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       Oakton, p.1

           B. Chen
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  By B.Chen

  Copyright 2016 B. Chen

  Chapter 1


  Tuesday March 27, 2029.

  My name is John Archer Jr. This is my voluntary statement about what happened in our home town, Oakton, Nebraska, during March, 2029.

  According to 'legend' the feud started in 1945 when Calvin Archer, my great grandfather got into a fight with all the neighbors over possible Pawnee grave locations. I think I always knew 'the feud' would only cause more problems than it ever solved. It had lasted for generations and just wouldn't go away, until recently. There was no actual hostility between the neighbors, just a total lack of communication and cooperation.

  It all started as an argument after surveying was done to satisfy the state tax board. The surveyor suggested our homes might be sitting on an old man-made Indian burial mound. My great grandpa Calvin offered to let the university dig in the yard to search for relics. The neighbors thought he might jeopardize their property rights and wanted nothing to do with it.

  Words were exchanged, things got out of hand. Whiskey was drunk, punches were thrown, someone got shot in the foot, and the locals stopped speaking to each other for generations.

  That's how the story was told around the dining room table ever since. When it was my generation’s turn to hear about 'the legend of the feud' it was met with yawns and rolling eyes.

  Now in 2029 about eighty four years since the first punches were thrown the families are the same but the people that started the feud are all buried in the Fricke Cemetery up the street.

  Three of the oldest kids in Oakton today are seniors at Falls City High School. We’ve all not been allowed to be friends with each other but the truth is we’ve been like best friends since kindergarten. Ben and I are both wide receivers on the Tigers. Beth (Bethany Meek) is in girls' varsity volleyball. She turned nineteen two weeks ago, Ben and I are about to turn eighteen.

  Today, Oakton is just an intersection of two dirt roads with three homes, four barns, three tractors, one horse, ten people, three dogs, and lots of barn cats. The town is in Richardson County, Nebraska in the south-east corner of the state. Back when the town was founded by fur trappers and Pawnee Indians in the 1700's the place was a bustling trading post along the Missouri River. Back then the rivers were used like highways are today. The town sits on a hill-top maybe twenty feet higher than all the surrounding land. It looks like a big fuzzy lump from a distance.

  Over the generations the river did as rivers do, they get silted-up and they move. Today the river is about four miles away. They taught us in fifth grade local history class that our town was named for a stand of tall Oak trees not native to Nebraska or the American grasslands. It was also home to a very large stand of apple trees supposedly planted by Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman. He was a travelling preacher who’s supposedly buried in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

  With the floods and movement of the river over the decades the whereabouts of the old Pawnee cemetery was lost to the ages but was rumored to be located somewhere under our homes and yards. Up the street to the north is the old 'white man's cemetery.' Today, it's called the Fricke Cemetery and it no longer matters what color your skin is to be buried there, no animals allowed. It's located on County Road 655 about a quarter mile north of County Road 712.

  The Fricke family lived here long ago, buried their dead then in the 1930's they moved to California during the dust bowl era when farming became nearly impossible. They once owned nearly one quarter of our county but only farmed a small part of it.

  We also learned about other possible reasons for the large lump in the mostly flat Nebraska farm land. Some local geologists suggest our hill is a portion of a glacial moraine, much of which was washed away by the migration of the Missouri River long ago. A moraine is the pile of rock and soil debris carried in the glacier then deposited at the end of its travel. Some of our teachers prefer this explanation over being man-made since the amount of soil in a hill this wide if built by hand it would take twenty men about fifty years to build which would be a tremendous feat for a nomadic hunter-gatherer society. And there's still no hole to account for the hill's soil.

  They said it was probably this glacier that cut the original Missouri and Platt River gorges, then melted northward. Most of the written records of the founding of old Oakton as a trading post along the river were destroyed in a series of floods from 1820 to 1911.

  Cast of Characters:

  The Archer Family: (south-west corner)

  John Archer Sr. 39. 6'2" Farmer.

