Hot off the presses! THE HEATSTROKE LINE by Edward L. Rubin is available now!
THE HEATSTROKE LINE
Author: Edward L. Rubin
Publisher: Sunbury Press
Genre: Scifi/Cli-Fi (Climate Change Science Fiction)
Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and
the United States
has spun into decline. Storm surges have made coastal cities
uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in the South (below
the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible. Under the stress of these
events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller
successor states and tens of tiny principalities. When the flesh-eating
bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel
Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the
source of the invasion. The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and
the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has
inflicted on America.
(Excerpted from Chapter 8)
They were in some sort of garage,
with several other vehicles and various pieces of equipment scattered
around. The two men who stood beside
them, watching, were the ones who had taken him out of the auto-car, one white,
one black, both very big. Three people
approached from a doorway to Dan’s right.
In front was an attractive woman with blond hair, wearing an elegant
leopard print dress and the long, pointed shoes that were the latest fashion. Behind her stood a man and a woman, both much
bigger, and dressed in work clothes like the two men who were guarding them.
in the leopard dress looked at her wristlink, then at Dan and Stuart, and
smiled at them in self-satisfied manner.
She motioned to the woman beside her and then to one of the two guards,
and they led Stuart, still complaining about his arm, through the doorway they
had come from. Then she turned toward
Dan and motioned to the man beside her and the other guard, who grabbed Dan’s
arms and started to lead him toward the same doorway.
hell are you?” he said, trying to turn toward the woman. “Are you aware that we’re part of a
diplomatic mission from Mountain America
to Jacksonia authorized by President Peter Simonson? I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but if
you - - - “
One of the
men let go of Dan’s arm, grabbed his cheeks to force his mouth open, and
plunged a plastic gag into it. Dan felt
himself choke and struggled for breath.
The gag had a slightly sour, greasy taste. Then both men grabbed his arms again and led
him through the doorway. Dan suddenly
felt an overwhelming sense of dread, stronger even than he had felt when the
men first pulled him out of the car.
doorway was a narrow corridor with dirty green walls covered with beads of
water. Clearly, they were
underground. The men lead Dan through
the first opening along the corridor and into a small, dimly-lit room with
three chairs facing a transparent plastic window. Through the window was another room, painted
grey and brightly lit. Dan was forced
into the chair at the back of the room, his handcuffs were removed and his arms
were strapped to the armrests, and then, to his increasing dread, some sort of
metal device was placed over his head and tightened so that he was forced to
look straight ahead into the room beyond the window. He felt saliva dripping down his chin. The woman in the leopard dress came in, sat
down in the chair placed to his left and closer to the window, looked at him up
and down, then crossed her legs and turned to the window.
later, Stuart was led into the brightly lit grey room by his two guards. All his clothes except his undershorts had
been stripped off. He had always been
slender, but now he looked emaciated and pathetic. He was obviously in pain. Dan felt tears
coming to his eyes despite his own discomfort.
The woman turned to him, smiled, and then turned back to the
window. By now, one of Stuart’s
handcuffs had been removed and re-attached to a metal loop that was built into
the wall. The two guards left and Stuart
was alone in the room, one arm fastened to the wall, the other hanging limply
at his side.
sense of horror, but not, for some reason, of surprise, Dan saw a dark shape
fly through the air and attach itself to Stuart’s thigh. It was a biter bug, shiny black and nearly
three inches long. Stuart jumped and
writhed, turning one way and the other, but Dan didn’t need to see clearly to
know what was happening. The bug’s six
legs had plunged immediately into Stuart’s skin; now its two sharp mandibles,
each half an inch in length, were folded under its body, tearing his
flesh. Blood welled up from under the
bug, and as it moved down his leg, it left a trail of raw, bleeding flesh
behind. Stuart clawed weakly at the bug
with his other arm, which was obviously disabled. That didn’t matter because Dan knew that
tearing a biter bug off your body was virtually impossible. As soon as you started, its legs dug deeper,
and you would wind up tearing out a chunk of your own flesh, which was just as
painful, and somehow more awful, than letting the bug continue for the half
minute or so until it was satisfied and flew away.
to yell. He heard the words “Why are you
doing this” form in his throat, but he couldn’t speak. He tried to lift the chair to get out of the
room, to smash the window, to kill the woman sitting calmly next to him, but
the chair was bolted to the floor. He
couldn’t move -- he couldn’t even look away.
