as did 11 buildings it slammed into. Bystanders described it as a large scale game of dominos, and the wreckage was so impossible to manage that they just flattened it as best they could, drilled in new foundations, and built on top of it. And so Half Dome was carved into a luxury apartment complex, and the San Francisco bay was filled with bricks of compressed garbage, and Florida was connected to Mexico by an island build at its tail and then pushed into the gap of ocean it had been designed to fill like a puzzle piece.

Hawaii is about the size of Texas now, and Australia was almost the size of Africa before a nuclear reactor blew and *poof* the last walkabout ended for good.

I know, I know, this sounds like madness, but what do you do? Fire up the gas chambers? Build a planet out of old car tires and Pepsi cans? We tried, we really did, but no one ever wants to spend money on research when 85% of humans are living on Soylent bars and bartering synthetic tobacco extract for Tylenol.

So people acclimated and called it “progress” and little by little trees were replaced with oxygen machines and beaches were replaced with seawalls and over time people mostly forgot what the world used to be like. But some didn’t.

Which brings us to the Witchy Woman.

Chapter 2:

Dave is a Park Ranger, he carries a gun and makes sure people don’t carve their names into the last living Redwood, or steal leaves or grass from the Park. He lives behind the Half-Dome Apartment complex in an area called "New Fresno" with his wife, Margaret, in one of the low-income studios reserved for government employees. It's small and there is mold in the kitchen and bathroom, but Dave is a 4th generation Park Ranger, and has worked now for 58 years without taking a single day off, and through this, and through Margaret's small inheritance, they are able to afford a unit with floor to ceiling windows in the main room and a small window in the bedroom. At night they can hear rats bickering over trash in the hallways, but in the golden light of early morning a soft glow washes over their sheets and across naked skin, and through sleep-weighted eyelashes one can imagine that the light is coming from some sunlit morning of old, and not from the strange machinery hidden behind their windows, the screens of which goes opaque and dull once they have left for work.


"Yes, love."

"I don't want to go to work."

"I know, but you've managed it for 40 years."

"They used to retire at my age."

"They used to die at your age."


Bits & Pieces:

“Miss. I am 127 years old. I remember well the world of old, and the wilderness there, and how it could make a man feel. I am grateful to see you fighting for our birthright, and perhaps preserving the one wild place left in this country. Live it well.”


Oh, what does one say, when the letters flow in like pleading voices, and they carry compliments and gifts. She finds herself swarmed by drones bearing gifts of food and warm clothing and the means to create a comfortable home for herself, strange, yes, but better maybe than the world outside, a world she reads about with increasing dread. What life out there is left to live, even? Scraping by on the Guaranteed Minimum Income? Living in smaller and smaller housing units with more and more people? From the Tree you could see it happening, grey shapes forming in the distance, and sounds like thunder and flashes like lightening. There were lights creeping like molten lava across the mountains surrounding her, and the air didn’t taste good, and the Tree felt wrong, somehow, showering her in dead needles, filling her lungs with oxygen and the scent of something gone off, a hormone maybe, more taste than smell. She would wake up choking in the night and feel the tree shudder to the rhythm of machines churning up dirt in the distance. A drone dropped off a package with a portable oxygen mask with a note that said “temporary fix!” And for a few weeks she wore an oxygen mask, and then goggles, and then she just stayed inside her tent, as outside the sky turned dark with smoke and she saw trees falling only miles away. She cried that night, and felt the Tree cry with her, dripping needles like tears and swaying a bit like a human rocking themselves in moments of intense sadness. The night was full of light and smoke and sounds like machines fighting, but her dreams were spent in the lush green landscapes of the past, hands dipped into creek water, fingers pulling the seedheads from stalks of dry grass, face turned towards vultures coasting on wind currents in an empty blue bowl of sky.

She awakens to the sound of silence, strange and uncomfortable after so many years of noise. The tree sways beneath her, but at a rhythm more like a heartbeat than a person sobbing, and there is light pouring in through the canvas of the tent, a warm, yellow glow like candlelight seen through a snow-frosted window. She pushes out of her bed,

and stands,

and walks outside.

Sunlight dapples her limbs like melting butter, and a warm breeze tempts a sighing sound from the branches of foliage surrounding her. She removes her oxygen mask, and breathes in great lungfuls of warm air, musty with the flavor of sun-warmed bark and fragrant needles.

