Burning Earth: Climate Wars is now available on Amazon, and you can buy the book HERE, but for anyone who would like to read some of the novel before buying, you can read through the first three chapters on the site, starting with Chapter One, below.
The Old Man of Alhambra
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ―Leon C. Megginson
The old man’s home was located in what was once a bustling Spanish city, back in the glory days of humanity, when carbon-burning jets crossed the skies in their thousands and deposited millions of tourists into ancient cities like Granada.
Simone Gray paused wearily at the bottom of the hill leading up to a massive castle that encircled the mountain like the crown on a king.
The temperature was well over 40 degrees, and Simone had been travelling for days through the devastated landscape of Iberia, landing by boat in Bordeaux and pushing her way south by any means possible to the almost uninhabited region of Andalucia. Simone was toughened up from years in the field as a reporter, covering protests and disasters and even full-scale wars, but a week of travel in a land where roads were closed, trains shut down, and air travel nonexistent had worn her out.
Her feet and back ached. The pack felt like it was crushing her, and she felt sick and dizzy from the oppressive waves of heat. She was also stressed out almost beyond her considerable limits. The south of Spain had collapsed decades ago under a growing onslaught of heat and drought, and very few people still lived in the vast region of Andalucia. The coast was virtually deserted, with low-lying cities partially inundated by the rising seas, and towns in the foothills roasting in the year-round heat that in summer was hot enough to kill an adult human in less than an hour.
Once the largest centre for greenhouse growing in Europe, Andalucia’s farming industry was virtually terminated, and only the mountains of the Sierra Nevada were still populated, mainly by those descendants left behind by the brutal wars between the EU and Spain on one side and invading armies of desperate Muslims from Africa from the ‘40s through the ‘60s.
The road south of Toledo was considered dangerous for travel, and from the city of Jaen onward the route was infested with bandits and gangs, and up in the hills past Granada it was widely considered suicide to travel alone, especially as a woman; even a woman packing a Glock assault rifle and semi auto handgun.
Simone had used her rifle twice on the way down from Toledo; once near the city of Baeza when some bandits tried to hijack their bus at a makeshift roadblock near the town of Teruel. No one died, but the guide-slash-bodyguard she’d hired in Madrid decided to bail, and got off the bus in Baeza. The second time happened coming in to Granada from the north, when a gang of ill-advised men decided wrongly she looked like easy prey. She’d sent them off, howling with rage, two of them leaking bright red blood into their filthy robes.
Now she had finally arrived in the ruins of old Granada, and had this one last hill to climb. Weirdly, her grandfather lived on the grounds of an ancient fortified castle and palace complex, the once-famed Alhambra that played host to sultans and kings and later to millions of tourists over several centuries, and was now home to a ratty little group of eccentric survivors of the climate meltdown in southern Spain. Simone had never been here, but had pictures of her grandfather and his crazy friends posing on the castle walls, or tending their crops in the castle’s expansive gardens, or building the pumps and the water tanks that kept them all alive.
Her grandfather had gone full survivalist, living in a commune with no medical care within hundreds of kilometres, and now he was old and sick. She was here to bring him home, if she could talk the old fool into it. He was stubborn, she knew, but she was more than his match. At least, that’s what she told herself.
Simone wiped away some sweat that had snuck down past her bandanna, readjusted her backpack and assault rifle, and began to climb a narrow set of stairs leading between the ruins of ancient buildings, probably more than 500 years old.
Simone’s grandfather had always had a thing for Spain and Portugal, and he was old enough to have travelled here before everything went to hell. Back then, Simone knew, her grandfather had backpacked his way through Europe in the late 2040s as a young man, and San Sebastien was the first town he came to in Spain. When Simone was growing up, Grandpa would tell long, winding, often hilarious and just as frequently somewhat scandalous stories of his time in Spain; running with the bulls in Pamplona, hitchhiking down to Andalucia, getting into bar fights in Salamanca, a tussle with the police in Barcelona, dance parties in Malaga and over on the Algarve Coast of Portugal.
Simone knew him mainly from her own childhood, a time coloured darkly by the Cascadian War of Independence in the late ‘60s, when her mother and father died in the fighting during the wars of secession between the United States and the states of California, Oregon and Washington. Her father was a lot like the old man, in many ways; stubborn, fiery, adventurous, and unpredictable, and in the times leading up to the second rebellion in California he surprised no one by joining the rebels and and taking his family into the hills south of San Francisco, where he and the California Irregulars launched guerrilla attacks on the US Army.
