Chapter 04

Prior Chapter      Next Chapter

I was stunned.  “They are calling up a militia?  To fight?”

“That’s usually what they’re for.” Pa said, with a sour, twisted smile.  He tapped the paper and the heavy crust of callus on the tip of his index finger added a little rasping sound to the thump.  “Read it.”

I looked down, and started reading.

Countyman Hayden,

New Charleston will be mustering a militia.  I accept full responsibility for this action if actions are required which Albert finds objectionable.  Each household must supply one able-bodied individual over the age of fifteen who has completed school.  Said individuals must be capable of sustained walking while carrying half their mass, or thirty kilos, whichever is greater.  Any household that cannot supply or cannot spare an individual that meets those standards must provide a tractable draft horse in good health with hauling harness.  Failing that, they must supply an equivalent value of goods that the militia will require for deployment.  In a last case scenario, they can pay two hundred fisc.  Please see the attached sheet for a schedule of needs by importance.  Again, militia members are in greatest need.  A family should only fail to provide an individual if they cannot do so.  You will need to be the final judge of that.

I am sending each county one militia captain and two militia lieutenants who should arrive early in the morning after this missive.  They act with my authority.  They are all law enforcement officers with many years of experience who have taken additional training regarding military matters.  Nobody has deployed an army in nine hundred and sixty three years, but they at least have some book learning on the matter.  Expect at least some chaos.  Aid them as best you can.  Recruits should arrive no later than mid-day on the day after this missive is delivered to them.  Please act rapidly on the matter.


Stateman Urda

Those individuals other than Countyman Hayden who read this letter, please note that I intentionally requested in a private missive that he should allow you to read my basic instructions to him.  I want nobody going into this thinking that your Countyman instigated this.  He is obeying the obligations of his office.  One of those obligations is to follow my orders provided that they are legal.  Defense of the state is legal.  I have been advised that, overall, a harvest of around one-third to one-half of the expected yield was saved.  This year, the harvest was expected to be good, so we estimate that the total crop was roughly the same as the full crop in a bad year.  We can survive this.

However, it has been reported to me that our immediate northern neighbor, New Tokyo, experienced heavier locust swarms than we did, and they were more abrupt.  They lost an estimated ninety percent of their crops, and it was not a strong growing year for them.  The locusts also consumed a great deal of forest foods that might have otherwise helped sustain them.  New Tokyo is not alone in being hit this hard.  Over half of the states suffered crop losses that will put them at starvation levels or below.  Despite our poor harvest, we are one of the fortunate states.  However, we were not the most fortunate state in our region.  New Tokyo’s neighbor to the north, Second Landing, experienced a heavy storm the first day of the locust swarm.  They were able to harvest their crop with almost no losses to locusts, and they had been having an excellent growing season, with early crop maturity.  They have a surplus.

I turned the page over and continued reading.

New Tokyo, as you probably know, suffered a serious drought last year.  Two bad crops in a row.  They have no reserves.  We do have some reserves and our crop yields were better.  We will still be lean this year, despite hopeful late plantings that I know everyone with seeds will attempt.  We cannot count on late plantings to feed our families.  Not until we harvest them.

You might think that Second Landing will open their granaries to help feed our common neighbor, but they are saying they will not.  I have received notice that they are mobilizing their militia.  They have stated plainly that they will sell their grain only at a substantial premium.  A premium that New Tokyo simply cannot afford to pay.  I am in negotiations with all the regional states and even states in regions far from ours, attempting to help New Tokyo broker some sort of transfer of foodstuffs at reasonable rates, or even with reasonable interest rates, but I am not making any headway.  New Tokyo cannot afford the prices Second Landing is asking for food.  Not even with us helping, not in sufficient quantities to feed New Tokyo.

New Tokyo is also mobilizing their militia.  They are unlikely to consider trying to move into Second Landing, which has a population greater than their population and ours combined.  That means that New Tokyo, in desperation, is highly likely to be planning on moving to take our food and grain reserves.  They certainly feel that they have to, or their people will starve.

We cannot allow this.  That is why I am mustering the militia.  If we have a successful late harvest, we can help our neighbors in New Tokyo, perhaps enough to prevent mass starvation.  If other states manage successful late plantings, the overall situation will be far less severe.  Until then, I will not risk starving our own people so that two states starve instead of one.

Many of you will think that Albert might intervene.  I have consulted Albert, and he has advised me to make sure the prison system can accept adult militia members that fight three times, and if a fighting war should occur, that I had best be ready to go to prison myself.  Despite occasionally being called upon for difficult criminal cases involving violence, Albert is not interested in individuals.  He is not interested in states.  He is interested only in culling our genetics to result in a humanity that is less violent.  That includes me asking you to mobilize to fight, if we actually do end up fighting.  I’m putting my freedom on the line for you.  I can only ask that you be willing to take the same risk for your families.

