A sky the colour of tarpaulin hangs over the land. Arctic smite threshes the windfarms of the Atlantic Energy Isles, soon to hit the mainland. Stand at the river by the old dockyard crane. Listen. The wind that travels the ice path of the Clyde carries the death bellow of bergs, collapsing, beyond the Firth and the Sounds, making ice soup of the Atlantic and the Irish Sea. The noise of a world’s end. At night, when the nation’s lights go out, even the sparking web of the trams, the glimmer and groan of the bergs spook a deep, starless dark. He’ll stop at the next cafe, for coffee and a read. Walking gets him out of an empty house, fends off the cold, saves on heating rations too. Though it’s almost summer, as his generation stubbornly call it, the berg bite penetrates the defences of double glazing, thermal curtains, wall insulation and head to toe polar synthetics. He’s pocketed Morgan’s Cathures for his walk along the Clyde, bought second-hand as most books are now paper is as rationed as heat. The book crackles at his touch, tinder in the pages. When winter became the only season, we came to know the temper of a new Dark Age. We dug into language, found as many names as the weather had moods. Now, there was never just cold, wind, rain, snow. There was welt, froar, smite, whelm, thresh. Sometimes it was withershin, or a sleetmidden of a day. The act of naming was primeval, an urge to tame forces beyond control. A rivercutter churns a path through the ice. Will negotiates his own path through the iceboarders who weave between the trunks of the wind turbines that line the banks of the Clyde. There’s a grace in the sweep of the blades that’s almost, Will has come to think, as majestic as an avenue of oaks. He passes the church with the broken spire, and the site of the red sandstone school where he was headteacher, once. Now gone, in its place is the McConndillo, as it’s known, the McConnell Research Institute, the largest of the armadillos that breed beside the river. There’s an almighty clatter as the threatened Arctic smite, hard as gravel, hits the armadillo shells. The education system reached breaking point by 2010: teacher exodus, sink schools empty, popular ones chock full, a chaos of choice, rocketing truancy, exam system fiasco, classroom violence, deepening cuts in education as the ageing population gobbled public sector funds. Independent schools boomed; some bust, as a crop of cheaper, industry-funded ones made private education less elite. A movement for home schools gathered pace, resourced on a shoestring by Library Discovery Zones, the internet, electronic boox. Suddenly, education was up for grabs. The virus was the last straw. It came with the muggy monsoon of 2012, the end of a run of tropical summers that had us fooled into dreams of Perthshire Pinot and Clyde Valley Chardonnay, sipped beside the garden pool. The media, in full apocalyptic mode, blamed the epidemic on migrant workers, asylum seekers. The numbers of deaths weren’t high, fear more infectious than the virus itself. Now, even pupils who had stayed to the last, abandoned school. Will hurries to the nearest armadillo for shelter from the smite. A waft of coffee draws him inside, where he finds a mass of young people huddled around tables. The focussed energy is palpable. He sees a lad take a tube of blue plastic from his pocket, he unrolls it into a keyboard, clips on a small transmitter chip like an earring. They’ve all got them. Godboxes. A technological wizardry that’s beyond Will. The stuff of science fiction a decade ago, the godbox is to this generation what the mobile phone and laptop were to his. An astonishing vision covers the armadillo’s arched ceiling. Its theme is Alasdair Gray’s inspiration to work as if you live in the early days of a better nation. Whether it’s authentic Gray or the work of his Michelangelo-style apprentices, it’s impossible to tell. Will gazes, entranced. Even before the breakdown, the young sussed that the old education was defunct. Galloping technology had given them a radical, widescreen vision of the world. Globalists, they also knew the crumbling infrastructure of their immediate world, where there was a new black market in plumbing, bricklaying, damp-proofing, nursing. At the start of the new school year in August 2012, Will Moss, like headteachers across the land, stood in the empty corridor of a ghost school and admitted defeat. In the doorway of the armadillo, Linda shakes off a melting crust of smite. She has to manoeuvre the buggy past an elderly man who’s staring open-mouthed at the ceiling. When he pulls down the hood of his weathergear, she sees it’s Mr Moss. At school she was such a wee minx, a real stirrer, flung out of class time and again for being mouthy. Acting like you had all the answers was how you survived at Brae High. She parks the buggy beside a table, checks Sam under his weathershield, but he’s well zonked after a night’s teething and a morning’s finger-painting. The dummy drops from his sleep-heavy mouth. They often come back to the hub after she collects him from morning nursery. Sam naps and plays with the toy boxes. She has an extra coffee, chats, does a bit more work. Mr Moss looks lost. Linda knows the feeling. She felt it most days at Brae High. Weather saved the kids when the schools packed up. They couldn’t hang about the streets, getting up to no good. The weather was too bad. Crime, alcohol and drugs didn’t obliterate a generation as the prophets of doom predicted – at least, no more than before. Freed from the mass policing and hoop-jumping of the classroom while politicians, parents, educationists and the media fought across the ruins of the education system, the young stole