It was in one one of those attacks that the Gray family’s life changed forever. American drone units managed to surveil some of the rebels as they retreated back to their base, and an attack wiped out most of the adults in the camps strung out through what used to be the Sierra Azul eco-preserve, south of San Jose. Simone’s mother and father were both killed, and it took weeks for her grandfather to find her in the refugee camps.
The old man was just as shattered as she was, losing not only his son, but also his wife and his daughter during a bombing raid in Santa Cruz that left him permanently scarred by shrapnel. But her grandfather had taken her from the camps, and with grim determination he’d carried her north through Oregon and Washington all the way up to British Columbia, where he applied for refugee status and eventually won Canadian citizenship for them both.
Simone always had an uneasy relationship with her grandfather. After the war he’d lost the sense of easy-going humour he was known for as a young man, becoming grim and angry. He’d taken to drinking heavily for many years, and he was definitely not a ‘happy drunk’. He’d never harmed Simone, but he would kick over tables, punch his fist through walls and doors, and once even threw their television out the apartment window. Eventually Social Services workers took Simone away and put her into foster care, so while she knew she owed the old man for saving her from the camps, she also couldn’t help but blame him for ending up in orphanages and foster homes.
Eventually, her grandfather gave up on family and hit the road, working his way back across to Spain where – as he’d often told her – he’d lived the happiest and most carefree times of his life.
Simone wondered, as she puffed her way up the steep stone stairway, just how carefree he was now in this torrid hell-scape that was modern-day Andalucia. Compared to her home in Ottawa, Granada looked barely inhabitable. While some of the mountains in the Sierra Nevada were still green, the valley bottom was dusty and dry. The city of Granada was largely deserted, and many of the great cathedrals and palaces of its heyday were pockmarked or holed by cannon shells and bullets.
The survivors of the climate apocalypse in this region, she knew, were mainly holed up in the castle above her, or even further up in the mountains where there was still water enough to provide for small subsistence farms. Other bands of survivors of war and the climate apocalypse wandered the land looking for prey; they survived by raiding farms or robbing travellers, and the lawlessness of Andalucia had driven most of the population north into Catalan or France.
“He must have lost his mind,” Simone thought. “Even Madrid looks like a paradise compared to this hellhole.”
And just then she saw it; a flash of movement up ahead behind what looked like a collapsed pile of rubble. She whirled quickly to the left, hid behind a pillar supporting a rock wall, smoothly unshouldered her rifle, and then peaked out.
Sure enough, she could see two heavily bearded men peeking over the rubble, and one of them was also carrying some sort of military-issue assault rifle, the barrel just poking up behind the rocks. In an eye-blink Simone realized the rubble wasn’t there randomly; it had been placed there as a barrier or roadblock of sorts for anyone climbing up to the castle.
“Who are you?”, she shouted in shaky Spanish. “What do you want?”
One of the men shouted back in rapid fire Spanish, but the other interrupted, saying, “Quiet! She obviously speaks English,” and then called down to her, “We are watching out for a visitor, a woman, named Simone Gray. Would you be that person?”
Simone felt a rush of relief that left her weak at the knees and sagged against the rugged rock wall. She had been in a gunfight not two hours earlier and was still badly shaken, so discovering these two men had been sent from her grandfather felt like she had tossed off a massive weight from her shoulders. For the first time in weeks she began to relax.
“Yes,” she shouted after a moment. “I’m Simone, here to see my grandfather. Is he here?”
“Señor Ricardo is at the Alhambra, waiting for you quite eagerly,” said the English-speaking guard, stepping out from behind the rubble. “We’re here to take you through the gate.”
Only 20 minutes later Simone and her self-appointed guards came to the end of the steep hill. They followed an old road – probably last paved a few decades earlier and now filled with potholes and tarmac buckled by years of intense heat – that ended at a thick castle wall and a massive steel gate. Simone had traveled extensively through Europe and was used to the sight of old castles and palaces, but even she was taken aback. Photos of the Alhambra didn’t do it justice. The fortress and the palaces within were massive but ornate, the grounds and buildings more like a small town than a fortified castle. As they walked through the gate, closely scrutinized by more armed guards, Simone got her first clear look at the world her grandfather now inhabited.
