Cascades - Case Miller - Jubilee

Jubilee

Case Miller

Case Miller & Claire Cochran, Leaving, 2021.

 

Cascades
May 2021

Part 1

What we consider our core tradition of moral and political theory today springs from this question: What does it mean to pay our debts? …Maybe nobody really owes anything to anybody. Maybe those who pursue profit for its own sake have it right after all.
—David Graeber1

It is that particular time in the morning when the sky and the fields and the moisture and the atmospheric gases are still moving slowly. If you looked, you would think bands of color could almost be observed. The irrigation vapors hang above the ube leaves, trying to claim that slice of the sky and turn it slightly blue.

But, honestly, they can only achieve this victory with the help of the crops. So, when the fields stop, running headlong into the orange mountains to the south, the moisture meets the desert and moisture always comes up short. Eventually everything mixes. Particulates up the chain have to negotiate. Working together under uneasy terms, their compromises determine the color of the day.

Deals are struck all down the line. The fluorescent lights of the town and the flood lamps at the border crossing. The exhaust of the maquiladoras, a few weak clouds, signal data, pollen and pheromones (both kinds). It’s push and pull until all parts agree. It will be a grey day full of brutal heat and unencumbered dust.

Except for the small cameras around the perimeter, the sinagoga is indistinguishable from the baptist church, or the elks club, or the western workwear store that run the same strip of road. Technically a highway. It was never intended to be an economic corridor. Its main job is to connect the border with the interstate to the north.

Every building on this street is a low-slung cinder block box with long overhangs that shade each side. It would be safe to assume each one was built by the same contractor and crew, at the same time. They probably were fulfilling some heavily subsidized contract to create a “town” and housing for DHSI staff with no regards to the town that existed prior.

Every vehicle in the sinagoga parking lot is loaded to the hilt. Some trucks have plywood standing on the tall to increase the volume of the load. Some small cars have small trailers hitched and wired. A few have trunks strapped to the roof. One thing is true of them all: they’re stuffed so full there’s barely any room for passengers.

None of these buildings have any windows to speak of except for the tinted glass doors that face the parking lots. Being so air tight and efficient, it’s hard to imagine how a small bird has found its way into the temple and is taking a break from eating fleas to watch the argument unfolding.

R’Stack stands while the rest sit, and argues the final points of a position that they’ve been promoting for some weeks. It is, they say, the moment, today. It’s happening all over the world, “people like us, together, a cloth has a thousand threads. Not one of those threads knew each other before. But now they’ve been through the loom, joined.” He goes on to say, maybe these threads didn’t even know they were threads at first. But now they know. They can see how they’re woven together.

It is not an argument that falls on deaf ears, since the idea has been growing for some time among members. Everyone is engaged; everyone listening takes it seriously. The bird is digging where the block wall meets the slab. The joint is wet from condensation. Fleas that escape from the bird find refuge in people’s boots. They burrow into the folds of the socks and feed. Everyone is scratching at their ankles. Some are itching the insides of their thighs. It’s been suggested a person could get as many as fifty bites from a single one of this breed.

One of the people in the crowd says that the fleas are engineered. The purpose of which is, “to drive us out anyway.” But this is quickly dismissed by the majority. Having read a few versions of this particular thread, it seemed unlikely since, “everyone has them. The DHIS headquarters even had to send everyone home to fumigate.”

“When?”

“I sent it to you.”

It doesn’t matter either way now. They let R’Stack speak because that's what they do and, to be honest, they have a calming effect when they speak.

“I don’t want to be dramatic,” they say. But they must acknowledge the significance of the moment. They say, “what if, my friends.” What if they were a cloth cut to be sewn? What if we have always been a people who were joined at the seam by events, and that it was time, right now, to begin to sew another seam? Maybe to create a new garment. “Maybe we are simply mending seams?”

“I don’t know the best metaphor,” they say. But we have decided to act, and while it may feel to you that we are alone, here in this desert, and that we walk out of it alone and with nothing, “We aren’t and we don’t.”

