A Shared Inheritance

Jay looked out at the Last Continent from the deck of the massive refugee transport, the cool wind slapping at his hair in the early morning light. He’d always heard it was a frozen land of ice and pictured pristine white peaks above sleek white plains, but instead, this. Shores of gray and brown slush that rose into a sheet of mud. Dark clouds had smeared across the sky until they thin and patchy like a moth-eaten blanket. There was a beached whale, bloated and half decayed, without so much as a seabird to lick its bones. There were no penguins.

The transport—a repurposed old container ship, still stacked with containers, but now filled with people rather than consumer electronics and disassembled particle board furniture—was too large to maneuver between the gaps in the offshore windfarms. The enormous blades of the windmills were painted many bright colors, now sun-faded, and spun wildly like garden pinwheels as viewed by tiny, crawly creatures. The ship maneuvered laboriously into position, its old and tired innards groaning and sputtering despite the shiny electric power retrofits. Then smaller tender boats converged from the shore, reminding Jay of the response one would get from kicking an anthill.

The specialists were offloaded first: geoengineers and nanoagriculturists and humanitarian workers. Then cargo: food and ore and the meager belongings of the passengers, for those who had anything at all. The refugees were last. The process was organized, well-practiced, but the sheer volume of people needing to make the trip meant it took the better part of the day before Jay made landfall.

He’d watched the specialists board waiting helicopters earlier in the day, but the helicopters never returned. A giant treaded machine like a snowmobile mixed with a city bus took him and his traveling companions inland. The trip took several more hours as they followed worn trails of wet, mashed rock. He watched endless fields of hard-shell domes and weather-beaten tents pass by the same way he used to remember passing fields of corn on the highway from the third row of his parents’ SUV. And all among the temporary-come-permanent structures were scurrying people who looked to him to be moving without purpose, aimlessly moving for the sake of something to do. Children, and the elderly, and the injured, and healthy adults just like him whose inheritance was a blight they could not renounce.

When the people-mover finally lurched to a stop in the darkness of evening, driver, who had said not a word to this point, turned in her seat. “Welcome to Antarctica.”

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