Directly ahead were a number of smaller stone buildings, now used apparently as homes and quarters for the guards manning the front gate. Off to the left, looming over the city, she could see El Castillo – the Castle – where more men and women were standing on the parapets armed with a bizarre assortment of weapons, from assault rifles to crossbows, bows and arrows, swords and axes, and at least three large machine guns or auto cannon, all mounted on tripods.
Both men and women wore dusty, white robes, with ammo belts crossing their chests and either hoods or wide sun hats protecting them from the brutal sunlight.
After a thorough search by a fierce looking woman with an eye patch, Simone gave up her firearms and knives and followed her guides further into the complex, which was even more impressive. As they walked toward the castle Simone saw a Moorish style palace off to the right, and this is where the men took her.
More guards, more searches, and Simone entered one of the most wondrous buildings she had ever seen. All the walls were built of marble, and every wall covered in ornate carvings of Arabic lettering and symmetrical designs. The temperature plunged once inside, and Simone found herself feeling almost comfortable as she was led through a warren of arched passageways and courtyards, passing dozens of rooms that apparently now served as small homes for the families who now called the Alhambra their home.
Eventually they came out to an equally ornate garden, filled with sculptures, pools and ancient fountains, but the fountains ran dry and the pools filled with dirt and vegetables. The gardens probably featured flowers and ornamental bushes in the past, but now were filled with food crops and fruit trees. At the far end of the garden a series of carved, arched windows looked out over the city of Granada and the valley below, and beneath one of the windows sat a hunched figure on a stone bench, a hood pulled down over his face as he stared at the ground.
She recognized him instantly, and was surprised to find her heart pounding in her chest.
“Poppa,” she called. “Is that you?”
The old man looked up. Simone recognized the broad scar across his face, the hawklike nose, the deep-set eyes. He looked directly into her eyes and his craggy face cracked open in a crooked smile.
Unaccountably, she began to cry.
Simone thought later it must have been the smile. Her grandfather had very rarely smiled in the years she lived with him, but as soon as she’d seen him her mind flashed back to California before the fighting, when she would visit her grandparents at their home in Sonoma. Her poppa smiled like that then, and never really since … or at least not until now.
Horrified, embarrassed, Simone had covered her face, and her grandfather had shocked her even more by getting up and wrapping his long, skinny arms around her and bringing her in close, holding her until she stopped shaking and the tears stopped pouring from her eyes and wetting his robe.
“Sorry,” she finally muttered. “It’s been a rough few days.”
Her grandfather pushed her away a bit, grinning again. “It’s been a rough few decades,” he answered. “If you aren’t crying, there’s probably something wrong with you.”
For the first time, she smiled back. “I guess so,” she said. “Honestly, I haven’t cried in … I can’t actually remember the last time.”
“Then you’re overdue,” said Poppa. “And you’re probably hungry and thirsty. Let’s get you watered and fed.”
Poppa told the guards they could leave, which they did reluctantly, obviously enjoying the drama, and led her further into the palace to a heavily shaded area where some men and women were cooking something over a solar stove in a heavy, steaming pot. After introducing her to several people whose names she immediately forgot, they went to a table carved completely from white marble and sat down.
“Obviously, I’m very happy you’re here,” he began. “I have really missed you … and I was very worried about you travelling here. Even with a guard it’s dangerous in Andalucia these days.”
“Actually,” she said, “my guard took off way back in Baeza. I managed to get a ride with some people coming this way, mainly because I had a better rifle, and I walked the rest of the way from the mountain pass. It took me two days.”
“Jesus,” he said, looking at her with those intense grey eyes. “You’re lucky you got here alive.” He reached out and covered her hand with his own bony, wrinkled hands. Simone couldn’t help but wonder, ‘is this my grandfather’? He seemed like such a different person, and not just because he had aged decades.
Poppa, or Ricardo as they called him in the Alhambra, seemed like a man at peace, calm and happy and engaged with people. He had never been that, not since she was a small child. It was all a bit weird, disconcerting. She kept finding herself staring at him as if he was someone she didn’t quite recognize.
Like most of the others, Poppa wore a loose white robe that fell close to his knees, with some white pants under that and a pair of sandals made of some sort of plant material, like hemp. The only thing she recognized on him from the past was his wedding ring and the shrapnel scars on his face.
Simone found herself telling him, and a growing number of people in the cookhouse, about her voyage across the burning land of southern Spain. The hyper loop from her reporting assignment in Edinburgh to England, the boat to Bordeaux, and then train from there to Madrid where she met up with the bodyguard, and then the long trip south in the ill-fated e-bus that was almost hijacked near Baeza.