I was stunned.  “Pa, isn’t Albert going to require that the Second Landing politicians and merchants responsible for food hoarding be imprisoned?”

Pa shook his head slowly.  “No.  Albert doesn’t interfere with commerce.  Even if commerce indirectly kills people.  Starving is not fighting.  You should know that.  There have only been five wars since landing, two within fifty years of the Albert Incident, and they’ve all been over food.”  He looked at me, clearly a little irritated.  “I know you passed your History of Violence classes with high marks.”

I had passed them.  It seemed so long ago though.  How did Pa remember about the old wars?  It had been so long since he had been in school, almost thirty years.  I opened my mouth to say something, and immediately forgot what it was as I saw something I’d never seen before.  There was a tear rolling down the side of Pa’s cheek.

Before I could react, Pa spoke.  “I’m sorry, Allen, I tried to get the Countyman to accept me as our family’s recruit, but he knows about my ribs.  He wants you, because you aren’t sixteen yet.  He would accept either Edward or Zeke instead, but they…”  He coughed, and cleared his throat.  “They are over sixteen.  I can’t send them and know they are at least safe from prison.”

“I understand Pa, but…” I started to speak.

Pa cut me off.  “No.  No you don’t.”  He looked down at the table, clenching craggy hands, his calluses like barnacles on fingers like sausages.  “Because right now, despite everything I’ve said before.  Despite everything that I know is right.  Despite everything that Albert has forced down our throats to make us more civilized.  Right now, I’m glad that you had that problem with fighting before.”  His head jerked up to me and there were more streaks of moisture there, which I carefully avoided looking at, directly.  “If you have to fight again, that natural inclination of yours might bring you back alive.  Edward and Zeke don’t have that inclination.  If I sent either of them instead, they would both be over sixteen, and they aren’t fighters.  I’d probably lose them either to a spear or to prison.”

An absolutely horrible thought went through my mind.  If Edward or Zeke went to war and didn’t return, I would inherit either the farm or the swineherd business.

I closed my eyes momentarily, mentally kicking myself for even thinking like that about my brothers.  When I opened them again, Pa was still looking at me.

“Pa.  I’m the right choice.  You know it.  I know it.  The Countyman knows it.”

As I said it, Pa’s fists clenched and blanched again, tendons and muscles standing out on his wrists and forearms.  “Yes, son.  I know.  That doesn’t make it hurt less.”

A barely audible, sad voice came out of the kitchen.  “I could do it.”

Pa’s eyes went wide and he looked back and forth between me to the kitchen with a panicked look on his face.

I was shocked when I realized who had said it, but managed to start talking.  “No, Ma.  There is absolutely no way, ever, that I would allow you to do that.”

Ma came out of the kitchen and leaned against the wall next to the door, crossing her arms, and her eyes glittered as she stared at me.  Her voice raised to normal speaking volume, with clipped and precise tones, almost like she sounded when I had done something that required discipline.  “What, son?  Do you think I can’t fight?  Do you think I was an old maid because of something someone else in my family did?”  She paused, took a deep breath, and continued.  “Like I told you, a lot of my family have been fighters.  A few got put in prison for it.  I never told you the whole truth.  I was the fighter that kept me from getting married.  Seven fights between ages fourteen and sixteen, and then one at seventeen.  I knocked my first fiancé out when I found out that the creep had been cheating on me with some town floozy.  He couldn’t wait for our marriage bed.”

“Oh.  I.  Uh.”  Words weren’t cooperating, and I felt my face heat up.

Ma’s face started to soften from angry to something else, and then she started laughing, even though she was trying not to.  “Your face, son.  Please.”  She snorted and snuffled.  “Ha.  Never play cards or dominos for wagers.”

Words started cooperating with me again.  I knew how to stop this, even if Pa was panicking.  “Ma, there are two reasons that won’t happen.”

Her eyes snapped back to mine, humor gone.  Just like that.  Her eyes locked with mine, gaze-to-gaze.  Had I looked that fierce to the people I fought?  “And what would those be, young man?”

“Abe and Molly.”

Ma just stared at me, her hands clenched and relaxed twice and her right shoulder twitched.  I thought for a second that she might actually step forward and take a swing at me.  Instead, she turned into the kitchen, saying nothing as she walked out of sight.  Then there was a thump, and Pa and I both vaulted out of our chairs and took long steps into the kitchen.  We found her where she had collapsed, her backside against a cabinet and the floor, knees drawn up as tight to her chest as she could manage.  Her head was between her knees and her hands interlocked behind her neck, looking like she was hiding from the world.  Her shoulders were shaking in spasms.

Pa put a heavy hand on my shoulder, and gently, but firmly turned me so that I was facing the front door.  Then he put gentle pressure on the center of my back, saying nothing.  He didn’t need to explain.  I started walking to the front door.

