Without a piped-in supply, the Los Angeles water table only supported 1.4% of the population. When California’s suppliers turned the tap off, L.A. withered. Sprinklers shut off. Faucets too. But the county wasn’t the only casualty. The problem was bigger than California, and it was spreading.
Water had become the most valuable commodity on the planet. Congress knew it. The majority there argued against bailing out the Southwest. They deemed this hydro-preservation, and stripped debt-drowned California of its statehood. Desert states Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona soon followed. The United States amputated its most arid regions, tying off the tourniquet at the Continental Divide and only electing to support a select number of city-states. This brought the country to the brink of a second Civil War—this time East versus West. But the West simply didn’t have the resources to fight. It was over before it began.
For the public on the wrong side of that divide, escape was the only option. Rather than stay and die of thirst, millions took what they could carry and fled eastward. It became the Dustbowl Migration in reverse, except this one left a trail of unburied bodies in its wake. What was left of the land after this exodus became known as the Free Commerce Zone, a lawless frontier stretching over 500,000 square miles.
Cutthroat capitalists raised mercenary armies to rule what was left, but it wasn’t long before Collis Huntington was the most powerful of them all. He cared for nothing but bringing the water back to California—even if it meant killing to get his way. Few agreed with his dictatorial methods, but only a ragtag group of idealists known as We The People opposed his tactics. Outnumbered and outgunned, they sought to restore democracy but had yet to win the battle.
Meanwhile, across the sea, aftershocks of disaster spread. China faced a water crisis too. What was worse, they were nearly out of food, fuel, and land. With a new government in place that viewed militarization as the only means of national survival, they took Korea and Japan by force. Emboldened by their success, the most populous nation on Earth sent scouts to the Free Commerce Zone. Yet, their mission was more than simply preparing an invasion. They sought a traitor.
Paul Lin, an American and one-time protégé of Collis Huntington, had been Peking University’s finest scientist up until the moment he fled to what was left of Los Angeles. In his possession were plans he had developed with two Chinese engineers, detailing a revolutionary device rumored to hold the key to solving the water crisis. It was a catastrophic loss for China, and not one that would go unpunished.
The Chinese knew that finding Paul Lin would save tens of millions of lives, but there was just one problem.
They weren’t the only ones looking for him…