The first bug was gone, leaving an oozing wound behind, but two more
bugs had been released and attached themselves to Stuart’s body, one to his
chest and one to his arm. Helpless and
in agony, he was trying to pull away from the wall and he was screaming. No sound came through the window and the
silence, compounded by Dan’s own inability to speak, made the scene somehow
his eyes. If there was nothing else that
he could do, he could at least deny this woman the satisfaction of making him
watch his friend be tortured. Beneath
his sorrow, fury and horror, he sensed another feeling, some indefinable nausea
that lay deep inside him. After a few
minutes, he felt compelled to look again.
Stuart had collapsed and was lying against the wall. There were four or five bugs on his body now,
and one was on his cheek, moving toward his eye. He was still writhing, but had also begun to
shake compulsively. Blood was oozing
from bug tracks on his arms, legs and stomach, covering his body and dripping
onto the floor. He was going into shock;
they were killing him. Dan had never
felt so angry or so powerless. It was
hard to believe that this was real, that Stuart was really dying, that in a few
more minutes he would cease to exist.
The bugs flew away, one leaving a pool of blood in his eye socket, and
then three more, five more, came flying in.
Dan closed his eyes again. They
were wet with tears; he felt himself sobbing and gasping for breath through the
there were people around him, three or four.
They released his head, unstrapped his arms, stood him up, handcuffed
his arms behind him again, turned him around and dragged him out into the
corridor. In the process, he caught a
glimpse of Stuart’s prostrate, motionless body through the window, covered in
blood, with bugs still crawling over it.
Once in the corridor, he was dragged a short distance, through an
opening, and into an even narrower corridor.
One of his captors opened a door and he was pushed into a brightly lit
grey room. The steady sense of dread
that Dan was feeling congealed into panic.
They were going to set the bugs on him the way they did to Stuart. They
were going to kill him. He was going to
His gag was
removed, his handcuffs were opened, and then one arm, still cuffed, was
attached to a metal loop in the wall, just the way that they had done to
Stuart. Then all the guards left the
room and closed the door behind him. He
was alone. In front of him was a large
plastic window, dark and blank. The
woman was sitting behind it, he was certain, and she was going to watch as the
biter bugs killed him.
this be happening? He felt a roaring in
his head, he couldn’t think. There was
something he had to figure out, something he had to make sense out of, but he
didn’t know what it was. Would he really
die, would he really stop existing? What
about his children and Garenika? “If I
die now, I’ll never see them again” he realized. “No, there will be no ‘I’ not
to see them. The world will come to an
end. It can’t be, it can’t be.”
the unmistakable, high pitched buzz of a biter bug flying toward him through
the air. Instinctively, he knew what to
do—he had been trained in Mark Granowski’s department before he went to central
Texas for a research
project. The bugs flew in straight lines
when they were attacking. He waited
until it almost reached him, then slapped it with his free hand. It fell to the ground with a sickeningly
solid thud, but right side up. Black
and huge, it crawled a few inches, its long mandibles opening and closing. Even though he had his shoes on – he realized
that they hadn’t taken off his clothes – he knew there was no point trying to
crush the bug; its carapace was much too hard.
After a few moments, the bug’s wings started vibrating, it rose up in
the air, and flew toward him once more.
Again, he slapped it and it fell down right side up. The hideous thing crawled a few inches and
rose up again. Once again he slapped it
and it thudded to the ground, right side up again. Its wings vibrated, it rose up and flew
toward him, he slapped it hard and it fell down again, this time on its
back. Immediately, he stamped his foot
on it and felt the satisfying crunch as its body cracked beneath his shoe.
was the point, he asked himself a moment later.
They could release another bug, five more, fifty more. The pain would become worse and worse and he
would die, just like Stuart. No, not
just die -- the world would end, there would be nothing. The roaring in his head returned, the sense
of dread and disbelief. It couldn’t
be. He heard himself bellowing “No, No,
No, No.” There was a high pitched buzz
behind him, and as he spun around, the biter bug slammed into his upper arm. He felt its feet dig in, and then the
burning, searing pain as its huge mandibles, now tucked under its carapace,
began to tear his flesh. He could only
stare at it in horror. Blood rose up
under it and turned his light blue shirt sleeve sickly purple. The bug moved slowly down his arm, leaving a
track of bloody, torn up flesh, visible inside the inch-wide tear in his
shirtsleeve. The pain was unbearable. He
couldn’t believe that the twenty five or thirty seconds that they bug was on
him seemed so long, and he felt a moment of relief when it finally flew away,
dripping blood behind it.
