The Water Knife - OCRConf.pdf - CHAPTER 1 There were stories in sweat The sweat of a woman bent double in an onion field working fourteen hours under

The Water Knife - OCRConf.pdf - CHAPTER 1 There were...

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Unformatted text preview: CHAPTER 1 There were stories in sweat. The sweat of a woman bent double in an onion field, working fourteen hours under the hot sun, was different from the sweat of a man as he approached a checkpoint in Mexico, praying to La Santa Muerte that thefederales weren't on the payroll of the enemies he was fleeing. The sweat of a ten-year-old boy staring into the barrel of a SIG Sauer was different from the sweat of a woman struggling across the desert and praying to the Virgin that a water cache was going to turn out to be exactly where her coyote's map told her it would be. Sweat was a body's history, compressed into jewels, beaded on the brow, staining shirts with salt. It told you everything about how a person had ended up in the right place at the wrong time, and whether they would survive another day. To Angel Velasquez, perched high above Cypress 1's central bore and watching Charles Braxton as he lumbered up the Cascade Trail, the sweat on a lawyer's brow said that some people weren't near as important as they liked to think. Braxton might strut in his offices and scream at his secretaries. He might stalk courtrooms like an ax murderer hunting new victims. But no matter how much swagger the lawyer carried, at the end of the day Catherine Case owned his ass- and when Catherine Case told you to get something done quick, you didn't just run, pendejo, you ran until your heart gave out and there wasn't no running left. Braxton ducked under ferns and stumbled past banyan climbing vines, following the slow rise of the trail as it wound around the cooling bore. He shoved through groups of tourists posing for selfies before the braided waterfalls and hanging gardens that spilled down the arcology's levels. He kept on, flushed and dogged. Joggers zipped past him in shorts and tank tops, their ears flooded with music and the thud of their healthy hearts. You could learn a lot from a man's sweat. Braxton's sweat meant he still had fear. And to Angel, that meant he was still reliable. Braxton spied Angel perched on the bridge where it arced across the wide expanse of the central bore. He waved tiredly, motioning Angel to come down and join him. Angel waved back from above, smiling, pretending not to understand. "Come down!" Braxton called up. Angel smiled and waved again. The lawyer slumped, defeated, and set himself to the final assault on Angel's aerie. Angel leaned against the rail, enjoying the view. Sunlight filtered down from above, dappling bamboo and rain trees, illuminating tropical birds and casting pocket-mirror flashes on mossy koi ponds. Far below, people were smaller than ants. Not really people at all, more just the shapes of tourists and residents and casino workers, as in the biotects' development models of Cypress 1: scale-model people sipping scale-model lattes on scale-model coffee shop terraces. Scale-model kids chasing butterflies on the nature trails, while scale-model gamblers split and doubled down at the scale-model blackjack tables in the deep grottoes of the casinos. Braxton came lumbering onto the bridge. "Why didn't you come down?" he gasped. "I told you to come down." He dropped his briefcase on the boards and sagged against the rail. "What you got for me?" Angel asked. "Papers," Braxton wheezed. "Carver City. We just got the judge's decision." He waved an exhausted hand at the briefcase. "We crushed them." "And?" Braxton tried to say more but couldn't get the words out. His face was puffy and flushed. Angel wondered if he was about to have a heart attack, then tried to decide how much he would care ifhe did. The first time Angel met Braxton had been in the lawyer's offices in the headquarters of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The man had a floor-toceiling view of Carson Creek, Cypress 1's fly-fishing river, where it cascaded through various levels of the arcology before being pumped back to the top of the system to run though a new cleaning cycle. A big expensive overlook onto rainbow trout and water infrastructure, and a good reminder of why Braxton filed his lawsuits on SNWA's behalf. Braxton had been lording over his three assistants -all coincidentally svelte girls hooked straight from law school with promises of permanent residence permits in Cypress-and he'd talked to Angel like an afterthought. Just another one of Catherine Case's pit bulls that he tolerated for as long as Angel kept leaving other, bigger dogs dead in his wake. Angel, in turn, had spent the meeting trying to figure out how a man like Braxton had gotten so large. People outside Cypress didn't fatten up like Braxton did. In all Angel's early life, he'd never seen a creature quite like Braxton, and he found himself fascinated, admiring the fleshy raiment of a man who knew himself secure. If the end of the world came like