  Mary Archer. 37 full-time mother.

  Narrator: John Archer Jr. 17 yrs old. 6'0".Student. (18th birthday in four weeks)

  Melissa Archer, 13. 5'1" nickname: Mel. Student.

  Dog: "Carl" German Shepherd

  The Meek Family: (north-west corner)

  Harvey Meek, 44.6' Farmer.

  Gwynn Meek, 40.5'3" Nurse.

  Bethany Meek, 19 5' 9" nickname: Beth. Student

  Horse: "Bullet" Spanish Mustang- female. Various outdoor cats. Dog: 'Daisy' female Irish Wolfhound - an indoor 'sofa' dog, shaggy long dark gray fur.

  The Brown Family: (north-east corner)

  Raymond Brown, 40. 5'11" Farmer.

  June Brown, 41 Vet assistant and mother.

  Ben Brown, 17 5'11" Student. (18th birthday in two weeks)

  Dog: "Killer" mixed breed male. 55lbs.

  The Patton Family: (south-east corner) They have moved about two miles closer to Falls City but still own the corner lot and attached 4500 acre farm. They moved after their house burned down leaving a barn, garage and house foundation.

  Vocabulary, terms and abbreviations used in this fictional story:

  VR= Virtual Reality. Typically a head worn visor appears like very large wrap-around sunglasses you cannot see through. Inside contain two small high resolution displays like small TV screens. Frames contain cameras so what is actually in front of the glasses is seen on the displays. Other video can be shown on the displays, and what yours sees can be shared with others worldwide over the internet.

  Net = internet = Netwise. A wireless public data network, owned by the taxpayers but originally built by Verizon then purchased by the federal government after satellite based internet efforts failed.

  AI = Artificial Intelligence. A computer software that 'thinks.' More like human thought than just mathematical and logic models, allows computers to weigh the benefit of doing or not doing something. Requires very fast and complex processors and large amounts of nearby data storage.

  Flexing = Using network based storage/memory to act as if that was memory in your device.

  Dev, Device, smartdev = fancy cellphone

  VRnet = a place where people can share their live or recorded video from their VR goggles, to be watched by others with similar equipment. Usually VR goggles linked to your device which is linked over the net to VRnet. Some people think this is what put most of the TV news networks out of business by offering unlimited live action coverage of big events.

  Net Repeater = small electrical device used to extend the range of a cellular tower in a particular area without the expense of installing another cell tower.

  Autonomous = unmanned operation. A device that can perform it's function based on what it already knows or can learn without human intervention.

  Drone = a small unmanned flying or crawling machine. Typically have specific tasks or functions.

  Swarm = two or more drones sharing data to accomplish a self-beneficial task.

  3D printing = a machine used to build things out of plastic or metal based on a 3D design in a computer. Typically fed by a plastic string similar to fishing pole line, the plastic is melted inside a tiny reservoir (print head) then laid down (printed) in microscopic thin line
s, layer upon layer eventually forming an object. Three dimensional objects designed with a computer program typically called CAD software (computer aided design), which can be used to create 3D models of objects, rotated and observed and edited from any angle. This is used to feed print data to the 3D printer which connects to the computer via ordinary USB cable. Early opposition to 3D printers were from companies that feared losing income when people could 'print' their own replacement parts for broken things at home. Some feared people printing weapons from plastic that couldn't be detected by security scanners.

  Recog = Recognition. When the image from an electronic camera is compared to a database (aka: the entire internet, Facebook, Google, etc.) to identify a person seen by the camera. Used by casinos, police, intelligence, retail, background verification, military. One reason people have for never posting a photo of yourself online anywhere, and remove any that are there now.

  Bluetooth-5 = A short range, two-way, high speed radio link for exchanging data between computers. Some variants have longer range, up to a half mile in some terrain and interference situations.