She even told them about the men who tried to attack her on the outskirts of Granada, and the brief gunfight in which she’d driven them off.
“My lord,” said Poppa, “did you kill anyone?”
“I don’t think so,” she answered. “I hit a couple, but they ran away, so ….”
“Well,” he answered, that old fierce look returning to his eyes for a second. “They got what they deserved either way,” and the rest nodded.
“Around here you unavoidably have to do your talking with a gun or a sword sometimes,” Poppa added unapologetically. “Don’t feel bad; animals like that get what they deserve.”
Over lunch Poppa told his own stories. Some she’d heard from the time when he’d first moved here, and there was still phone service and internet in what he liked to call the Badlands. But that had disappeared a long time ago, and other than the last letter she’d gotten two months earlier she had heard nothing at all for almost a decade.
As she knew, Poppa left Canada after she was seized by the Ministry social workers, who promptly put a no-contact order in place after he “lost his temper” at a custody hearing. He worked his way across the ocean on a freighter, eventually landing in the port at Bordeaux. He had no real plan; his body seemed to make its own decisions on where to go and what to do, independent of his conscious mind.
“Now I know, I just hadn’t processed everything that happened,” he explained. “I lost my entire family except for you, and then I lost you too. All that was left of me was rage and grief, and I guess I wanted to die but not pull the trigger myself. I did some crazy things. I wandered through these badlands like I was tempting fate, but I guess fate had other plans.”
Poppa said he had almost blindly made his way to Granada, the place where he’d met his wife Clara so many years before.
“But, it wasn’t the same place at all,” he said. “I went into the city. I went to the cathedral and found it full of these bandits, but I had a pistol and they didn’t, so I got out of that one.
“Then I went over to the Bib Rambla, this plaza in the old town. That’s where I lived with your grandmother for a while. After all the shooting into the air the bandits left me alone for a while, and eventually I left and looked up and saw the Alhambra. And I thought, that would be a good place to end it. Throw myself off the castle wall, y’know, and at least I could die in beauty.”
“And that’s when we found him,” said an old woman who had helped cook the stew. “There weren’t as many of us then, but we had hidden ourselves here in the castle because it was the only place you could really defend yourself.
“He came up looking like a crazy old bird, with that big beak of his, yelling like a lunatic, and for some reason the Jefe – the Chief – decided to let him in.” She grinned, revealing several missing teeth, and added, “We’ve been regretting it ever since.”
“Me too,” said Poppa, with his crooked grin. “Your cooking is truly awful.”
For some inexplicable reason, that got Simone weepy again.
Simone spent a week at the Alhambra before she got serious about telling the old man he’d have to come home. Fortunately, after that first day she’d gotten some sleep, collapsing right after lunch and sleeping more than 18 hours straight, and she’d stopped weeping every time someone smiled.
She’d just been tired, Simone told herself. And after all, the old man represented some pretty shitty memories, but some pretty good ones too. In fact, he was all that was left from her childhood. Maybe it wasn’t that weird she’d shed a few tears, but she was back in control, and the time for shedding tears was over and done.
Simone prided herself on her toughness, mentally and physically. She’d spent her required two years in the Canadian Armed Forces when she was just 18 and reached the rank of Sergeant after her own Sergeant was killed in a border skirmish with US Forces in Quebec.
But the military wasn’t for her, and after discharge she attended Carleton University’s journalism program. Soon after graduation she started working for CBC News as an intern when she was only 22-years-old. It was there that Simone, for the first time, felt she’d found a home of sorts, and she worked long, grinding hours that helped her get hired on full-time the following year.
She’d grown up with war and death, but now it seemed she actually had some power to change things through her work and her writing. Simone thought at first she wanted to be a war correspondent, and tried that on for a while. As a frontline soldier, her skills made her a natural choice for CBC’s editors, but after a few years in hot zones around the world Simone found that covering a war on the ground wasn’t enough. She wanted to affect the decisions that led to war. She wanted to expose those who sought power and wealth through the killing of others, and decided to get into political coverage.
That decision made her career, and after five years at CBC she joined the Investigative Unit with a specialty in covering politics. Over the next nine years Simone broke stories not only in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, but in the European Union, in Russia, in the US capitol in Denver, and in China.
