On today’s episode, the breathtaking Salish-Pacifica estate of Darien Walton-Musk, biogeneering pioneer and microretail magnate. We’ll speak with Walton-Musk and his architect/companion AI, Pacifica, later in the program, but first enjoy the beautiful landscape of the grounds.
The border of Salish-Pacifica is understated, beginning with the five kilometre mist belt, where vapour sprinklers seed the air and soil with desalinated reclaimed water to reduce fire risk and maintain the estate at historical mid-twentieth-century humidity. Beyond the mist, the world’s largest remaining contiguous redwood forest rises a hundred metres into the always blue and partly cloudy sky. Walton-Musk has remained coy about the proportion of biogeneered FastRed™ trees among the transplanted old-growth specimens, and our horticultural consultants assure us they can’t tell the difference.
We’ll pass over the sprawling 114-room mansion of local redwood and Italian marble for now to look at this astonishing expanse of beach and blue lagoon. The white sand is imported from Grand Cayman, because the reef of proprietary nanocoral that keeps the water calm and Caribbean blue doesn’t produce any waste except the desalinated water fueling those misters farther inland. Salish-Pacifica is one of only three estates with a Walton-Musk proprietary reef, and he’s keeping this treasure close to the chest, so much so that we won’t be able to bring you any dive-cam footage today.
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There is a special peacefulness to sailing, to moving on the water under no power but the wind. It’s like what I imagine weightlessness to be. I first experienced it as a child, a long time ago, when summer vacations and the middle class and the coast of Maine were still undebatable things, and the feeling of wonder that found me on a friend of a friend’s boat then has never fully left. There is a magic in the windblown quiet of a sailboat that removes me from the chaos of the sinking world, especially on a day like today, when the brilliant sun shines like silver and glass on the wave tips and the steady wind keeps the air swept clean.
I hated to ruin the feeling with that bootlicking vidcast, but I had been hoping for an uncensored shot of the reef and the defenses on Salish-Pacifica’s sea approach. As much as I love it, I’m not a stunt sailor, and any intel on getting past the layers of surveillance and defense between me and that beach would help. I’ll have to trust the wind Walton-Musk’s atmospheric fuckery maintains to suck me in and keep Heartstopper on course, and on the adversarial pixel-patterns on the sail to crash the surveillance AI once I come into camera range.
Apart from that little interlude with the propaganda stream, these last weeks working Heartstopper slowly up the coast, laying up on rarely surveilled beaches, taking wide swings around commercial ports and standard flight paths to try and keep off camera as much as possible, had been the most peaceful of my life. And it felt good to know I was doing something.
The quiet and the brightness and the steady wind off the deep ocean turn from idyllic to Silent Spring as I come closer to Salish-Pacifica’s lagoon. All the salt, oil, heavy metals, microplastics—everything that nanocoral filters out—are discharged on the ocean side, building up faster than the current can clear away. The dead zone’s about three kilometres out from the reef now, seven years after construction, and it’s growing all the time. You could believe he didn’t know about it, if you didn’t know the lagoon is just the right size for the dead zone to be over the horizon from Walton-Musk’s favourite lounge spot on the beach. As it is, he’s already poisoned ten times the lagoon’s area into somewhere even a red tide can’t live, and it’s only going to keep spreading as long as his reef’s there.
The swell over the smart-reef is barely visible but the stark change in the water colour to shocking Caribbean blue makes it obvious. The white-sand beach and the craggy hill behind it rise to display that absurd Fabergé egg of a mansion like a postcard from a better world. Even before I sighted the highest turret, cameras were tracking Heartstopper, calculating heading and assessing threat.
Even knowing how to look, I can barely make out the camouflaged drones taking off as I slide through one of the channels in the reef, or feel the net of nanosensors when it tastes my skin. That’s what it takes to keep paradise private these days, while the West burns and the delta drowns and winter retreats for good under the midnight sun. You could never bring a weapon to this poison paradise. Unless of course the defenses could deliver it for you.
I only get past the reef because the sail worked well enough that a kill order’s waiting on the individual drones scanning Heartstopper. I expect a dozen different warning systems are blaring alarm somewhere inside, and live security will be scrambling, but command and control’s still rebooting. That means the nanonet can’t talk to the drones, so they need to triple check there aren’t any volatiles, secret explosives, or spring-loaded herbicides sent by a jealous rival, waiting to be aerosolized when they burn Heartstopper to the waterline and sink her body for the reef to eat. That gives me time to bring her where she needs to be and jump.
I hit the water, and it’s perfect swimming temperature, just a little cold, but not so much I couldn’t spend hours floating. It feels clean on my skin, cleaner than anything natural I’ve touched for years. Shows what nanotech can do, I guess.
I’m only a few strokes from Heartstopper when the drones start blasting, close enough my brain would pulp from the concussion if they hit below the water line, but thankfully Walton-Musk’s security is all airborne, so they dismantle Heartstopper from above and give me time to swim clear. His security will probably pick me up when I get to shore, but I’ve already done the job.
We killed most of the real coral reefs without trying, just one more casualty of cascading collapse and warming water, but destroying Walton-Musk’s monstrosity took work. Dozens of biologists and gene-pirates spent two years in the lab to build a deadly Trojan horse into the trees’ DNA and three more in the nursery bootlegging Walton-Musk's own tech to speed-grow them tall enough for timber. Add to that at least thirty shipbuilders, professional hobbyists who could put our three ships together outside a corporate shipyard, and three sailing bums, willing to spend the weeks at sea and bring the payloads in all at the same time to choke the poison coral and return the coast to nature.
The reef will die beyond replacement as it digests Heartstopper, and spread a self-destructing virus to anything that touches it. I’ll probably be shot and dumped if Walton-Musk or his goons realize what’s happening while they still have me, but there’s a chance they’ll just hand me to local law enforcement for a beating and hotbox cell, or set me walking barefoot out into the badlands. I’ve got exfil plans if I can get that far, but it doesn’t matter. The damage is done. No more dead zone. No more blue lagoon. No more water for those misters that let him pretend the world isn’t burning down around him. Pity about the redwoods, but they might still survive when the next wildfire crosses the dried-out mist belt. Maybe I’ll still be around to see that.
Copyright 2023 © R. K. Duncan
R. K. Duncan is a fat queer polyamorous wizard and author of fantasy, horror, and occasional sci-fi. He writes from a few rooms of a venerable West Philadelphia row home, where he dreams of travel and the demise of capitalism. His other full-time job is keeping house for himself and his live-in partner. Before settling on writing, he studied linguistics and philosophy at Haverford college. He attended Viable Paradise 23 in 2019. His occasional musings and links to other work can be found at rkduncan-author.com.