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The Raindrop Institute

Dart Sommers paused, confused by the small defeats battering her confidence. More students turned away from her to look out the window. Outside the classroom, night dimmed the North Carolina blue sky.

Primal instincts coupled with reluctance to address complex problems— that’s what sat in front of her. That's also what waited for her in Illinois. Perhaps she should end the lecture. If she released class half an hour early, she could pack tonight and leave in the morning to visit her aging father. Not that he would be happy to see her. Like her students, he didn’t care for what she had to say. But, she could no longer let him pretend he’d live forever on that farm he loved more than he did his own kids.

The flutter inside her stomach grew as chairs squeaked.

Night falling. Such a small distraction. She didn’t understand. These doctoral students were adults, professionals. They'd passed last week's test. They knew instinct hijacked insight—but they’d failed tonight’s experiment.

The students grew more restless. They didn't understand and unless they understood, they didn’t have a chance at stopping civilization collapse. Tomorrow might find them dead, or starving, or wandering in search of food unless she acted now.

Dart brought up a slide of the United States and stepped around the desk, closer to their distraction. Students turned from the window, and she knew her action had triggered alerts in their brains. Several frowned when they saw what was on the screen.

"Yes," she said, "you read it right. Civilization collapse has already started in the United States."

Pessimist. Odd, how her internal critic always assumed her father’s voice.

"No way," J.D. said. Others also protested.

She'd hoped J.D. Shilling, the hothead of the group and a high school principal, wouldn't let that challenge go by. In fact, she'd counted on him expressing his opinions. Principals always had opinions.

She pointed toward the center of the US. "The heartland, those interior states that went red in the 2012 election, that's where you'll find the remains of what used to be a thriving economy." Her laser pointer swept through Ohio, stopped in Missouri, and moved into Texas. "Family farms started dying in the 1970's and 80's. Those farming families migrated to larger communities. They took the bankers, the lawyers, the supporting personnel that populated small towns with them. Travel the Midwest and the West today and you'll see dead and dying towns dotting the landscape."

She'd studied this for the past fifteen years and the threat levels had escalated in the past few years when people finally woke up and realized a whole way of life had disappeared. Anger from that immense physical, financial, and emotional heartbreak now threatened larger community stability. And the wrangling politicians in the House and the Senate weren't helping.

"It's as if someone broke the United States in half and all the people in the middle rolled into east or west coastal communities. Now infrastructures on both coasts have frayed, and resources are strained." She took another step, closer to them.

"Civilization collapse has happened at least six times in human history." She stepped as close as she dared and saw their eyes widen. "Don’t you care that our budget across this nation for infrastructure repair is below what’s needed? That our electrical grid is vulnerable? That our politicians are not solving problems, serious problems that threaten our democracy?"

"We’re doing fine in North Carolina." Those seated around J.D. looked dismayed. "Brunswick County’s the fastest growing county in the state and close to the top five in the nation. Our coastal homes aren’t underwater, but scientists predicted rising sea levels for years. The Southport/Oak Island area, where I live, needs a plan for beach nourishment, but from what the old timers say, that’s nothing new."

The students seated around him accepted that logic and looked at her with the same reckless challenge.

See, no one likes a doomsayer.

"Last night a house down the street burned from a lightning strike."

"Happens every year," said J.D. as he shifted in his chair.

Oh, he understood as she did, because she also lived in Southport, that the lightning strikes had gotten worse these past few years. "House Bill 2?"

"I’m wondering who will check birth certificates in Brunswick schools. We can’t afford teachers much less hire BSAs."


"You know bathroom security administration. Dumb move." He leaned forward in his chair, as if they were alone to confide in her. "I think they took the easy way out, don’t you?"

"They put an unenforceable law into effect, hoping people would shut up," Dart said.

"Are you saying our legislators don’t know what they’re doing?"

"No, you said that."

The others laughed at his abashed grin. Dart knew they were hers again.

"Let me show you the consequences of kicking problems down the road." She walked back behind her desk and clicked up another slide.

"In the Bronze Age, which lasted at least 2000 years, civilizations had prosperous complex systems of economics and governments like we do today." Dart powered through her slides until she found accompanying data. "A female pharaoh ruled. King Tut lived and died in this period. People flourished." The slides flashed by showing the students a rich and robust society.

"I consider those civilizations globalized because, like us, they traded finished goods and raw materials, including copper and tin, across far distances."

"Copper mixed with tin makes bronze," the hothead said. "Hence, the Bronze Age."

Her father had that same sense of humor. She'd thought she'd learned to tolerate it. Other students snickered. She clicked up a slide of men fighting, and the brief spate of irreverence died.

"Then the sea people appeared." Another slide, this one a map of the area. "Where they came from remains a mystery. Invaders or refugees, no one knows, but the people they vanquished merged with them. This was a migration like our Dust Bowl. Like the farm crisis of the 80's which is still underway out of small towns across America, including my hometown of Hawthorne, Illinois. It's taken Hawthorne decades to wither, but it's in death throes now."

Not that her dad would ever admit it. He wanted her to move home and take care of him.

"They don’t use nails in coffins anymore," J.D. said.

Subtle. Her father would have accused her of being melodramatic. She shoved thoughts of her father away and said, "Maybe not, but bathrooms won’t work if old pipes haven’t been repaired in the sewage treatment facilities. As soon as Americans no longer have access to food and potable water, the corpses will pile up in our streets."

"International law," the hothead said, ignoring her passionate appeal, "would label the sea peoples as refugees, not economic migrants."

Mental trickery? A challenge? Or was he trying to understand?

"They may have been migrants, refugees, or invaders," Dart reminded him. "We don’t know, but by 1177 the Bronze Age had collapsed."

"Seems like a thin thread between migrants and refugees. If you can’t make a living where you are, you run. That makes you a refugee."

Before she pointed out the logical fallacy, another student said, "Refugees escape from an intolerable life without rights. Small town, displaced Americans choose to leave. But Dr. Sommers is right. Our rights won’t provide water if drought diminishes our supply, or earthquake storms destroy our cities. The Constitution won’t prevent people from starving."