away. They huddled in bedrooms and cafes, engrossed in themselves and each other, and in the wonders of the new technology, their doorway to the world. Will takes a seat beside the young woman, awkward and smiling, who’s waved him over. One of his ex-pupils, Linda Mullen, of all people. The last girl he’d expect to be sitting here telling him she was an apprentice imagineer in this brave new world of godboxes and Arctic whelm. An imagineer, she says, is an engineer of ideas. Bet you never imagined a waster like me would ever get to be that, eh, Mr Moss? Oh, you always had ideas, Linda, he retorts, just the wrong ones in the wrong place at the wrong time. She laughs, tells him now she’s in the right place and it’s her old talent for being mouthy that helped her get a foot in the door as a connector, communicating with imagineers all over the world. That and getting pregnant. After the schools shut she had a gap year of sorts, tripping with a lost boy, like so many Will has known – old men at ten, emotional brick walls, wasted or dead before they were twenty. She meant to get rid of the baby but the health centre treated her like royalty, sat her down and told her about New Life – benefits, childcare, access to education, tax benefits when you started work, and a mother-buddy scheme. If she wanted the baby she’d be given the necessary help. The birth rate crisis had made heroes of young mothers. For the first time in her life Linda felt important. Wendy Knox metamorphosed from young nursery teacher into political activist in the nursery workers pay dispute of 2004. A decade later, as a Junior Minister for Education, she led an investigation into why eager pre-schoolers were truants by age twelve. When the education system imploded, pulling down the First Minister and much of the Education team with it, Wendy Knox was found alone among the rubble at ground zero, clutching her report, Enterprising Education – The Way Forward. Inspired by the active learning which nursery children thrived on, The Way Forward was almost lost under a weight of expectation and ridicule. It was the tabloids, who decided to champion the photogenic MSP Knox, that saved Wendy’s Way. If she hadn’t had Sam, Linda reckons she wouldn’t be here now. The turning point was gaining a set of keys that opened up the future. She yawns, takes a gulp of coffee. Will is beginning to understand. They’re trying to turn negatives into positives, these young imagineers. They’re imagineering the world, the weather, connecting global ideas on all kinds of things – flood-protection, all-weather railways, deep sea wavepower, offshore windfarming, water exports to combat drought; even Coolbreaks Scotland, holiday relief from the soaring temperatures of global-warming in other parts of the world. As predicted, the population aged and the birth-rate plummeted. What wasn’t predicted was inter-generational war. Political parties fragmented. Policies for the Young were at odds with the needs of the Old. At thirty six, the Internationalist First Minister Knox was just mature enough to be taken seriously by the Old and just youthful enough to be accepted by the Young. She brought the warring generations together over education, persuading older people they were essential to its success. Small group learning proved more effective than any recruitment drive. A massive public advertising campaign was launched to promote the inquisitive play ethic of the new Way. A drift back to school began. There was a time of confusion. But the onslaught of Arctic weather saw the rebirth of the local school. And infecting education with the virus of enterprise was, it turned out, the most powerful form of mass vaccination against the malady that had afflicted generations of Scots (except the diaspora of those with freak immunity). Lack of confidence. Nicknamed Steemies, the new schools’ core curriculum was self-esteem. A flexible leaving age led into apprenticeships, further education or indie-enterprise. A stagnant backwater in the modern economy, Scotland began to re-envision itself as fertile land for the cultivation of ideas. As a land of imagineers. There’s a nudge at Will’s foot. The little boy, Sam, is out of his buggy and under the table, playing with bricks. He’s struggling to build a bridge. Will can see what’s wrong. He’s about to tell the child when Sam tears thumb from mouth, knocks down the old bridge, scattering bricks all across the floor. As the climate bitters, there’s a move inland. Terrorism and gridlock bring a wave of English migrants north to the green metropolis of multicultural glentowns. Perth is the gateway, a city of commerce for the weatherworkers of the Highland windfarms and the new industries. The brain drain, reversed, is brain flame. There is no happy ever after. Weather is our war. There’s still homelessness, crime, rubbish and drugs on the streets, racism against‘migs’ and ‘seeks’. Pensions are still a shambles, health a national disgrace. The timbers of the public sector creak and crack. And still the glasses on Donald Dewar’s statue need fixed. But the energy and imagination of the young, globalist, free from the harness of another age, is active. Will hunkers down under the table and picks up one of the old, wooden bricks. He hears the heavy breathing of a child’s deep concentration. Sam gives him a wet smile from behind the thumb that’s stuck back in his mouth. Will sticks his own thumb in his mouth and smiles a mirror greeting that makes Sam laugh. The industry of the coffee machine and the workers at the tables makes a cocoon of noise that muffles the weather battering the armadillo. At the feet of the imagineers, Will and the child huddle together and start to build.