Catherine Case said it would, Angel thought Braxton would make good eating. And that in turn made it easier to let the Ivy League pendejo live when he wrinkled his nose at Angel's gang tattoos and the knife scar that scored his face and throat. Times they do change, Angel thought as he watched the sweat drip from Braxton's nose. "Carver City lost on appeal," Braxton gasped finally. "Judges were going to rule this morning, but we got the courtrooms double-booked. Got the whole ruling delayed until end of business. Carver City will be running like crazy to file a new appeal." He picked up his briefcase and popped it open. "They aren't going to make it." He handed over a sheaf oflaser-hologrammed documents. "These are your injunctions. You've got until the courts open tomorrow to enforce our legal rights. Once Carver City files an appeal, it's a different story. Then you're looking at civil liabilities, minimally. But until courts open tomorrow, you're just defending the private property rights of the citizens of the great state of Nevada." Angel started going through the documents. "This all of it?" "Everything you need, as long as you seal the deal tonight. Once business opens tomorrow, it's back to courtroom delays and he-said, she-said." "And you'll have done a lot of sweating for nothing." Braxton jabbed a thick finger at Angel. "That better not happen." Angel laughed at the implied threat. "I already got my housing permits, cabr6n. Go frighten your secretaries." "Just because you're Case's pet doesn't mean I can't make your life miserable." Angel didn't look up from the injunctions. "Just because you're Case's dog don't mean I can't toss you off this bridge." The seals and stamps on the injunctions all looked like they were in order. "What have you got on Case that makes you so untouchable?" Braxton asked. "She trusts me." Braxton laughed, disbelieving, as Angel put the injunctions back in order. Angel said, "People like you write everything down because you know everyone is a liar. It's how you lawyers do." He slapped Braxton in the chest with the legal documents, grinning. "And that's why Case trusts me and treats you like a dogyou're the one who writes things down." He left Braxton glaring at him from the bridge. As Angel made his way down the Cascade Trail, he pulled out his cell and dialed. Catherine Case answered on the first ring, clipped and formal. "This is Case." Angel could imagine her, Queen of the Colorado, leaning over her desk, with maps of the state of Nevada and the Colorado River Basin floor to ceil- ing on the walls around her, her domain laid out in real-time data feeds-the veins of every tributary blinking red, amber, or green indicating stream flow in cubic feet per second. Numbers flickering over the various catchment basins of the Rocky Mountains-red, amber, green-monitoring how much snow cover remained and variation off the norm as it melted. Other numbers, displaying the depths of reservoirs and dams, from the Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison, to the Navajo Dam on the San Juan, to the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green. Over it all, emergency purchase prices on streamflows and futures offers scrolled via NASDAQ, available open-market purchase options if she needed to recharge the depth in Lake Mead, the unforgiving numbers that ruled her world as relentlessly as she ruled Angel's and Braxton's. "Just talked to your favorite lawyer," Angel said. "Please tell me you didn't antagonize him again." "That pendejo is a piece of work." "You're not so easy, either. You have everything you need?" "Well, Braxton gave me a lot of dead trees, that's for sure." He hefted the sheaf of legal documents. "Didn't know so much paper still existed." "We like to make sure we're all on the same page," Case said dryly. "Same fifty or sixty pages, more like." Case laughed. "It's the first rule of bureaucracy: any message worth sending is worth sending in triplicate." Angel exited the Cascade Trail, winding down toward where elevator banks would whisk him to central parking. "Figure we should be up in about an hour," he said. ''I'll be monitoring." "This is a milk run, boss. Braxton's papers here got about a hundred different signatures say I can do anything I want. This is old-school cease and desist. Camel Corps could do this one on their own, I bet. Glorified FedEx is what this is." "No." Case's voice hardened. "Ten years ofbackand-forth in the courts is what this is, and I want it finished. For good this time. I'm tired of giving away Cypress housing permits to some judge's nephew just so we can keep appealing for something that's ours by right." "No worries. When we're done, Carver City won't know what hit them." "Good. Let me know when it's finished." She clicked off. Angel caught an express elevator as it was closing. He stepped to the glass as the elevator began its plunge. It accelerated, plummeting down through the levels of the arcology. People blurred past: mothers pushing double strollers; hourly girlfriends clinging to the arms of weekend boyfriends; tourists