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Firebreak - by Chris Butler

Firebreak, 2025 by Chris Butler “Hey, Jerry, how have you been? It’s great to see you are still open.” I looked up from the glassware I was wiping water spots off. “Dan, I haven’t seen you for a few weeks. How have you been with, you know, all of the limitations?” I threw the rag over my shoulder and braced for yet another sad story. “It’s been fine. I can’t complain. We went wholly into this reset. Hell of a time for you to start a BBQ joint, though. How is your leg?” The reminder made my knee tense up in the brace, which then shot pain up my back. I’m pretty sure he could see my wince. “It still hurts,” not going to avoid it with the facial expression I just pulled. “It is good to be doing something again, though. I’m running low on the meat we use, so I’m going to focus more on the sides. Still getting everything from Jack’s farm since it is the only one I’m allowed to buy from now.” I could tell the tactical plans I was making were depressing as hell to Dan based on his grimace. “It seems like you are adapting at least.” Dan frowned, and his eyes darted around the restaurant. “Yeah, you could say that. I kinda think about this like a firebreak. Before I had to quit the department voluntarily, we would use them all the time. It is where you run ahead of the fire and set a smaller fire you can control. Clear the area, so it doesn’t feed the larger system.” I could feel the old heat in my face. “Thing is, we never did it as well as the indigenous populations, as the Miwoks did here in Northern California. They thought about doing it before there was a huge fire. They did it everywhere, not just in the places that land was worthless. We know that fire is coming for the entire world now. It is time to take action.” “You are probably right. I just hope they don’t have to invent a new term for what comes after the ‘very extreme drought’ later this year. I hope the wildfires aren’t as bad.” “Here is to hope… what can I get you today? I have a bit of brisket left…” 37 (Real) adjustment, 2035 “I’ve got to get more sides of beef this time. The guests are starting to get pissed off, Jack. They get so little.” I kicked a bit of dirt in front of me as politely as I could. “Your restaurant is never going to survive in this if you take that attitude. You know that your ancestor credits are low right now. Beef isn’t cheap. This last year was bad for supply. Even though this farm can only service restaurants within a hundred miles, we had more head die from exposure than before.” He was right. “Vat grown beef?” I wondered partially to myself. “Jerry, I’m a farmer, not a lab tech. Can’t teach this old dog new tricks. My grandson says my way is to just keep providing high priced, real beef to people until I retire. It isn’t that far away. Not looking forward to the reduced meals though with the credits I’d operate on.” He left me with an option after negotiating our contract for this year: “have you thought about talking with Valentina? She is over in Bodega Bay with the modified mushrooms. They are adapted to the saltwater and grow pretty beefy.” Walking back to my car was especially hot this February. The gravel crunched under my old steel-toed boots. Maybe there was a way to sell this. “Call Morel Imperative and head home”, I announced to my car and shut the door. I immediately rolled down the windows and got moving for some air. My new Apple Watch adjusted to the recent heat and started cooling my inner wrist. It made some difference, even if it was all psychological. “Leaving for home and calling”, my car responded. The only sound was the rushing of air past my ears. “Valentina.” “Hey Valentina, it’s Jerry from the Phoenix BBQ in Sonoma. How are you doing today?” “Great! I’ve been to your spot. Great ribs. What can I help you with? Want to make an order?” “Yeah, that was the thing. I’m just not sold on them. How do I get people to accept this?” I could hear myself borderline whining. “Here’s the thing: you can’t afford to only sell beef right now. The world can’t either. What is most important is that we find ways through this, together.” 38 39 Part 1: Food & Agriculture She continued after waiting for me to object, “honestly, I don’t think my business is going to last for another ten years or so. The technology is going to get there soon enough for vat-grown so it can be available to more people, like yourself.” “You should be asking yourself: how do I get to the next thing. And the thing after that. If we don’t do that, we don’t address these little issues like getting people to buy mushroom-based hamburgers; we won’t survive as a species. That is why we did the ‘limiting.’ That’s why we are where we are now.” My mind wandered. What would my grandchildren’s children think? How would my ancestor bill be presented to them in my death? Why were we doing any of this? “It’s like an escape fire,” I muttered. There was a pause. She finally said, “what?” “Sorry, zoned out there. We need to take some action now to save ourselves from the fire. OK, I’ll buy a few cases to start, but I want your help. How long could I smoke one of these before it falls apart?” (More) balanced, 2050 “Sofia, great you could start today, I need someone with your micro-credential, and we are very short-staffed in front of the house on the weekends.” I threw a fairly new hemp apron back to the trainee. “Let’s head up to the front. As you will see, walking from the garbage to the front is like going back in time. Even though it looks like some type of fancy chemical plant back here for processing the trash, it still stinks to high heaven midday. In the hundred-plus heat, all of the juices on the ground get real bad.” I opened the door and waited for the trainee to walk inside. “Maybe it didn’t stink as bad when the weather was hotter. I think it was because we had to wear masks for the fires. I’m fine with it stinking again if that means it isn’t as hot as before.” I walked ahead and turned around, opening my arms to both sides. “Now back here are the standards: synthesizers, grow tanks, and printers. Through this door, you get to the grills and prep areas.” I walked at a hurried pace so I could get back to adding wood chips to the smoker. “We arrive here: the least technical part of the job. The one that actually requires you to talk to people: the chalkboard.” I picked up a piece of charcoal and wrote the day's date. After putting it back down, I clapped my hands together to remove the black dust left on my fingers. “There is a bin in the host stand with more of this charcoal. If you run out, let me know, and next time I’m north, I’ll grab some more from the clear zone.” “Are you allowed up there?” Sofia seemed a bit concerned it was something illegal. “Yeah, I used to be a firefighter. I know the department up there. They don’t mind me grabbing some of the old trees that have been burned. They only really stopped people going up there during the evacuations.” She didn’t seem so convinced, so I continued: “Now that most people are gone, it is OK. There isn’t anything else to steal up there. No one is going to live there again until the weather doesn’t cause so many wildfires. That’s probably at least 20 years. At least it isn’t more than a few decades.” “Let’s get back to the kitchen. I could use your eyes on the synthesizer. It looks like we need to take some action on the new software update. And then the grow tank. I’m worried we are about to get a full bloom in the beef one if we don’t adjust.”




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