Ma’s muffled voice came from the kitchen as I opened the door.  “If they make you fight, son, watch their eyes and don’t forget to cheat.  It worked for me.”  She chuckled.  “It just worked for you too.  Cheating that is.  Using Abe and Molly against me hurt.  Promise me you won’t try to be stupid and ‘fair’ if you have to fight for real.”

I managed to respond.  It was difficult to speak loud enough to be sure she could hear me.  “I will, Ma.  Promise.”

Ma said nothing else, and I turned and closed the door behind me.  As I walked off the porch with no idea where I was going, I heard the floor creak and a rattle of a cabinet that was probably Pa sitting down next to Ma.

The locusts were almost exclusively moving away from the coast now; they would land, stopping only briefly, and then jump back into the air.  I looked at the south fields and saw the small shapes of my sounder in one field, and Zeke’s in the other, all of them happily chasing locusts around.  Every one of them was moving slowly, clearly stuffed and only halfheartedly chasing locusts because there was food there, not because they were really hungry.  I stood, not thinking, just letting my mind stay blank and watching the swine, listening to their slow, happy grunts.

Every now and then I swatted a locust off me if one got on my skin.  Otherwise I only bothered them if I noticed they were chewing on my clothes.

“Allen.”  Granpa’s voice interrupted my quietude.  It made me angry, briefly, then I realized that being angry at family right now was ignorant, and I was ashamed instead.

I turned towards his voice, and saw him standing near where Abe and Molly were each pushing on one of the two handles of the bugbuster, running in unison back and forth across the ground near the garden and smokehouse, still doing a fair job of catching locusts.

Granpa saw me look his way, and started slowly, carefully crossing the locust-strewn ground between me and the house.  From the grave look on his face, he knew the news, somehow.  “Abe, Molly, keep filling those barrels, you hear me?  I’ll be back in a few minutes.  Remember to put a rock on top of the barrels to keep the buggers in.”

In unison, the two of them shouted “Yes Granpa!”  A second later they each pointed a hand in a different direction and said “That way!” and proceeded to run, pushing the bugbuster in yet a third direction with no apparent agreement.  I smiled, and shook my head in befuddlement, glad to see someone having fun.

Granpa saw my smile and nodded, turning to look back at Abe and Molly as they babbled in their high-pitched voices.  “It’s good to be a child.  It’s better to be able to let them be childish as long as we can.”  His face became serious.  “I’m afraid that this winter might shorten their childhood too soon.  They’re old enough to remember privation, and unless we’re very fortunate, it’s going to be a lean winter.”

I felt my shoulders sag as reality started weighing down on me again.  “And I might not be able to be here to help.”  I sighed and held my hands together behind my back and stretched my shoulders.  “That’s going to be a real problem if I can’t work my swine.  Zeke might be able to get some work out of them, but if he does he’ll be neglecting his own sounder, and that would be foolish of him.  You can get them to do some work too, I’m sure, but their training will suffer with a different person working them, and then suffer again when I come back and take over again.”

Watching his face, as he looked at Abe and Molly running back and yelling happily as they screamed victories over the ‘stupid locusts’, I saw Granpa get a brief, sad look on his face.  He turned his head back to me and nodded.  “I have something you need to see.  Follow me.”

I followed Granpa through the locusts streaming through the air and hopping along the ground towards the equipment shed.  Instead of going to the main entrance, he walked to the back entrance, his workshop.  He couldn’t do field labor well with one foot, but he did a lot of equipment and harness repair.  When he got there, he turned to me and said “Close your eyes.”

Not having any idea what to expect, I closed my eyes.  A moment later, I heard Granpa slide the door back and say “Open your eyes.”

I opened my eyes and there was a peculiar carriage in front of me.  It was short in height, and broad of beam, but longer than a typical carriage.  “What is it, Granpa?  I mean, it’s obviously a carriage of some sort, but…”  I stopped.  There was a line of small, new-looking harnesses hanging on a pole across the back of the cart.  I recognized the harness style.  The same harness style that was used to let swine pull the small delivery cart.  When I walked around to the front, I could see that the tongue attached to the front axle was curved down in such a way that it was at a good height for swine, but low for horses.

“A swine-hauled carriage, sir?”  I was missing something here.

“Hmmm.  It has been quite a while since the family had enough children that we needed to build one of these.  Swineherds like our family are rare.  Most folks who raise swine prefer farm pigs, breeding them as meat animals.  Seeing one of these on the road, especially around here where we are, is like finding hen’s teeth.”  He shook his head.  “You know that.  Sorry.”  He looked at me.  “Heh, getting a little impatient for a real answer too, eh?”

