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Photo illustration by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Fall Fiction Series

Chapter 1

For his fourth and final try, Emilio Vasquez synced in a different handheld device with the circuit controlling Kekionga Dam, pushed the code to open the gates and – nothing happened.

"Damn computers," Vasquez said as he began the arduous process – again – of switching the controls over to manual. "You'd think that in the year 2062 they might have found a way to make them work half the time."

Finally, after flipping no fewer than 12 switches – mechanical, not electrical – Vasquez began to turn the crank to manually open the gates of the dam. The St. Marys River began to spurt out of the 20-year-old dam for the six-mile winding journey to the city's Foster Water Filtration Plant, named for Foster Park, which once occupied the site now used to cleanse and purify half the city's drinking water. From there, the water would flow into downtown.

Vasquez wondered how many thousands of gallons would be diverted as the water began to inch up the banks of the dry riverbed downriver from the dam. Everyone knew the people who lived along the river tapped off some water. And there were rumors that somebody – or, more suspiciously, some organization – was tapping off massive amounts before the water got to the Foster plant. The same rumors swirled around the Three Rivers Filtration plant, which got its water from the St. Joseph River.

The dignitaries gathering the next day at Headwaters Park would admire the steady, deep flow of the river, the city's lifeblood. But they would never appreciate Vasquez's ability to open the dam, he thought as he absent-mindedly set the computerized timer that hadn't worked in months. He took out his old-fashioned wristwatch to begin timing the water flow.

"One million people," Vasquez said to himself. "Unbelievable."

At the age of 60, Vasquez had seen many changes in the city of his birth but still couldn't believe the city had grown this fast. The population had remained fairly stable at around 250,000 for decades, but the economic and climate crises of the '30s caused the city's population to plummet to as low as 150,000 by 2042. That was the year of The Great Flood, when a torrential rain melted the unusual amount of remaining snow in late January and washed away a good part of the southern portion of the city.

Water wildcatters – hundreds of them – brought their aging tanker trucks to the area, siphoning off the floodwaters with plans of driving their cargo over the hole-pocked roads to Indianapolis, where traders paid a good price to ship the water by tanker rail to the parched West. Buyers there paid more for water than gold.

Vasquez remembered how he and his best friend from childhood, Roberto Gonzalez, had talked for years while working together at the Water Filtration Plant about how the city should use water to make a comeback. Vasquez never thought Gonzalez had a chance to win the mayor's race, and he still shakes his head about how his friend used the Flood of '42 to first win the election, and then shame the Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit to make the Kekionga Dam between Decatur and Fort Wayne its highest priority. Gonzalez told Vasquez one of his tactics was to continually remind the Detroit office how it failed Fort Wayne more than a century earlier, after the 1913 flood. The Louisville office of the Army Corps planned and eventually built dams along the Mississinewa, Salamonie and Wabash rivers. The Detroit office did – well, nothing, until after the 1982 flood, and then only raised the floodwalls.

By 2045, construction began on the dam. The following January, the East Coast was bracing for an unheard of winter hurricane. Many East Coasters had already begun migrating toward the Midwest as the rising Atlantic Ocean swallowed first small bits of land, then big chunks of New York City and Boston. Savannah, Ga., was all but abandoned; the Florida Keys were a memory. But Hurricane Mitt started a mass evacuation of much of the East Coast, and people were looking for a place with plenty of available housing, at least some jobs, a reliable food supply and clean drinking water.

With his city hurting, federal money became available to hire workers, and businesses needed them. Gonzalez put out a welcome mat to the East Coast refugees. Homes available for 10,000 American notes or 500,000 U.S. dollars. Jobs paying 5 American notes an hour waiting to be filled.

And water. Plenty of it.

As Vasquez checked his watch to time the water's release, City Hall staff and local police were busy preparing for the ceremony honoring the city's 1 millionth resident. The governor was coming, a few local celebrities were expected, and Gonzalez's campaign staff was rounding up supporters to give the ceremony the feel of a rally.

Gonzalez stood on the top floor of the Winfield Moses Jr. Government Building, once known as the Fort Wayne National Bank building. Soon, he would see the St. Marys River start to rise and cover all the trash that lined the dry riverbeds. "We've got to get rid of that garbage before election day," he thought.

With so many important issues to deal with, the last thing he wanted was to lose the election over trash in the river. He remembered what happened to Tom Didier's re-election back in 2023.

twarner@jg.net

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