The big story: Global climate change has created millions of refugees, whose desperate movements have destabilized many societies. By 2062, the resulting chaos has fractured the United States into 13 squabbling nations. One of them, the West Coast nation of Jeffersonia, is at war with Mexico.
Mexico has become the world’s richest and most admired nation after its discovery of Reverse Lightning, a process that produces abundant, pollution-free energy. The United States had been slow to adopt this “foreign technology,” and the resulting conflict led directly to a nation-shattering civil war.
Jeffersonia’s leader is Permanent President Mal Malkenkovich, a billionaire who made his fortune in construction. As the story opens, President Malenkovich (at right) suspects that Mexican agents have kidnapped his personal secretary, Rhonda. She was a gorgeous woman, and the President misses her flattery and affection. So her orders his Security Chief, Darnoc, to recruit a beautiful woman to be “the new Rhonda.’
While Darnoc’s off on a recruiting mission, President Malenkovich descends to the War Room, where he plays a combat simulation game called Death to Mexico. Although his nation has all but lost the real war, in the simulation game, Jeffersonia wins every time.
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Meanwhile, a few blocks from the Capitol, a policeman arrests a beautiful young women, charging her with vagrancy. All prisoners in Jeffersonia are brought to court naked and found guilty, so Mary Weeks’ future seems bleak indeed. Here Patrolman McCarthy presents his case to Judge-Sergeant Timothy Finnegan.
Judge Finnegan, a poet at heart, is a reluctant servant of this Draconian government. He feels sorry for this young prisoner, and suspects she’s been arrested so the police can have their way with her. Under the nation’s strict Guidelines he must find her guilty, but he gives her a towel to wrap herself in, and warns Patrolman McCarthy that she is not to be molested.
As ordered, Patrolman McCarthy finds her some clothing, although he keeps it to a minimum. Here he visits her jail cell. McCarthy, a refugee from Ireland, and a bachelor, wants above all to start a family. McCarthy is among the millions of refugees forced to flee Ireland, the UK and Northern Europe after the weakening of the Gulf Stream causes massive crop failures.
Mary Weeks had journeyed to Jeffersonia in hopes of finding her lover, Danny, who was her lover back in North Dakota. Danny had disappeared while on a visit to Jeffersonia.
North Dakota is no longer a state, but an independent nation, including much of the Northern Plains, with its capital at Darwin Flats, the city once known as Chicago.
Danny had not really disappeared. He’d been drafted into Jeffersonia’s Army, which is desperate and on the verge of losing its war with Mexico. The Army assigned danny to a cave, from which he kept watch on the seashore. One night, he challenged a vagrant who came wading toward his cave.
This vagrant, Piano, offered to share a “Magic Blue” cigar with Danny. Sensing that Piano was harmless, Danny smoked with him. “Magic Blue” cigars, with their ability to alleviate pain, were strictly forbidden in the Army. But there was nobody at this lonesome seaside post except Danny and Piano.
Jeffersonia has three strictly-enforced social classes, and the lowest one is the nenio. (Esperanto: The Nothings). Piano is a nenio, and hasn’t eaten in days, so Danny sneaks him up the cliff to the Army mess hall. In return for a midnight mashed potato dinner, Piano offers Danny a Magic Blue and the two become friends.
Since Jeffersonia is a nation of the hungry, the depressed and the ragged, Mary, fresh from North Dakota, quickly comes to the attention of jail authorities. They send Mary off to be a slave to the Malenkovich household. Here she’s arrived at the First Ranch, and gets gardening instructions from Maattricia Malenkovich, the First Lady.
The First Lady suspects that her new slave might make a play for her husband’s affections. She cuts off Mary’s hair and shaves her head nearly bald. She brings Mary out to the Back Garden and shows her the grave of the last slave who tried to win the President’s affection. Slavery has made a comeback in Jeffersonia, although it is no longer based on race, but on the level of citizenship.
Embarking on a shopping adventure, the First Lady meets with Genuine Jo, who runs an oyster bar on the ferry dock. Genuine Jo’s Oyster Bar, despite the name, does not serve actual bivalves but analogs, made of tofu, with RealCrete shells.
RealCrete, an amalgam of concrete, asphalt and plastic, is used in thousands of applications. Its invention catapulted Malenkovich from circus performer to billionaire to President.
Alone except for his body guard, President Malkenkovich lives in a mansion atop the city’s highest hill. Here he’s meeting Judge Finnegan on the rooftop, and is about to ask him a favor. Finnegan is also a refugee, having migrated from London after the Terrible Tide inundated much of that once-great city.
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Hungry Al is an important man in Jeffersonia’s capitol district, which is known by its Esperanto name Ruga Zona. Al is the top nation’s importer of fruits and vegetables, and his favor is courted by the elite. Here Judge Finnegan beseeches him in the kitchen of his iconic restaurant.
Jeffersonia has created a state religion, the Church of Jeez. Its holy figure is the mysterious Jeez, whose face appears on TV, computer screens and billboards, although the debate rages over whether he actually exists. Nevertheless, the ever-shifting cultural norms of the Church of Jeez are cited whenever Jeffersonia implements new regulations.
As the United State descended into civil war, Mexico developed Reverse Lightning. The resulting economic surge transformed the nation into a powerhouse, attracting engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs from all over the world. Mexico also built a first-rate health care system. Here, Piano is examined by a Mexican doctor after he inadvertently crossed the border.
The plight of many migrants to Jeffersonia is to be trapped in the half-flooded Blua Zona, where food and housing is scarce. Here Patrolman McCarthy searches a homeless woman, hoping to find a few coins or a meal ticket. He makes a surprising discovery that breaks his heart.
Patrolman McCarthy, disguised as a monk, has been moving among the nenio hoping to gather information for the government. He discovers Piano giving a talk to people in a park, and arrests him on suspicion of rabble-rousing.
As Mary rises higher in the government, she becomes an aide to Minister of Education Joss. He proves to be a slippery character, and here, in the Cathedral of Jeez, he hands her an ultra-secret document.
Piano has returned from Mexico with a new vision of what society might be. Here, at the nenio campsite he calls homes he sits with the Book of Jeez in his lap and contemplates the future.
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