Chuckling, he turned towards the farm files.  A series of short concrete towers, about as tall as my waist, with heavy stone lids that were sealed with pitch.  When I was young, Granpa’s shop was a mysterious place full of strangely shaped glass blades and fascinating devices with handles that just didn’t seem to make sense.  I had learned how to use most of those tools over the years, but the files had always remained forbidden.  The forbidden files had been a strong temptation to mischief for me.  Before the time I was eight, I’d been hauled away from them a dozen times by my ear.  Threatened with discipline for even thinking about touching them.

“Like I said, I’m not surprised that you haven’t seen a swineherd’s carriage.” He stated as he glanced up at the pulley above him before pulling on the loose end of the lift rope.  With a strange, muffled tearing sound, the pitch sealing the top of the file pulled loose.  The stone slab that had been sealed in place lifted upward a few inches, and then settled back down as Granpa turned it diagonally and allowed the pulley rope to go slack.

“A swineherd’s carriage?”  I looked back at the carriage.  Knowing the name started to let me imagine the functions, and some of the strangeness started to make more sense.  The bundle of slats.  The holes in the planks around the base of the carriage.  The slats matched the holes.  “The slats can make a pen under the carriage?”

“Very good.  Yes.  Some farms have dogs with more fight than sense.  If you’re working a farm for a fee and some idiot dog tries to get at your swine when you aren’t working them, the slats might delay things long enough to give you a chance to intervene.  Paying customers won’t react well if they see your sounder eating one of their dogs.  Around here, people know better then let their dogs bother our swine, but it still happens now and then.”

I nodded.  Having dealt with aggressive dogs a couple times myself, I knew how quickly swine vs. dog could escalate.  That’s when I noticed that there was no door on my side of the carriage.  I touched the side of the carriage where the door should have been and looked at Granpa, who was watching me with a big grin on his face.

He nodded his head at me.  “Go on, look inside.  There’s a reason there’s no door on this side.”

Puzzled, I looked inside the window.  I did not see two benches facing one another as I expected.  There was one very long, wide padded bench underneath the window.  As I scanned the inside of the carriage I saw cabinets and little storage compartments of many different types everywhere.  Shelves with high lips so things wouldn’t slide off easily. Netting across the ceiling.  Pull-out drawers of half a dozen different sizes.  “Granpa, this isn’t a carriage, it’s a little house?”

“Right on the first try.  The plans were faded pretty badly, and I needed to re-copy them.  My great-great-granpa’s plans.  The ones that his family provided to him after he travelled here in a carriage a lot like this when he started this farm.  So I made two copies.  One for the farm, and one for you.”  He slapped a roll of paper into my hand, but pulled it out before I could grip the paper, smiling up at me.  “But when I looked at the plans, I realized something.  You were getting close to two meters tall, and didn’t seem to be ready to stop growing any time soon.  You were already longer than the bed in the plans.”

I had known because of Granpa’s having me close my eyes and then opening them to see that the carriage that it was mine.  But I really didn’t understand until he explained that it had been built especially for me, that it was to be mine.  It made sense.  I was the one that was going to have to leave the farm to make my life elsewhere.  A farm could only support so many people for its size, and our farm was not a very large one.

My mind wandered off a little and I started comparing family farms.  Marza’s family had a much bigger farm, with three houses, and four times the arable land.  She had so many cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces that I could barely keep them straight by name, never mind how she was related to them.  They still had to keep their household numbers down though.  Practically every year there was a Gonzalez family member moving off the farm into town, starting their own farm, leaving for the city of New Charleston itself or even moving to another state!  Sometimes two or even three Gonzalez adults would leave their farm in a single year.

Nobody had left our farm in at least three generations.  Granpa and his sister were the only surviving sibs of their generation to reach adulthood, and had both lived on the farm with their spouses.  She had been barren, widowed early, and finally died of cancer before I was born.  Granpa had four children with Granma before she passed, but two of them had died very early due to allergies, and Pa’s surviving brother had died young due to a gut injury that got infected.  Pa had barely survived being rolled on by a horse that had thrown him when it tripped in a hole.  If you ever saw him with his shirt off, he looked a little lopsided.  One side of his body more developed than the other, the ribcage clearly not quite the right shape.

Thinking about all the bad things that had happened to our family brought back another memory.  Granpa lost his foot when he fell off the roof of the house and broke his leg so badly the bones were sticking out.  I still remembered that happening like it had happened yesterday.  I had been eight at the time, and was carrying replacement tiles to him so he could replace bad tiles.