from all over the world, snapping pies and messaging home that they had seen the Hanging Gardens of Las Vegas. Ferns and waterfalls and coffee shops. Down on the entertainment floors, the dealers would be changing shifts. In the hotels the twentyfour-hour party people would be waking up and taking their first shots of vodka, spraying glitter on their skin. Maids and waiters and busboys and cooks and maintenance staff would all be hard at work, striving to keep their jobs, fighting to keep their Cypress housing permits. You're all here because ofme, Angel thought. Without me, you'd all be little tumbleweeds. Little boneand-paper-skin bodies. No dice to throw, no hookers to buy, no strollers to push, no drinks at your elbow, no work to do... Without me, you're nothing. The elevator hit bottom with a soft chime. Its doors opened to Angel's Tesla, waiting with the valet. Half an hour later he was striding across the boiling tarmac of Mulroy Airbase, heat waves rippling off the asphalt, and the sun setting bloody over the Spring Mountains. One hundred twenty degrees, and the sun only finally finishing the job. The floodlights of the base were coming on, adding to the burn. "You got our papers?" Reyes shouted over the whine of Apaches. "Feds love our desert asses!" Angel held up the documents. "For the next fourteen hours, anyway!" Reyes barely smiled in response, just turned and started initiating launch orders. Colonel Reyes was a big black man who'd been a recon marine in Syria and Venezuela, before moving into hot work in the Sahel and then Chihuahua, before finally dropping into his current plush job with the Nevada guardies. State of Nevada paid better, he said. Reyes waved Angel aboard the command chopper. Around them attack helicopters were spinning up, burning synthetic fuel by the barrel- Nevada National Guard, a.k.a. Camel Corps, a.k.a. those fucking Vegas guardies, depending on who had just had a Hades missile sheaf fired up their asses-all of them gearing up to inflict the will of Catherine Case upon her enemies. One of the guardies tossed Angel a flak jacket. Angel shrugged into Kevlar as Reyes settled into the command seat and started issuing orders. Angel plugged military glass and an earbug into the chopper's comms so he could listen to the chatter. Their gunship lurched skyward. A pilot's-eye data feed spilled into Angel's vision, the graffiti of war coloring Las Vegas with bright hungry tags: target calculations, relevant structures, friend/foe markings, Hades missile loads, and .50-cal bellygun ammo info, fuel warnings, heat signals on the ground ... Ninety-eight point six. Human beings. Some ofthe coolest things out there. Each one tagged, not a single one knowing it. One of the guardies was making sure Angel was strapped in tight. Angel grinned as the lady checked his straps. Dark skin and black hair and eyes like coal. He picked her name off a tag-Gupta. "Think I know how to strap myself in, right?" he shouted over the rotor noise. "Used to do this work, too." Gupta didn't even smile. "Ms. Case's orders. We'd look pretty stupid if we pancaked and you didn't walk away just because you didn't tighten your seat belt." "Ifwe pancake, none ofus is walking away." But she ignored him and did her check anyway. Reyes and the Camel Corps were t horough. They had their own elegant rituals, designed over time and polished to a high shine. Gupta said something into her comm, then strapped into her own seat behind the screen for the chopper's belly gun. Angel's stomach lurched as their gunship angled around, joining a formation of other airborne predators. Status updates rolled across his military glass, brighter than Vegas nightscape: SNWA 6602, away. SNWA 6608, away. SNWA 6606, away . More call signs and numbers scrolled past. Digital confirmation of the nearly invisible locust swarm filling the blackening sky and now streaming south. Over the comm, Reyes's voice crackled: "Commence Operation Honey Pool." Angel laughed. "Who came up with that one?" "Like it?" "I like Mead." "Don't we all?" And then they were hurtling south, toward the Mead in question: twenty-six million acre-feet of water storage at inception, now less than half of that thanks to Big Daddy Drought. An optimistic lake created during an optimistic time, whittled now and filling with silt besides. A lifeline, always threatened and always vulnerable, always on the verge of sinking below Intake No. 3, the critical IV drip that kept the heart of Las Vegas pumping. Below them, the lights of Vegas central unspooled: casino neon and Cypress arcologies. Hotels and balconies. Domes and condensation-misted vertical farms, leafy with hydroponic greenery and blazing with full-spectrum illumination. Geometries of light sprawling across the desert floor, all of them overlaid with the electronic graffiti of Camel Corps's combat language. Billboard promises of shows and parties and drinks and money filtered through military glass, and became attack and entry points. Close-packed urban canyons designed to funnel desert winds became sniper alleys. Iridescent