  RFID = wireless technology to replace barcodes on packaging. Sensing the product code number from a short distance. Can be used to attach a unique number to anything, sensed remotely.

  Magnetics, Maglev = using electrically powered magnets to propel and/or levitate a metallic object using no moving parts. Typically this technology is very fast and quiet.

  Oakton, after the storm.

  It was a record winter storm, worst in Nebraska and United States history. February 25th to March 1st, 2029. We missed a week of school. I've never seen so much snow in my life. Over three days we got nearly forty five inches of snow. The massive arctic storm dumped the white stuff from Montana to Michigan. They said eastern Nebraska and western Iowa got it the worst.

  The snow fell for nearly three days then stopped suddenly. Eight hours later the temperatures dropped to below zero, the wind picked-up and started blowing it around for another eighteen hours. That's when people really started dying. Visibility was down to just inches in some places. They found people frozen dead within ten feet of their homes. Thousands of animals perished.

  Everything from North Platt to Des Moines was shut down for over a week. Most of the airports in the Midwest were closed for five days. Dad strung a life-rope from the house to the barn in case he needed to go out to start our generator. I saw on TV that thirty people were found dead in Omaha over twenty hours. In the larger cities the death count was much higher. I saw on the news that total deaths from the storm were around five hundred. Most of those happened after the winds came and made it a blizzard.

  The snow drift in front of our living room picture window blocked it off to within a couple inches of the top, that's about eight feet above the ground outside. Our neighbor Ben Brown had to climb out his upstairs window, jump down into the snow drift then struggle over to their garage to get a shovel to dig out the kitchen door for his parents so they could get to the tractor in their barn. It took him twenty minutes to make it from the side of the house to their garage. That trip normally takes you about thirty seconds.

  About all everyone had to do was sit at home and wait on the weather, which left the net as about the only thing that was still working. It was running slow as can be with about every human on VRnet sharing their blizzard videos and tons of live video from dumb people riding around on their ATVs. There were some deaths among those folks too.

  That was a month ago. Eventually they got the roads plowed. A used 4-wheel ATV was selling for $25,000 in the Auto Trader in Falls City. I heard someone got beat up over that.

  Luckily we have the net. Unluckily we live on the outskirts of Verizon 5G Netwise. That's the national wireless data network that doesn't cover Oakton very well. It's how we get our school work, e-textbooks, and talk to our friends. We got a repeater installed along Highway 73, but it only marginally improved the coverage inside our homes. You can use your device but you gotta stand still or you drop off the network eventually.

  Up until 2020 Netwise used to be owned by Verizon but the taxpayers agreed to purchase the network, so it's paid for by taxes now but still maintained by Verizon. Getting dead spots like our town is in fixed is much harder than it used to be, which is why we purchased our own network extender thing that sits on someone's fence post along the highway.

  We finally got some docking stations so when I get home I put my device in the dock, it links with my laptop, the TV and the repeater but I miss the portability of using it anywhere like I can in town or on the bus which has wifi just like airplanes used to. Someday I'm gonna move to town or have that repeater raised another twenty feet.

  Dad would have a fit if he saw Ben and Beth's numbers in my device. I got a Verizon Model-17 Smartdev. It's a phone, computer, media center, GPS, library terminal, and portal all in one. Most of my friends have 'em. It's how we stay in touch. Mine's about the size of an old cell phone, runs forty eight hours per charge and stores one terabyte on board with 128 TB on our home network it can flex to. We have about every TV show, movie, book, painting, and song made before 2018 on the home server. Dad can run the tractor, order parts from Deere, and even sell his crops on his device. He usually runs the tractor from the desktop computer in his office room. Two of our fields are set-up for autonomous mode but the other five aren’t yet because the sensors are kinda hard to get since everyone’s trying to get their fields set up for autonomous farming.