First, a few links passed around from servers that no one recognized. But the articles were written in a way that spoke to the members. A specific syntax, a familiarity, a by-line and profile photo they related to, though if you asked them, they would not have said as much. Honestly, they wouldn’t have known how to articulate it. But R’Stack spent hours combing through the details of the plan, the philosophy behind it, joined message groups on encrypted platforms, learned to mint his own tokens and began building spaces to discuss the idea. They brought the particulars to the sinagoga and hashed it out quietly. It moved in this way, so that for months the idea was mulled over, building momentum, leading to this moment, where the final decision was to be made: “whether the things in their cars, and the cars themselves could be retained?” Were they necessary for them to live, or were those things tokens of debt bondage, and should also be abolished. Were they walking out of this town on foot or not?

With communication purposely silenced for the last few days, they couldn’t vet the idea with the larger community out there somewhere, who they thought might be sympathetic, who were in probably much different conditions than R’Stack and their members.

The members arrive at their decision, scratching at their shins. They leave the sinagoga flying flags tied to broom sticks and roller poles, the hot wind whipping them about. One banner stretches the width of the highway. It takes the lead with older children hoisting a pole on either shoulder of the road. They direct their mass of people down the center of the highway towards the interstate, causing the huge automated trucks to slow gently and come to a perfect stop. A back-up begins in both directions. Such a mass of movement triggers a kill chain in each truck that must be manually reset by the drivers who are most likely nestled in their sleeping pods this early in the morning, trusting these generally deserted stretches of road to the vehicle.

Case Miller & Claire Cochran, The Fields, 2021.

Part 2

Sal M’ is called out to Micha’s farm by a protocol the two set-up a few years back. They both had endpoints on an exclusive network that included them two and three other farmers in the region. Thanks to good engineering and security protocols, they could account for all the data in the system. The only new data they had that wasn't generated in-house were some theromspectal images, but those files came from a few select cubesats they had launched themselves.

It could have been a lot better, thinks Sal, but they didn’t talk to the others much anymore. Probably because when they were better friends talked too much. They talked about “how will it all work,” but they never actually got around to doing the hard things it would take to make it work. Not that they weren’t all still friends exactly, or that they were competitors either. But for some reason, driving the twenty minutes to Micha’s felt longer and longer each time. And since they had at least managed to set up a basic system, why go over there so much?

Micha had died in the night. Sal finds him lying across his bed at a strange angle, like he rose in the night to pee or get a glass of water and fell. Maybe it was a heart attack or embolism or something. Sal didn’t know either and wasn’t super interested in the reason. They see the fleas jumping off the body and onto their boots. Looking closer, the floor seems to pulse from the mass of them. Sal M’ places a message in the non-emergency chat for city hall (which is mostly maintained by DHSI) and asks that they send someone. Then, he puts the news up on a few spots, posts to the private server, and goes outside to wait.

The farm looks to be in good shape, thinks Sal. But the chat is very quiet.

In fact, no one from town has said anything except the standard pleasantries. Sal wonders just how long it’s been since anyone had actually seen Micha. They put the same question to the chat. This post sparks some chatter outside of the normal echoing of basic sentiments.

No one has actually been out to see Micha in a while. He has not participated in the forums recently, and as such, has lost a substantial amount of his chat tokens, which is why, people figure, no one has heard from him. Probably. Someone brings up the possibility that Micha died from a new type of bacterial infection associated with engineered fleas, but they walk the theory back a little after someone else points out that these “infections are actually the most deadly in young people.”

Sal M’ looks up from their phone and sees some people crouching in the back of the fields. The leafy tops of the crops come to their waists. The sun behind them, creating silhouettes that accentuate the huge packs that they have on their backs. They stop when they see Sal, frozen in the sun, but Sal hurriedly waves them on, to get them moving. Sal then turns around to survey the roads.

Not surprisingly, DHSI is the only organization available to respond, and they do so in their typical fashion. First by inspecting Micha's body, then by doing a thorough diagnostic of all the farm equipment, grabbing a data dump from the farm, doing a full walking survey of the property, and then the adjacent properties, looking for lord knows what. They inform Sal that officers are concurrently conducting a similar sweep of his property. Sal wants to makes it clear that it is not exactly their “property,” as it were, since its material outputs and infrastructure are fungible.

“Both maintenance and surplus are apportioned out according to a system where each person...”

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” says the DHSI officer from behind a mask. The officer then motions to their counterpart who has been lurking in the background.

Lala has lived here her whole life, which means she’s known Sal for about that long as well. But she’s only been with DHSI for 3 years which means she has to pretend like she doesn’t know him. At least until they’ve settled the formalities surrounding the death. Asked and recorded the perfunctory set of questions.

