What's in your pocket? (This series of stories on the aftermath of the Financial Meltdown started in "As Is")
"The Phoenix Narrative"
(Part 6 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
As Beth coasted down a curving stretch of Arizona 95, she gently squeezed the handgrips on her bicycle, engaging the home-built regenerating brakes. She hesitated briefly, smiled, and leaned into a right turn onto Parker Dam Road.
A few years earlier, before the economy cratered and governments around the world fell apart, she might have driven the ninety-miles back from Lingman without a second thought. Even now, with gasoline so hard to come by, she'd made the trip out in an afternoon, thanks to the damaged baby steam engine rattling around in her saddle basket. But the ride back had taken considerably longer because Norwyn Rosset, the cretin she'd gone to thank for his part in bringing the world to its knees, had kicked the overtaxed machine from it's mountings after it succumbed to the stress of pushing them both up a hill.
Parker Dam had been a touchstone to her even before she'd moved to Parker to escape the rat race her engineering degree had sucked her into. Towards the end of the corporatists' reign, new hires out of school were like a drug to penny-pinching managers eager to consign their senior, and more expensive, employees to the growing ranks of the unemployed. But like many of her cohort, she'd taken strength from the global Occupation movement and chose to strike out on her own rather than help her moneyed masters further drive down the value of human labor.
After parking her bike on the untraveled roadway high atop the curving concrete dam, Beth turned her back to Lake Havasu and drifted towards the southern railing. She took a deep breath, and cast the anger she'd worked up against Rosset to the gentle breeze, imagining it drifting down over the Colorado River, where it was absorbed and cleansed by the flowing water. Then her gaze lifted, across the rocky horizon, and up into the early evening sky. She smiled as she envisioned herself soaring low over the river, down past Lake Moovalva and Headgate Rock Dam in the steam-powered ultralight of her imagination.
"Someday," she told the river, "I'm going to skim your length not much higher than this. Someday." But first, she reminded herself, she needed to get back to Parker. Dusk was falling, and she knew that pedal-powered headlights were neither as dependable nor as bright as steam-powered ones.
Rather than returning to Arizona 95, she continued across the dam and rode the last leg home on the California side of the river. But before re-crossing to Parker, she stopped at a bakery she favored to pick up a treat for Peter.
"Elspeth!" chirped the craggy proprietress as she opened the door. "I didn't hear the unmistakable sound of your handiwork. Something wrong with your steamer?"
She nodded and glanced back towards her bike. "Yeah, Roz. That jerk I tracked down in Lingman kicked it free after it gave out on the way back here."
"I trust you didn't cart him the rest of the way home, then."
"No. Last I saw him, he'd taken my bike and was trying to pedal it back to civilization. Didn't make it, though. Well, at least I don't think he did. In any case, he took my pistol before ditching the bike and setting out cross-country on foot."
"You think he might've shot himself?"
"Not likely. I still have the bullet."
Roz grabbed a small sack and started to fill it with scones. "That's too bad. Weren't you planning to barter it for something?"
"Yeah. But I'll be okay. The repair shop's doing better, now that Peter's helping out. Which reminds me, that's what I stopped in for, to get a treat for him. I hadn't expected to go missing for this long."