  We need the sensors because some of our fields are crossed by creeks that are dry at times or have water flowing others. The tractor AI can’t understand a changing landscape. They can handle something like plowing an empty parking lot unsupervised. All the AI stuff that got deployed in the last few years really changed the way we look at places like yards, parking lots, driveways, and fields. More and more stuff comes out with ‘Netwise AI’ these days. Practically nobody owns a lawn mower, vacuum cleaner, recycle bin, or snow-blower with a handle any more.

  When you go shopping you just look for the connected device with Netwise-AI logo, a green and black checkered flag and you know you're good to go if you got it at home or on your device. Any device with the logo is smart, has AI (artificial intelligence), and can run autonomous after being set-up. It's compatible with other smart devices using Netwise.

  Back to the story about the storm. Sorry about that but I like talking about technology.


  We got stuck inside for almost a week after the mega-storm started back in late February. We never lost power or network but we did lose two barn cats. Of course we don't monitor them real close but that's what my little sister said. She's the animal lover in the family.

  Bad part of the net these days is we still had some school from home during the storm. It's hard to study with all my sims and tunes right at my fingertips.

  We could get around a little. Dad made one trip to the grocery store in town after the blizzard ended. It took him two hours to get our mail and groceries. We rigged up a sled behind his ATV 4-wheeler and made a two page list of stuff to get. I think he only got what he and Mom wanted anyway. If it wasn't for the feud he probably would have picked up mail for the entire town while he was there.

  He said town was like normal for this time of year but once you got to the edge of Falls City where the plows stopped, everything stopped. It was like a wall of snow at the edge of town waiting for the first plows from the state highway department to make their run down Highway 73. They had to fly surveillance drones above the roads looking for abandoned vehicles since many of the snow plows had to run so fast due to the depth of the snow they'd have little time to stop.

  After the state got the highway open the county started plowing the rural unpaved roads like ours. That took three more boring brain-rotting days. When the plows came down our county roads it was like a lifeboat had dropped from the heavens. The net was running slow since VR and media was about all the three families in Oakton (and around Nebraska, I
owa, and the mid-west) could do during the 'event.'


  On the first Monday of school Ben and I rode on the bus like normal. Beth drove her 1971 F150 fully restored pick-up. She had the back end loaded with firewood for weight.

  Ben and I go out to the little bus shed near the corner. Around 7:10am it comes up County Road 655 turns the corner and stops for us.

  There we were on the bus heading for school. My brain was numb after a week being stuck at home with my entire family under one roof, twenty four hours a day. I was sure I'd have a stroke or something. I might have even been hallucinating.

  After my storm induced lobotomy all I could do was stare out the window of the bus at all the white snow on all the fields, water standing everywhere, dripping and melting. About three weeks after the first snow plow drove by our house a big blast of warm air came up from Texas, a tease of the coming spring weather. Again today, it's sunny and fifty five degrees. Not a puff of wind, not a cloud in the sky. If the snow hadn't fallen I'd probably be outside with my rifle, hunting possum or farm rats or something, probably with my shirt tied around my waist.

  The bus blasted out huge waves of water off the highway as it lumbered towards our school. About two miles north of Falls City we pass our little data network repeater mounted on a fence pole along the highway, then I know I have full access 5g speeds on the net in town. My device comes alive as all the updates and messages I missed over my week in solitary start downloading normally. I loved being in town, I saw my background photo change to a smiley face. I also loved not living in town. Too many rules, too many people, too much noise, too close to school.

  We had our normal five hours on campus then back home the same way we got there, on-board the banana-mobile. I wear my earphones to drown-out the slowly flooding world while the bus is still in range of Falls City municipal wifi.

  Our school buses have wifi for part of the trip. The rule is if the bus is running late but within wifi range then the bus becomes the classroom and each student is required to connect and start class while they're still on the bus. All the rules for behavior in the classroom apply in the moving bus. Otherwise we can connect to Netwise like we would in-town and do our own stuff online. But if school is in session we're required to participate from inside the bus. With twenty nine students all sharing the same wifi it ain't that fast. It would run something like two hundred forty horizontal lines of resolution and two to three frames per second with everyone on the bus logged into a live classroom feed. Those specs are like my grandparents VHS tape player running in slow motion. Sorry about that but I like talking about technology.