He had to
organize his thoughts, there was something that he had to do, but what was
it? How could he stop existing? Would he live somehow, because of his research? Would he live in the memories of Josh, Senly,
Michael and Garenika? But he wouldn’t be
here, there would be no world for him.
An image, a memory, suddenly came into his mind. He was walking across the University
of Utah campus with Garenika. They had just met, he had said something to
her and she laughed, in a soft, silvery tone, and he wondered if they would end
up having children together. Now he saw
his home in Arches Park
City. His father was reading to him, his mother
came into the room with the poster of the Milky Way, the one he had wanted and
that hung in his room when he was growing up.
After a few
minutes, he realized that no more bugs had come. A sudden surge of hope passed through
him. He was afraid to even form the
thought, afraid that it would somehow preclude the actuality. But the door opened, one of the guards came
into the room with a suppressed smile on his face, removed the handcuff from
his wrist, removed the other part from the loop on the wall and walked out with
it. The lights in the room suddenly
dimmed. Dan sank down onto the
floor. He took the bottom of his shirt
and pressed it against the wound on his arm, as much to relieve the burning pain
as to staunch the flow of blood. He
became aware that he was sobbing, but whether it was with relief or anguish was
impossible for him to say.
hours later, the door opened, and before Dan could react, a tray with clothing,
a plate of food and an inflatable mattress was pushed into the room. The door closed again. The clothing was an ordinary, open collar
white shirt, a pair of dark brown trousers and dark green undershorts. Dan became aware that the front of his own
pants was wet and realized he had pissed himself when the bug attacked
him. Next to the clothes was a large
blue, disinfectant bandage. Slowly and
deliberately, Dan stripped off his clothes, wrapped the bandage around his arm,
which immediately felt a bit better, and put on the clothes he’d been given. Looking around, he saw an open hole in the
opposite corner of the room, walked over and peed down the hole.
back to the tray, took a bite of one roll.
All at once, he felt nauseated, ran to the hole and vomited. He couldn’t stop; he vomited repeatedly and
convulsively, long after there was anything left in his stomach. The roaring in his head returned, he felt
intensely chilled and his body began shaking uncontrollably. After what seemed like a long time, the
shakes and chills subsided, but they were followed by a slowly intensifying
fear. Suppose they turned off the lights
and began to fill the room with water.
He could feel himself being forced to the top of the room, feel his head
pressed against the ceiling when only a few inches of air remained, feel the
water filling his nose and mouth as he gasped helplessly for breath. Suppose the walls of the room began to close
from both directions, pressing against his body until he was trapped tiny,
pitch black space. Suppose they raised
the temperature until searing air burned his lungs with every breath as he
began to suffocate.
to calm himself. He wondered if he
should use Jiangtan –why hadn’t he thought of it when he was watching Stuart
die -- but somehow didn’t think that it would help. Had the bread been poisoned? That wouldn’t make any sense. Clearly, they meant to keep him alive. Were they holding him for ransom or as a
hostage for some political purpose? In
any case, once the Mountain American government found out about it, they would
arrange for his return, he reassured himself.
He decided he should try to sleep; he was obviously exhausted. He inflated the mattress, lay down, and
closed his eyes. The biter bug wound on his arm was still throbbing and his
head ached. He tried to think his
college days, of his evenings with friends, of nineteenth century novels, of
Garenika, but it all seemed thin and pointless. Finally, his thoughts returned to his early
fascination with astronomy, and he pictured himself touring the moons and
planets of the solar system and then venturing out among the undiscovered
worlds that orbited the distant stars.
About the Author
Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political
Science at Vanderbilt University. He specializes in administrative law,
constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society: The New
Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot: Rethinking
Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with
Malcolm Feeley, Federalism: Political Identity and Tragic Compromise
(Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy
Making and the Modern State: How the
Courts Reformed America's Prisons (Cambridge, 1998). In addition, he is the author of two
casebooks, The Regulatory State (with
Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited
volumes (one forthcoming) and The
Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of
the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor
Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law
School as Dean and the first John
Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that
ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law
School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998,
where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the
Association of American Law Schools' sections on Administrative Law and
Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a
consultant to the People's Republic of China
on administrative law and to the Russian
Federation on payments law. He received his
undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree
He has published four books, three edited volumes, two
casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and
political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.
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