My mind played back the scene.  Granpa lying there, propped up on one elbow, teaching me how to make a tourniquet from a mallet handle and his suspenders between gasps of pain.  My blood-covered hands holding pressure on the mallet handle to keep Granpa from bleeding out like a slaughtered cow.  Ma blowing the horn four times, and then sprinting to us before she leaned over me and gripped the mallet handle with one hand and pushing me aside with the other as she kneeled next to Granpa.  Ma telling me to get on my hands and knees, and then putting Granpa’s legs over my back.  Feeling Granpa’s blood slowly spread on my back until Edward and Pa had made the bed ready for him in the back bedroom, and carried him there.  Granpa screaming in a high pitched voice before going unconscious as they lifted his legs off my back.  The doctor explaining that he wouldn’t be able to save the foot when he arrived about three hours later.  The foot had been without blood for too long.  Being pushed gently but firmly out of the back bedroom room by Pa and kept in the kitchen by Ma as she boiled water with our rags and the doctor’s precious metal tools.  Pa walking back and forth to carry water, rags, and the doctor’s tools.  Ma carefully and quickly transferring the metal tools from boiling water to a crystal-clear glass container filled with ethanol so the eager flies couldn’t degrade them.  Granpa with a great pile of rags wrapped around the too-short leg.

My attention was drawn back to the present by Granpa snapping his fingers in front of my face.  “Allen, you there?”

I nodded my head.  “Yes, Granpa, just a strong memory there for a couple seconds.  Sorry.”

For a couple moments, Granpa just stared at me. “Been a hard couple days, I suppose, but I hope you lose that habit of losing track of what’s going on around you.  Especially where you’re going.”  His face seemed to turn to stone.  Not unfriendly, but there was no emotion.  That was the ‘no games’ face.  He wasn’t mad, but he was trying to make a solid point.

Nodding, slowly I said the only thing I could.  “Yes, sir.”  Then I asked the question which had come to mind.  “Why now, sir?  Why show this to me now, when I can’t use it, when I might not ever be able to use it?  I’m being called up for the militia.  If the worst happens…”

I was interrupted by Granpa responding.  “If the worst happens, it happens.  If the worst doesn’t happen, you have something to look forward to.  Something that might give you a bit more mental fortitude if you need it.”  He smiled.  “Marza is certainly a good reason to look forward to coming home, but we can sweeten the pot on our side of the road too.”  Another pause, and Granpa looked up at me with a grin showing his remaining teeth, before he kept talking.  “A little serious talk though.  We’ve talked about how hard it will be for both you and Zeke to operate in the same county, once you get your sounder up to a score or so of solidly trained swine.  But we can’t easily help you house-raise in another county.”

I nodded.  “I understand that, sir.”  There was always work to do on a farm.  It wasn’t just plant and harvest.

Pointing at the swineherd carriage, Granpa continued.  “If you choose to do so, after your house-raising, you can trade that new house to another family from another county.  The Countyman and Stateman regularly arrange for people to move from place to place when their skills or their genetics are desirable.  Your Pa and I have spoken to the Countyman and explained why you might be a good candidate for a relocation, because of the swine.  We wouldn’t want you to move too awful far away like your Ma had to move, but a couple counties away would give you and Zeke plenty of distance from one another.  You would still be close enough to visit every now and again after harvest.

The amount of planning behind the carriage started to make my head spin, trying to piece it all together.  “I’m not sure that Marza would…”

Granpa cut me off again.  “What.  Did you think I didn’t talk to Riko?”

It took me a second to realize who Granpa was talking about.  Mr. Gonzalez.  The eldest Mr. Gonzalez.

While I was puzzling out who he was talking about, Granpa slapped the side if the carriage with a solid thump.  “Who did you think helped me alter the plans so you wouldn’t have to sleep in a bed a foot too short for you?  I’m good with my hands, better than Riko, but he’s much better with plans and diagrams than me.  We’ve talked about this.  A lot.  We both think that you and Marza are going to probably have a lot of kids.  My family has not been very fertile for many generations.  Your Ma’s family, on the other hand, had lots of kids.  My son has five healthy kids so far with your ma, and she’s still young enough and healthy enough for one or two more, possibly.  Riko’s family is the same way, as you know.  You and Marza are both healthy, and don’t think that every adult around you knows that there’s going to be lots of trying to make kids in your near future.  And with your ma’s look on you, and Marza’s family history, a lot of that trying is probably going to work.”

I could feel my face getting hotter, but I couldn’t say anything.  I opened my mouth to say something a couple times, but nothing came out, so I just closed my mouth and tried to make sense of it all.

“Allen, I don’t mean to embarrass you.”  He grinned up at me.  “Much.”  His grin disappeared and he continued.  “Realize though that you two aren’t the only ones that have been planning.  Both families very much approve of you two, and not just me and Riko.  Between your elders, we’ve figured out a plan that will put you two in a very good place.  The two families have already bought the land.  That you already know.  You do the house-raising here, locally and then trade the house and land to another family farther away for a larger plot of land with no house at all.  You live in the carriage until you get a house built on the new land.  You might even sell the house and land that we build for you outright and look into getting a land grant from the government to create new farmland, using the proceeds from the sale of the land and house for seed money.  That’s what Riko did, except he got his starter money a different way.”