A Bit of Sacrifice

No one dies anymore. Immortality has been available since the mid-2000s, legal since 3112, and was only controversial until around 4000. The first rejuvenation center was burned 3 times by Far Left, pro-death protestors. The Media called them anarchists, savages, and a threat to progress, and they died dull deaths on parole in WellsFargo ReHab Communities™.  Today Immortality, or a semblance of, is far more common than dying.

One of the great inconveniences of humanity has been the problem of true Immortality, which is to say, life that transcends the necessity of physical form. Life that is not dependent on remaining fed or warm or safe from disease. Life that doesn’t need anything but time to continue to exist. We are close now, they say. It’s hard to tell when Alternative Facts emerge faster than they can be censored, and those in charge of the Media are voted in and out of office every season.

It turns out that Immortality requires quite a bit of sacrifice, but most people no longer see it that way. There was a time, remember, when most of the human race sacrificed health and happiness just to look underfed, and another time when they built over the last forests and jungles of earth to host the refugees of an over-polluted Mars. Children’s lives were saved and you can still explore the high alpine lakes of Yosemite and the humid buzzing of the Amazon via sensory tapes recorded before construction projects transformed them into stacks upon stacks of housing units and factory use spaces and social purchasing depots.

A lot has happened in the last few thousand years, and you can easily read and watch and feel any of it from the comfort of your Home™. But it's Social Commentary Sunday, and although there are trillions of performance pieces, graphic novels, podcasts, and pornographic renderings trending, I will share my perspectiveTRIGGER WARNING. TRIGGER WARNING.





DURESS DUE TO HOSTILE MEDIAsome just live in a game of Tetris, the program that runs their dopamine levels linked up to the game so that 1,000 years passes in orgasmic pleasure over fitting little pixels together. It's not a bad life when you consider the alternatives.

There is no outside anymore. The City sprawls from horizon to horizon, but the horizon has largely been forgotten by those who now live mostly in small Home™ capsules stacked by the thousands in life support columns. Some just live as bits of data, conversing with other bits of data inhuman in origin, but there are still vaguely human forms, bound loosely in cages of wires, soft and pallid with curled spines and weak, spongy bones. Small implanted computers do away with any pain, and it turns out regret is a symptom of mortality. 

You live your days in flits of data now. And the freedom! You have all the time in the world to pursue every happiness in the world. Summer in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Winters in Hawaii decades before man ever found her floating fat and lazy in the Pacific ocean. And there is no pain. And no fear. And none unwanted. No children are brought screaming into the world amidst blood and shit and the sobbing of a woman ripped apart. It's true that some still sample the old, barbaric habits of a dead humanity with the vague, entitled interest of collectors, but it isn't real, really. 

Some say there are still people out there, bound for Alpha Centuri and a gamma ray signal picked up in the year 3457. It was Mozart somehow, only garbled a bit, but it screamed of sentience. They say we sent out ships, hunkering old vehicles that use to carry people away from Earth to the stars. We haven't left Earth in a very long time now. Some say 10,000 years. Some say a million and would only be a little wrong

scifiKelly Kate Warrenscifi
Why SciFi?

Perspective is everything. I read science fiction because it reminds me to look at humans objectively and consider long timelines. I started writing science fiction because humanity spends too much time thinking in terms of years and decades and it's much more fun to think about what we'll be like centuries. 

Science fiction writers have warned us about ourselves for a century. They showed us the potential of gluttony and pride and greed and they told us stories about our ingenuity and compassion and ability to create art. It's a genre that allows for social and political criticism and absurdist humor. It's my favorite genre, and I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if people read more science fiction and thought more about the obligations and responsibilities of being human. 

I have been playing around with writing scifi for the last few years while living in the backcountry, which is not the most obvious setting for writing about technology and the future of the human race, but it's the one that chose me. I'm no Asimov or Bradbury, but we all start somewhere, so please be patient with me as I share bits and pieces of stories I'm in the process of weaving together. I read mostly Golden Era short stories and I love it when a character on a spaceship types in a question on a keyboard and then waits for the spaceship to print out a response. And that's the kind of scifi I feel qualified to write without a PhD or regular access to the internet.

Ultimately I hope to complete a collection of short stories about a trail crew living in the Wilderness of a terraformed Mars. Ursula K. Le Guin recently called for a dystopia novel from the AltNatParksService crowd, and that is rattling around my head as well. 

You can read the beginnings of a story called "A Bit of Sacrifice" here.




scifiKelly Kate Warrenscifi