Most recently Simone had worked heavily in Stockholm, the capital of the so-called ‘Viking Alliance’ of Scandinavia and the Baltic States that most conceded was now the planet’s leading superpower, even more influential than Canada or Russia. She also spent a year in Edinburgh, uncovering the machinations behind Scotland’s ever-strengthening alliance with the Vikings, all of which helped quell the fractious English counties, which the Scots had conquered back in ‘79.
That’s where she’d met her current boyfriend, Jamie Grant, a brawny Scottish war photographer who she considered pretty much perfect. He was just as tough as she was, he was smart and savvy about digging out stories and sources, and as a former member of the Scottish Highland Commandos, he knew how to survive in the most dangerous regions.
Add to that the fact he was hot, funny, and not interested in a long-term commitment, and Simone felt he was pretty much just right. Right now Jamie was actually in Canada, having finagled an assignment to cover the border skirmishes between Canada and the United States; an assignment that also gave him the chance to hang out with his new girlfriend for a bit.
Even so, when she let him know she was leaving for Europe again, he just looked at her and said, “But, I still get to kip at yer place, right?”
So yeah, perfect.
Simone chose a relatively cool evening to broach the topic she had come here to discuss. After a week in Alhambra it had become clear that while her grandfather was clearly happy here, his health was deteriorating quickly.
The Alhambra had two doctors who lived in the castle complex, but there was no electricity and precious few medicines. People who were badly injured or very sick in Alhambra tended to die painfully, and Poppa was both sick and very old. Other than the rich, most people didn’t often live much past 70, and Poppa was now a 78-year-old man with arthritis, a wide selection of old war injuries, an alarming rustle in his chest, and a look in his eyes that Simone had seen before in those who have very few days ahead of them.
And, it was clear the old man really had missed her, and wanted to be with her. Simone knew Poppa could settle just as easily in Ottawa as here, and of all the countries in the world, Canada was certainly among the richest and could boast some of the best health care.
Unlike countries further south, like the United States, global warming had actually brought some benefits to places like Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, which now had the largest agricultural production numbers in the world, as well as most of the fresh water. Not surprisingly, while billions of people had died of disease, starvation, and war in tropical and equatorial regions, Canada leveraged its relatively favourable climate to become one of the richest and most powerful nations on earth, rivalled only the Viking Alliance and Russia, and to a certain extent by Argentina and Chile.
As an ally of the Vikings and the Scots, Canada was also politically and militarily powerful. Other than occasional small border skirmishes with what was left of the United States, Canada had few rivals in the Western Hemisphere, and took advantage of that fact to become an economic powerhouse.
It just made sense for the old man to come back to Canada. If he stayed here, he might not even last the rest of the year. Simone watched her grandfather when he wasn’t aware, and when his guard was down she would often see his shoulders slump, or his face grimace in sudden pain, and even on a few occasions watched as his hand clutched at his chest.
Old man Ricardo was not just unwell. He was dying, and dying in a place with no drugs and no modern medicine would be terrible, as Simone well knew. It wouldn’t be easy, but Simone would have to force the old man to listen to reason. She would ask the current Jefe, the Chief, to provide an escort as far as Toledo, and then she’d pick up the train from there for the beginning of a long trip to Canada.
As it turned out, the old man found her as she was up on the castle ramparts, staring down at the ruined city and ruminating about how she could keep him alive on the road home. She could hear him gasping as he pulled himself up the stairs, a younger Arabic man named Youseff gripping him gently but firmly under the arm.
“There you are,” the old man puffed, before turning to the younger man. “It’s okay Youseff, I’m okay from here. My granddaughter will just throw me over her shoulder and carry me back down!”
Youseff grinned uncertainly – he didn’t know much English, and few people here had neural net translators – but still retreated and made his way back to his post.
“Hey Pops,” said Simone, giving him a hug, and putting a supportive shoulder under his arm. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve got something I wanted to talk about.”
Poppa threw out his now well-worn grin and answered, “I know; you literally have the worst poker face I’ve ever seen.”
“You know that’s not true,” Simone said. “Youseff is far worse. But really, we gotta talk.”
“I know,” the old man repeated, looking her straight in the eye. “There’s a whole life to figure out here, and it’s about time we figured it out together.”
Simone wasn’t that surprised. Her grandfather was old and sick, but he was still sharp. In fact, he seemed mentally and emotionally sharper now than when she was a child in his care … but then, he no longer drank, and he was no longer plagued by the death of his family.