Things were starting to click together and make sense.  So much planning behind the scenes.  Of course, I knew Marza and I wouldn’t be required to do these things that the family had planned out, but they made so much sense.  If we did have a lot of kids, we’d need a lot of farm to keep them fed and active as they got older.  It would allow for us to keep a lot more adult relatives on the farm over the decades, which would make the farm more stable.  As I considered what Granpa had said, I had a bit of a panic moment, thinking about trying to farm untested land.  “Mr. Gonzalez would help us choose the new location for good soil conditions?”

Granpa smiled and reached up to grip my shoulder, briefly.  “Good thinking.  Yes.  In fact he’s already been active with that, sending requests to the university.  He’s gotten undeveloped land locations and elevation maps, as well as geology and plant diversity studies for several areas in nearby counties, even some information for counties on the New Tokyo side of the border.  He says that he can find you good land with that information, and I trust him to do that.  He’s been working with Marza to teach her so that the two of you could do more than just stare at a list of options he prepared.  Marza will know and understand why Riko suggested each piece of land.”

More and more pieces started fitting together in my head.

“Lean over a bit here, and take a look at this,” Granpa said as he pointed at the tongue of the carriage.  “If you flip the connection here, the tongue can be turned upside down, and will be at a good height for ponies, kine, or oxen.  If you ever want to put tall horses on this cart though, you’ll need a longer, taller carriage tongue.”

As I leaned over to look, Granpa straightened up, and ruffled my hair with his hand like he had done so often when I was a kid.  “There we go.  You’re too tall for me to do that these days, if you’re standing up straight.”

I couldn’t help but laugh with my hands braced on my knees, and he joined me.  After a few seconds, we both stopped laughing. And I straightened back up, running my hands through my hair.  “Thank you, Granpa.  For everything.”

He nodded.  “That’s what family does.”  Then he turned his back to me and walked over to the file he had opened, putting the papers he had removed back.  With a little fussing with the rope and stone lid, he lifted the stone block and arranged it properly to seal the file.  “The carriage is yours.  When you have a safe place to store paper that the rodents and insects won’t get to, I will send you copies of everything, including the long bed and short bed versions of the carriage plans.  Acquiring some sort of file storage that can’t burn and protects papers from being eaten is critical, and should be one of your first priorities no matter where you get started.  I’ve also started duplicating all the tools I have, so you will not have to buy them.”

I’d already thanked him once, but I started to say it again.  “I…”

Without turning around, Granpa interrupted me.  “I was on the back porch about to come in when you three had your little discussion a few minutes ago.  I walked away.”  He paused, and didn’t turn around.  “Do what your Ma said.”  He cleared his throat.  “Go heat up whatever locusts Abe and Molly have collected with the bugbuster.  I’ll be done here in a couple minutes.”

Prior Chapter      Next Chapter

8 thoughts on “Chapter 04

  1. Background: We have Second Landing (SL), New Tokyo (NT) and New Charlston (NC).
    -The protagonists live in NC.
    -NT had bad harvests for the last couple years and this locus thing just wiped them out, they’re all going to starve because they have nothing.
    -SL is apparently super rich and has food to spare, and just when things went sour for NT, SL jacked up their food prices.

    Physically attempting to “coerce another to do your will” is wrong, but Albert gives a free pass when someone attempts to do the same economically.

    By my understanding, NT can all march up to SL, walk up to the food stores, and attempt to get food. And if an SL person beats the NT person back from the food store, then that’s attempting to use physical violence to coerce another person instead of “telling an adult”. After all, the NT people aren’t going to force the SL people to starve. So if an SL person physical forces away three NT people, then that SL person would be branded and have to spend the rest of their live in a prison camp.

    Look, only mentally ill people harm themselves, right? And the more people see other people as extensions of self, the more they empathize with other people, the more they follow the Golden Rule (and every religion on the planet basically has its own version of the Golden Rule, so we can just take it as a moral absolute), the better off everyone is because everyone cooperates. So Albert should be attempting to get everyone to see everyone else as part of the greater whole.

    Every civilization throughout history has had a word which basically translates as “others”, as “not us”. Multinational corporations today (like Nestle, 3M, etc.) have mandatory moves for all company managers that start to climb the corporate ladder — you can expect to have your family moved to another place every 5 years so, that you will continually be placed in new places where you can form new relationships with disparate groups of individuals and leave some of your regionalism behind. So why isn’t Albert doing something like this? Sure, he’s trying to wipe out language and apparently cultural differences, but that’s just ultimately surface stuff — it doesn’t really help anyone to not see others as Other. Even today, in the US, when you get people from a different state who speak the same language with the same accent, they’re still generally considered Other. A rather famous example is Japan — they enforced a monolithic cultural/linguistic hegemony and banned all contact with outsiders for a few hundred years. During that time the same cultural trends happened. Poor people came into power through bloody means, immediately turned around and banned the same type of people that they had been from carrying weapons, and then once they considered themselves free from a revolt they turned the government into a tyranny that continued the types of brutal treatment which caused their original revolt. A few privileged people were afforded lives of luxury while the vast majority of the country lived short hard lives and died in squalor. What does that teach? What do all similar examples throughout history teach? That the removal of linguistic/cultural differences which divide us does not suddenly cause us to become attached to one another