photovoltaic-paint roofs became drop zones. The Cypress arcologies became high-ground advantage and priority attack zones, thanks to the way they dominated the Vegas skyline and loomed over everything else, bigger and more ambitious than all of Sin City's previous forays into the fantastical combined. Vegas ended in a sharp black line. The combat software started picking out living creatures, cool spots in the dark heat of millennial suburban skeleton-square mile after square mile of buildings that weren't good for anything except firewood and copper wiring because Catherine Case had decided they didn't deserve their water anymore. Sparse and lonely campfires perforated the blackness, beacons marking the locations of desiccated Texans and Zoners who didn't have enough money to get into a Cypress arcology and had nowhere else to flee. The Queen of the Colorado had slaughtered the hell out of these neighborhoods: her first graveyards, created in seconds when she shut off the water in their pipes. "If they can't police their damn water mains, they can drink dust," Case had said. People still sent the lady death threats about that. The helicopters crossed the last of the wrecked suburban buffer zone and passed out into open desert. Original landscape: Old Testament ancient. Creosote bushes. Joshua trees, spiky and lonely. Yucca eruptions, dry washes, pale gravel sands, quartz pebbles. The desert was entirely black now and cooling, the scalpel scrape of the sun finally off the land. There'd be animals down there. Nearly hairless coyotes. Lizards and snakes. Owls. A whole world that only came alive once the sun went down. A whole ecosystem emerging from burrows beneath rocks and yucca and creosote. Angel watched the tiny thermal markers of the desert's surviving inhabitants and wondered if the desert returned his gaze, if some skinny coyote looked up at the muffled thud-thwap of Camel Corps gunships flying overhead and marveled at this charge of airborne humanity. An hour passed. "We're close," Reyes said, breaking the stillness. His voice was almost reverent. Angel leaned for- ward, searching. "There she is," Gupta said. A black ribbon of water, twisting through desert, cutting between ragged mountain ridges. Shining moonlight spilled across the waters in slicks of silver. The Colorado River. It wound like a serpent through the pale scapes of the desert. California hadn't put this stretch of river into a straw yet, but it would. All that evaporation -couldn't let the sun steal that forever. But for now the river still flowed in the open, exposed to sky and the guardies' solemn view. Angel peered down at the river, awed as always. The radio chatter of the guardies ceased, all of them falling silent at the sight of so much water. Even much reduced by droughts and diversions, the Colorado River awakened reverent hungers. Seven million acre-feet a year, down from sixteen million ...but still, so much water, simply there on the land .. . No wonder Hindus worshipped rivers, Angel thought. In its prime, the Colorado River had run more than a thousand miles, from the white-snow Rockies down through the red-rock canyons of Utah and on to the blue Pacific, tumbling fast and without obstruction. And wherever it touched- life. If a farmer could put a diversion on it, or a home builder could sink a well beside it, or a casino developer could throw a pump into it, a person could drink deep of possibility. A body could thrive in 115-degree heat. A city could blossom in a desert. The river was a blessing as sure as the Virgin Mother's. Angel wondered what the river had looked like back when it still ran free and fast. These days the river ran low and sluggish, stoppered behind huge dams. Blue Mesa Dam, Flaming Gorge Dam, Morrow Point Dam, Soldier Creek Dam, Navajo Dam, Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam, and more. And wherever dams held back the river and its tributaries, lakes formed, reflecting desert sky and sun: Lake Powell. Lake Mead. Lake Havasu... These days Mexico never saw a drop of water hit its border, no matter how much it complained about the Colorado River Compact and the Law of the River. Children down in the Cartel States grew up and died thinking that the Colorado River was as much a myth as the chupacabra that Angel's old abuela had told him about. Hell, most of Utah and Colorado weren't allowed to touch the water that filled the canyon below Angel's chopper. "Ten minutes to contact," Reyes announced. "Any chance they'll fight?" Reyes shook his head. "Zoners don't have much t o defend with. Still got most of their units deployed up in the Arctic." That had been Case's doing, greasing a bunch of East Coast politicians who didn't care what the hell happened on this side of the Continental Divide. She'd gorged those pork-barrel bastards on hookers and cocaine and vast sloshing oceans of Super PAC cash, so when the Joint Chiefs discovered a desperate need to defend tar sands pipelines way up north, coincidentally, the only folks who could do...
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