“Okay,” she said, and while she wasn’t aware of it, the old man saw her square up her shoulders the way she had always done when bracing for something difficult. “I’m gonna just come out and say it: I think …
“You should stay and live with me,” the old man interrupted.
Simone froze. “What?”
“I said, you should come and live with me. Here. In the Alhambra.” The old man looked completely serious, not insane at all, but what he was saying was just flat out crazy.
After a pause, Simone said, “Seriously … “
“I am serious,” said her grandfather. “Serious as I’ve ever been. I know what you were going to say. You want me to leave here, go back to some civilized place like the EU or Canada …”
“But that’s not going to happen. This is my …..”
“Why not?”, interrupted Simone. “You’ve got to face facts, Poppa. This place is … beautiful, yes … but it’s also completely Third World. There’s no hospitals, no medicine, no doctors …”
“We have two doctors …,” the old man interjected.
“Yeah, with no proper surgery, no proper equipment, no anaesthesia … and it’s not like you can just call an ambulance when things go sideways. It took me three days to get here just from Toledo!”
“I know, what you’re saying makes all kinds of logical sense,” said her grandfather calmly. “But it doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Why not?” Simone demanded, putting her hands on her hips like an angry child, which made Ricardo smile.
“Because this is my home,” he said. “Canada is not … and I don’t think it’s really your home either. That’s why you should move here.”
“That’s ridiculous!”, she sputtered. “I’ve been living in Canada almost my entire life! My work is there, my … my …”
He looked at her very directly, in a way that made her feel awkward, like she was a child again.
“What else is there back in Canada?” he asked. “Your work is not in Canada; you travel all over the world, and almost never go home. You said so yourself! You have no family there, your friends are like you, spread out all over the world, even your boyfriend is from a different continent!”
“Maybe so, but Canada is my home base … and it’s safe!,” Simone spat. She noticed some of the guards on the parapet looking their way, and with a deep breath forced herself to lower her voice.
“Anyhow, we’re not talking about me,” she said, prompting her grandfather to raise one eyebrow dubiously. “We’re talking about you, and the simple fact is, if you stay here, you’ll die. And you’ll probably not die well!”
Richard, or Ricardo as he was known these days, looked at her quietly for a long beat. “Simone,” he said. “I’m going to die anyway. The choice is not whether I live or die, the choice is about where I die, and who will be with me when I pass on. And I choose to die here.
“This may not be your idea of a place to live, but it is mine,” he went on, holding up a hand against her next argument. “I came here after losing everything … even you … and I had lost myself. But, I ended up here, and these people, this community, put me back together. They have become the family I lost. They’re my friends and my neighbours, and they’ve given me purpose for the first time since you were taken away.
“You have to see … if I leave here, I might as well be dead, because this is where my life is.”
Simone was silent for a moment, taking all this in. The old man was stubborn … but after living with these people for a week, she could actually understand his point. She had seen the old man hanging out with his friends at dinner, teaching kids to read, even doing his guard duty with a rifle clutched in his old hands. He was clearly sick, and often in pain, but she had to admit … he looked … happy.
“I get what you’re saying,” Simone finally said. “I know you lost your family, and me, and really everything … but … I’m your family. And I’m back! You could come to Canada, and it would be different. We would be together, and you’d be safe, and you’d have proper care. You wouldn’t have to be in pain all the time, and …”
Again, the old man held up his hand. “Man, you are so stubborn!,” he said with his crooked grin. “I can never figure out if I’m more proud of you, or more exasperated … you can be very frustrating!
“But, I came up here to say something too,” and he looked at her very directly. “If you’re honest with yourself, you know that we’ll go to Canada, and then you will get another assignment, and you’ll rocket off to some far-off part of the world … or maybe you won’t … and over time you’ll turn down those assignments and come to resent having to take care of this sick old man ….”
“I would never …” she began, but he interrupted again.
“Yeah, you would, and you know it,” he said. “I came here to say something else, and since you know I don’t have that much time left, I get to speak first.
“I’ve been watching you, Simone,” he explained. “I think you’re a bit like me … maybe a LOT like me. You lost your family too, including me, but unlike me, you’ve never replaced it.
“You run around the world, looking for trouble, seeking out meaning in your life by breaking one story, and then another story, and then another story, and I get it; it probably feels pretty good for a day or two, and then you have to move on to the next one to keep feeling okay.