    It would be simple for Albert to say that a farm of a given size can only be inherited by so many people, and that anyone else must move at least X counties/countries away, and promote the unwritten law that when new people from far away move in, you help them like they were your family because other people are doing the same for your own family who lives far away. Study after study shows that doing things like this increases people’s perceptions that others are not Others to be taken advantage of, but part of one’s extended families and neighbors.

    Albert is carrying a strong stick, but he doesn’t seem to be using any form of carrots and a carrot/stick combination always work out better than just a stick. And he doesn’t need to institute a nanny state, even though he’s already done that with every village able to turn to him to settle any truly serious dispute. For instance, Albert could institute economic credits. Giving food away builds up your own economic credits, basically builds up your own monetary stores in an alternate form, and those credits can be traded in for something when you yourself are destitute, or if you have years build up already, then you could sell those economic credits to someone else. And if that encourages selfishness, well, Albert has already made it clear that he’s just fine with selfishness, which really seems the wrong tact to take when you’re trying to encourage everyone to love each other and treat each other like close family, and also contradictory when you’re fine with selfishness that hurts other people but don’t favor selfishness that introduces a net gain. These aren’t new ideas, there are plenty of sociological formulas and papers written on these topics.

    As a supercomputer with complete access to all knowledge produced by humanity, Albert should already know these things. Albert should be better than this.


    • I’m going to have to spend some time digesting this, but one thing…

      Albert has not created a Nanny state. If people call on him for problems they can solve themselves more than a couple times, he will replace them. The County and State officials who house his orbs know this. They do not want to lose what they have. They are chosen because they are strong fits for their jobs, and will try to deal with most problems themselves.


      • Albert is trying to delegate command, right? He’s a supercomputer who’s had the time to analyze all human knowledge and the story has established that he’s an infallible truth detector (which may or not be true, but the protagonist believes it). So he’s put underlings in place who apparently have all power, although they can choose to refer to him, but only at the cost of “failure”. You know what that sounds like to me? An evil overlord. 😉 And he’s violating some of the “good” evil overlord rules:
        #17: When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice. -> Albert never asks any of the people that represent him for advice. In fact, if they ever attempt to communicate with him for any reason at all, they are deemed to have failed.
        #32. I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by. -> Nobody wants to give any message to Albert for any reason, because it will mean that they have “failed” and the “trapdoor” might very well open underneath them — they might be back working in the fields.

        This gives a very strong incentive to never fail, at all, for any reason. There is a strong incentive to want to sweep everything under the rug, to “solve” everything in the least troublesome manner. Given human predilections, no matter how responsible someone is at first, after years of a cushy basically omnipotent (within your baliwick) job, it will be very tempting to take a problem you can’t solve and sweep it under the rug as best you can.

        In fact, we’ve seen two instances of this already.

        1) Allen (the protagonist) insists that he was trying to defend himself, but the head guy from the area just takes everything at face value and does the easy solution — sentence the obvious fighter from a known “bad family” to increasingly harsh punishments without (apparently) bothering to do any sort of investigation or question any possible witnesses, etc. Now, the head guy may have known that Allen liked the elefant after the first time, but the fact remains that as far as protagonist reports (and we have every reason to believe that Allen is a reliable narrator), the head guy is sweeping things under the rug because the penalty for any sort of “failure” or dialog with Albert, or letting any situation escalate in any way could very well be a death sentence, or at least a sentence to a life of hard labor.

        2) The food/war situation now. Look at what people said to Albert, look at what he said to them. This is literally a response seemingly designed to encourage overseers to sweep things under the metaphorical carpet.

        Now, it seems to me that people shouldn’t be in this much danger of failing.

        Let’s set aside the Ghandi “if you fight me to stop me from taking food, then you’ll go to prison for the rest of your life” approach that I outlined earlier.

        Message/travel across the sea
        Technology in this world, where they clearly have higher math and science, should at least be as good as Pioneer times. The fastest clipper ship made the voyage across the Atlantic in 13 days. This is the weak link in the chain.

        Message across the land
        They have relay towers and they have experience with transmitting codes long distance with horns, they should have something like Morse code and be able to transmit messages across a continent with no more than a few days lag in between send/receive and apparently, from the speed of the locust attack and the response, and information about neighboring areas, they can send close messages with at most an hour’s lag time.

