Fiction: The Windless City
A work of flash fiction set in Seattle in 2042
By Brenda Cooper
June 16, 2022
Editor’s note: Brenda Cooper is a Kirkland-based short-story writer, poet and futurist who has written 10 novels. Her most recent books are “Edge of Dark” and its sequel, “Spear of Light.” The former won the 2016 Endeavor Award for science fiction or fantasy by a Northwest author. In this piece of fiction, Cooper imagines a Seattle of the future. In a related non-fiction column, Cooper discusses the importance of inclusion.
The electric plane descends through the frothy white tops of clouds as they dump rain on Seattle. It is February 2042. Below the clouds, the city glistens with shades of gray. I’m used to golds and brown, to dry open fields. I miss them and worry if I made a horrible mistake choosing this drenched place. I whisper, “There are no tornadoes here, no tornadoes, none.”
A woman and a robot wait for me at the gate. The robot holds a sign with my name, Chris Tan, printed on it in blue letters. It takes my things. It is sleeker than our farm bots, and moves easily alongside the woman. Still, it looks more robot than human, which I’m grateful for.
The woman appears to be Asian, blended with Black like me. She wears white boots and a black coat over a simple gray onesuit. Her onesuit is not as thick as mine, but then heat is no problem here. Not right now. She nods at me. “I’m Dianna. Welcome to Seattle.”
I dredge up a tired “Thank you.”
Outside, the air feels clean, the liquid more mist than rain. My companions help me into a small, rounded car, which takes us to the Center for Seattle Arrivals. The building is the same color as both Dianna and the robot, as the cloudy sky and wet roads. Inside, however, I find bright yellows and pale greens. Dianna takes me to a bedroom with walls the color of a stream and a vase of sunflowers. Sunflowers in winter.
I drop my luggage and follow her to a room full of pillowy furniture filled with the scent of roasting coffee and warm bread.
Dianna sounds overly cheerful as she says, “Here’s our other new arrival. Obiabo came in last night from Nigeria.”
A thin woman with bright eyes and deep wrinkles sits in a red electric wheelchair, one of the fancy ones that can walk stairs and manage steep hills. She is stroking its arm and whispering to it, but offers a broad smile when I come in. “Hello! Another lucky woman, I’m sure.”
I feel like a refugee who’s run away. “I was a farmer,” I say.
She smiles. “I’m a coder.”
“I thought code was all written by AIs.”
“Nope. But some AIs worked for me at home.” She smiles widely and straightens. “Why are you here?”
She doesn’t have to tell me why she’s here. The Sahara has invaded Nigeria and drought has starved out most of its people. Nigeria has heat. Not like Kentucky heat. Nigerian heat kills in hours. Another problem that seldom visits Seattle. “I lost my house to a tornado,” I tell her.
“All the way? Blown to bits?”
I try to sound lighthearted. “Three times. So I decided to go where the wind isn’t so pissed off.”
She laughs and points at a tree branch swaying outside the window. “It’s windy today.”
Her laughter is as sunny as the décor and it shatters my dark mood.
Dianna gestures for us to join her around a table. The robot glides over as well. “Obiabo has work starting next week. We found an internship for you, Chris. It’s a dog day care for tourists. You said you like animals, right?”
Tension flows out of me like water, like rain. I will have something to do. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve been on farms most of my life.”
She smiles. “This farm is half the 14th floor of the Terra Building.”
“There’s no wind?”
Dianna smiles softly. “I can’t lie. We get wind.” She held up a hand. “Not tornadoes, and not without knowing it’s coming. Sometimes the building sways with it, though.”
I take a deep breath. “I can live with that.”
“The internship lasts three months. That’ll give you time to learn Seattle. We’ll meet with you once a week until you can be on your own. In the meantime,” she gestures toward the robot, “Candy will take you around for the first few days. We have four bots here, and you’ll have exclusive use of Candy until you can get around on your own.”
I would never name a robot Candy. But I’m grateful for the loan. “Thank you.”
“Why don’t you and Obiabo go down to the waterfront? You can see Pike Place, the Great Wheel and the new seawall. We’ve got a pass you can use for the aquarium, including the new underwater section. You’ll like that.”
“Can Obiabo ride on the wheel?”
Obiabo arches an eyebrow. “I bet I can. This chair can stand and hand me onto the gondola. And you can help.” She pats the arm. “I want to see what she’ll do.”
“You just got it here?”
She points at Dianna. “She found it. When I can, I’ll buy one for someone else. Let’s go.”
I admire her hope, think maybe it will grow in me, too. Candy and I follow the bright red wheelchair outside. Seattle is still gray, but the skies look a little lighter. We pass people who look happy. They don’t seem at all unnerved by an old Black woman in a fancy chair and a mixed-race refugee following a robot, taking up most of the sidewalk as we talk.
Perhaps I can make it here.
SEATTLE’S INCLUSIONARY FUTURE
Why seattle will succeed in creating a just and equitable city for all residents
The next 20 years will test and transform cities. Seattle is and will be challenged, and we are and will rise to them. In 2042, the greatest of Seattle’s many strengths might be our respect and care for all. Building a great city requires care for every person who lives here.
The last two years have seen deep pain in Seattle. We watched and protested the murder of George Floyd. Asians faced slurs and even violence, as if they were responsible for Covid-19. When the pandemic erased the usual daytime traffic from Seattle’s streets, the tents the homeless pitched on our cracked sidewalks stood out like weeping sores. The next 20 years are likely to bring more pain. The virus isn’t done, and the damage humans have inflicted on the Earth is changing our environment.
We can use this pain to build empathy, and out of empathy, strength. Imagine a future where everyone matters. Everyone. Every color, every age, every ability, every story.
Seattle is on this path. We’re not there yet. We’re making missteps, learning, dealing with changing circumstances. But we’re facing the right direction and moving forward. Let’s look closer.
We’ve become accustomed to diverse elected officials. Gary Locke. Ron Sims. Jenny Durkan. Bruce Harrell. Seattleites are seeing and discussing racism’s harm. A Seattle writer, Ijeoma Oluo, produced the national bestseller “So You Want to Talk about Race?” It is full of tools to support this conversation. It has become normal in Seattle to acknowledge the harm settlers did to the indigenous people of the Puget Sound region. Deeper discussions about indigenous reparation and recognition are happening.
Many Seattle corporations are seriously working on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. For example, I work for a leading construction company. Our senior executives are all white men this year, but we’re actively developing and hiring diverse members of our team and working to welcome them. By 2045, our leadership is almost certain to be far more diverse. Other leading local companies are actively engaged in the same hard work. In business, diverse corporate boards, leadership and staff are seen as strategic choices.
New people are coming. Climate refugees will move to Seattle. Some will move from other countries, but most, perhaps, from other states. We can make them welcome, fold them into our city. Every new face, whether from Afghanistan or Alabama, brings strengths. Every person that we find a working place for is one more that our nonprofits can help, but don’t need to fully support. Seattle is smart: We will advocate for the skills we need and help people relocate here rather than trying, unsuccessfully, to close doors.
What about people living on the streets? We’ve raised a lot of money to help the houseless. We have a newly appointed head of homelessness, Marc Dones. With money and leadership, we can vastly improve our success. We have good models. Plymouth Housing supports the chronically houseless and the Eastside’s Hopelink is a model for getting people productively off the streets. This may be the hardest equity challenge of 2022, and we can improve a lot by 2042.
Our city can succeed by walking the path we are already on, and by putting honest, deep effort into our support for nonprofits and our corporate diversity programs. If we honor every heart in Seattle, we will remain a resilient and powerful city.