“But I think the truth is, you need a place to settle too, you need a real community, and something real to fight for, and maybe something close to a family of your own. You’re not going to find that on your never-ending tour of war zones and refugee camps, but you could find it here.”
Simone was quiet for a long beat, then turned and looked over the Alhambra, seeing the steam rising from the solar cookers, the workers out in the fields, the warriors leaning out over the parapets with their assault rifles held close.
“And you call me stubborn,” she said, making him laugh.
“Seriously, Simone, I didn’t agree to have you come here so you could take me away,” he said. “I brought you here so you could stay. I brought you here because you are my true family, and I really think you could be happy here.
“You think we’re poor, and we are. You think we are in constant danger, and we are. But, we also have created this home, this little community, and all of us believe it’s worth fighting for. We’re free here, and while you say I can be safe in Canada, I don’t think any of us are safe anywhere.
“I know people, I’ve been around a long time, and I don’t think this current peace is going to hold. I think there’s going to be another war, and another, and another, until finally some fool hits the button and lets the missiles fly … so, to be honest, I think we’re just as safe, or unsafe, here as anywhere else.
“At least here, I choose where I die, and who I die with.”
That didn’t end the argument, but Simone already knew she’d lost. They’d squabbled over the details, but the path for each was clear. The old man had decided a long time ago that this was where he would live, and it’s where he would die.
Most of their discussions from that point on … lasting days, because the old man was indeed stubborn … was about Simone staying in Granada. It made no sense, obviously, but Simone found herself strangely drawn to the idea. She had never really been in a place where you would just settle, and where your time was spent on the basics of life, like growing food, taking care of the sick, finding or making the materials you needed to live.
The people in this commune-style life were not ecstatically happy by any stretch. They were dirt poor, had a diet limited to what they could grow and the occasional meat from chickens and goats, and they were in constant danger on their foraging missions from gangs of bandits … although, for the most part, bandits knew better than to confront the warriors of Alhambra in combat.
What they did have, which Simone had never experienced, was a sense of community. After another week, she actually got it. The old man was happy because he belonged somewhere. He had a purpose. He had respect and love from hundreds of people. He was not just an anonymous number in the vast population of a country like Canada; he was known by all and would be missed by all.
So, she knew he would stay, and she accepted it … but she also knew she would not make this place her home. And after a week, she told Richard of her decision.
“It’s not that I don’t want to stay with you,” she said, as the two met over a small campfire in the palace garden. “And, I get what you’re saying about having this community, this family. Part of me would like to have that too … but you have to understand, I have something else that you can’t give me here.”
She looked directly at the old man, his serious face lit up by the flames, his eyes invisible in black shadow.
“Out in the world, I have a mission, a purpose of my own,” she continued. “I know war is coming … honestly, it’s never actually stopped. But my job, like all of the other reporters out there in the world, is to find the truth of what governments are up to, and hopefully to prevent some of these conflicts, and to give people the information they need to decide their own fate.”
“No offence, I know you’re a good reporter, but do you really think one person is going to make a difference?”, he interjected.
“It’s not about one person,” she answered seriously. “I used to think that I could make a big difference by myself, but I later learned that reporters are like army ants; one reporter alone can’t do much, but hundreds or thousands of us, all seeking the truth, and giving it to people in their millions … yeah, then we make a difference.
“I might just be one of many, but if people like me give up … then who is going to make up the many?”
“Well,” said the old man, “maybe someone else can take a turn.”
Simone looked at him, knowing what she would say next was goodbye, and probably forever.
“No Poppa,” she said fiercely, her eyes growing hot. “I was born for this. You talk about meaning … well … this is mine! I was born to fight the short-sighted greed of the rich and the powerful, the people who led us down this path, and just because other people can do it doesn’t give me an excuse to quit.
“You have your community, and your family, and I’m glad you’re finally happy,” she added. “But I’m not trying to be happy. I’m here to fight. And as much as I’d like to stay here with you and these good people, that’s what I’m going to do.
“I’m going back. And I’m going to fight in my own small way for what’s left of this world.”
There was a long silence, uncomfortably long. Her grandfather looked down at the little fire, breathing heavily, and she knew he was crying. She came around to the other side of the fire, sat and put her arm around him without talking, feeling his frailty and the tremendous weight of age and accumulated tragedy weighing him down.
“You sound just like your father, when he went to war,” the old man finally said.
They sat together until the fire died out.