“We’ll also need access to your cooperative server and its clients,” says Lala.

When she finishes the DHSI script, they talk weather. Then Lala asks after “Salvador’s” family. This is a loaded question that gets no response. Lala participates in many overlapping platforms with Sal’s family. Despite DHSI rules against it, Lala has a handful of personal tokens for some more disreputable town chat. She knows exactly how Sal’s family is so Sal understands this question as code.

Lala wants to speak informally. Sal thinks about it. Thinks about the multitude of ways that she may be capturing their interaction, but ultimately decides that it's better to cooperate and says, rather stiffly, “They’re doing well.”

Lala shows him a faraday cage with a device in it.

“Ever seen this one before?”

Sal says no in a way she understands as “I’m speaking to you now, not to your job.” She starts up the device which has no passcode and begins to scroll through messages. As they read them together, almost the entire internal conversation from the members of sinagoga, Lala keeps asking Sal if they know anything about this. Sal says he only knows what he heard from the news.

“I didn’t even know he was Jewish,” says Sal.

“But you’re his friend?”

Sal asks how Lala knows this.

“Everyone knows about you two,” she says. “Isn’t it true?”

Sal thinks about this question and chooses not to answer.

Case Miller & Claire Cochran, Shiva, 2021.

 

Part 3

With the town in a panic, Micha is buried immediately. Multiple versions of a resistant bacteria/weaponized flea narrative fly around. Most put Micha as patient zero, but with varying degrees of complicity. He started it but it got away from him. “Those people” left the fleas as final revenge. Revenge against Micha for not following them, or as revenge against the town, depending. Maybe “DHSI was using it to drive out farmers so they can extend the bufferzone,” or maybe, DHSI had released them to save the farmers by replenishing biodiversity, “since we all know the soil is basically dead.”

DHSI takes the body to the small cemetery at the base of the mountain. The unfenced spot of dirt has a sign on the road in that reads, “If you don’t have family here, you don’t have business here.”

The man overseeing the digger is standing far away from the grave site. Sal asks the man if the digger doesn't require supervision, and the man speaking in a low voice says he heard they’re bringing in a witch’s body today. “And it’s best not to get too close.”

“Didn’t you know him?” asks Sal.

“How can you know anyone these days,” says the man.

Lala is one of the officers transporting the body. Sal asks her if this speedy burial is necessary. “There are multiple credible threats associated with this scenario,” she says, but doesn't explain what that means or how DHSI determines this.

Sal M’ sits shiva for Micha for four days before a single other person arrives. It is just Sal and the fleas, biting at their legs and thighs, around their beltline, and a few cleaning bots that are completely over matched by the infestation.

On day two before sundown, Sal pulls back the black curtains over the window and sees figures setting up tents toward the back of the property. Sal posts an image just to see what will come back.

During this time alone, Sal wonders why they are here doing this ritual. Is it out of guilt? Are they trying to keep up appearances? They decide it is both and then some. Sal tries to reach out to Micha’s family, but finds only theories about Micha’s people. Did they leave that day with the rest? Good riddance, say some. How dare you, say others.

Lala arrives in uniform to the shiva. She looks at Sal sitting on the low stool, sees the fleas jumping all over them, the covered windows, the covered mirrors, the bright red bites on Sal’s neck, and says, “let’s go outside.”

Sal says that they need to stay. Lala tells Sal there’s a DHSI regional team coming to the farm tomorrow. “You’re gonna have to go. They’re taking control of the property. Same orders they seized the other with.”

When Sal asks Lala why she works for DHSI, she just shrugs her shoulders.

“It’s the best job I can have and still stay here. It’s my home town. All my family is here, you know. It’s all I’ve ever known.”

It occurs to Sal, after sitting for three days in Micah’s house alone, that there is nothing there that can add value to the conversation. They get rather excited by this idea, thinking, “some pieces of information are outside of any system,” lost forever, unrecoverable, at rest. Lala sees Sal smiling and says, “there it is,” patting him on the shoulder. “Everybody hates seeing you so upset.”

Notes
1

David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years (New York: Melville House, 2011), 197.

Category
Data & Information
Subject
Science Fiction, Fiction, Networks, Judaism
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