  The flooding on the highway was much worse on the way home. I saw Dad had the driveway and walks plowed. Mom'd gone to town. There were even a few spots of brown grass showing in the front yard where the winds blew enough snow away to only leave around ten inches piled-up. It was nearly six feet high along the driveway and the street.

  When I got home he was in the office with the VR headset on. Outside our tractor had the plow on back, he was plowing anything he could. He even pushed the snow further back on the county road. Plowing snow with our tractor via the Netwise link was like making an eight cylinder gasoline engine powered paper shredder to destroy a Post-It note. But Dad loved running the tractor remotely, joystick in-hand, VR headset-on the noggin. He was ready to do battle with anything Mother Nature might throw at us! Typical VR farmer these days.

  That night at dinner Dad said something I never considered before,’ what if the warm weather continues?’ At the table we ate our dinner watching Channel 6. The weather guy said the same thing Dad did, if the sunny warm weather continues it could spell disaster for people along the Missouri River basin. We were miles away but the old river bed was still there. The more I thought about it the more I realized I never saw something like levees where the old Missouri riverbed ends along the banks of its current route. I should ride the ATV over and scout it out to see if there's anything to stop the river from backing-up into the old river bed which partially surrounds our hilltop.


  Tuesday arrived, bus time 7am. I was waiting in the shed with Ben, pretending not to speak or have fun. We really were friends but had to keep it on the QT around the folks because of the feud. 'To hell with the feud' I thought to myself as I listened to Ben go on about his father complaining about the roads being so rough this time of year and damage to his truck from rocks on the highway.

  Tuesday was pretty much the same as Monday except it was a little warmer, still sunny, not a cloud to be seen in any direction as far as the eyes could see. It reached almost sixty degrees today. I felt like lounging in the sun after school! It stayed a little above freezing all night. There were bare fields all over the place as the snow melted rapidly. The forecast from Omaha this morning called for continued sunny and nice until the weekend. We rejoiced on the bus when that came over the loudspeakers from the local radio station. I thought about what Dad said, the flooding.

  I've never seen this much snow before. And I never seen this much snow melt this fast before either.

  By Wednesday they were calling for volunteers to sandbag in Rulo. The old Rulo Bridge had been turned into a museum but the new one was higher and longer so it should stay open no matter. The threat was to the sewage plant a block from the river. If the pumps stopped then the toilets in town would back up and flood Rulo in its own sewage. Which was worse, flooding from the river or flooding from all the toilets in town? It would be a weird way to get to know your neighbors better when their sewage bubbles-up into your kitchen sink.

  I was in my bedroom when I heard that familiar sound of the Bethany's Ford truck rumbling down the county road, she must've got home. I had my bedroom window open enjoying the spring like weather.

  I've always had a thing for her, kinda tall for a girl. She's always been tomboy-ish, but I like that in a girl if she carries it right. We used to go fishing and swimming together on our bicycles. We'd ride the four miles to the Missouri River to catch catfish or carp and throw 'em back. Things are different now.

  Beth is a total girl, although she dresses like a 'local boy' at home and a little at school too. I saw her in a dress once back when we were in third grade for Grandparents Day. Otherwise she's always in denim of one form or another. She's a natural blonde. Years ago in fourth grade we started skinny dipping in the river at our best fishing spot. To us it was great fun. We did it again a few times that summer and kept doing it until high school. This is how we are when we're alone together, she's like the twin I never had.

  That night I closed my window. About all you could hear outside was water dripping. The whole state of Nebraska was dripping. That sound could be heard right up into the Dakotas and Montana. What Dad said about flooding kept running through my mind as I fell asleep doing a reading assignment.

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