        Travel across the land
        I’ll simply link to Obviously they didn’t have either proper communication or the road structure to make caravans of these, but we’ve seen people in this world making really good (and really expensive) Roman-style roads, which only makes sense if there’s a lot of overland transport going on and/or the need to ship things really far really fast. This might actually be faster than shipping by sea, depending on how straight the roads are.

        Surely there are people in the world, far outside the normal realm, who have plenty of surplus food this year and would want to make some money by selling it to other people. They should be able to transmit a message, ship most things by sea. They have two months to get the message out and arrange things until the regular harvest is done. With other areas already willing to provide assistance, they should be able to get the message out and get some massive shipments of additional food/stuff before winter hits.


      • Not to mention, there’s the obvious solution. When you have nothing left to sell, what do you sell? Yourself. Debt bondage is still flourishing today in vast swathes of the world. Slavery is such an ugly term, although its certainly been applied to many modern-day practices. Let’s just continue with the term “debt bonded people” or “indentured servants” or “lottery-ticket buyers”. 😉

        Strong people, who can work hard, who know what they were doing on their own lands, and are only in this situation because of bad luck, are expected to literally sit back and die instead of signing contracts to be free labor for me on my farm for the next couple years or whatever? That’s ridiculous. I’d feed and house them during the time they work for me, of course. Heck, I could even pay them a little something. They need food. I need labor. Albert doesn’t interfere with commerce. I don’t see a problem with this solution.

        There may be people who abuse this situation, who charge their “tenants” for food, for shelter, who basically turn their debt bondage servants into what used to be called sharecroppers, but Albert doesn’t interfere with commerce and apparently doesn’t really care about rebuilding human society to promote more empathy for neighbors. Actually this abuse-ridden situation is probably fairly common — it wasn’t until modern times and in our modern countries where “freedom from want” is one of the cornerstones of the American cultural history that such practices started to be outlawed. Still, if people generally stick to the reasonable “I need labor in the future, you need food right now, let’s work something out”, it shouldn’t be a major problem.


  2. How does law enforcement work here? What if a person fights three times after 16, but then refuses to go to prison, does Albert burn them down with lasers from orbit? How would you enforce the prison sentence on an unwilling individual without continually fighting them? How would you run a prison without occasionally fighting an inmate who wanted to leave? Speaking of which, how does this war thing work? You get a free pass on killing someone, as long as you only fight/kill two people your whole life after 16? War is generally Hunger-Games style and only engaged in by teenagers who aren’t yet 16? Ok, so you could shun a person and make them live their life in the woods, alone, but what about when you get that one rare mentally ill person who rapes/kills/whatever, do you just passively sit back and let him continue to do that? Or someone who’s been forehead branded and just goes crazy from years of living without human contact. There must be some sort of sheriff/enforcer group of citizens. If I was Albert, I’d take the people sentenced to prison, put a GPS/camera/bomb in their heads, then use them as my enforcers because I could monitor them more easily and end them if they got out of line. And if there are enforcers, why aren’t they moving in to enforce this war from not starting? Not in an “I’m going to stand between you and prevent you from fighting” way but an “I’m standing right here on the side, ready to immediately act if you all make me act” way.

    If there aren’t any enforcers, then I’m under the suspicion that these prisons are actually gas showers or whatever. Why would a rational supercomputer who possibly has no real concept of empathy want to keep people alive and sentenced to prison forever when that’s just going to be a massive drain on the economy? And, given the Stanford prison experiments, any guards likely aren’t going to stay nice well-mannered guys for long, so they’ll just be perpetuating the culture of violence by having prisons instead of just quietly killing people.


    • Wall Of Text Warning!

      Lots of good questions to think about above. Here’s my answers. If I missed something important, let me know!

      Q**Physically attempting to “coerce another to do your will” is wrong, but Albert gives a free pass when someone attempts to do the same economically.
      A**Albert does not care what humans do economically or politically, provided that any who resort to violence repeatedly are removed from the gene pool by being sent to the prisons. He is not trying to make vast, sweeping changes to the human genome. He’s trying to naturally select for nonviolence with as little impact on human genetics as he can, while keeping them at a technology level where they are unlikely to be able to effectively resist him.

      Q**After all, the NT people aren’t going to force the SL people to starve. So if an SL person physical forces away three NT people, then that SL person would be branded and have to spend the rest of their live in a prison camp.
      A**If there is a fight, and the one who instigated the fight was sixteen or older, they would have an adult fighting infraction placed upon them, true. However, it is very possible and permissible to defend oneself and/or one’s possessions, as long as your intent is to protect someone, or something valuable. If an NT person walks up to a SL person’s granary and tries to take a bag of grain, and the SL person and their family restrains them, then there was not necessarily a fight. If blows are exchanged, then Albert would interview all involved, and determine who lost control and started the fight. Think of it like fouls in a basketball game. There are all sorts of permissible ways to physically pressure your opponents, but if you go over the line. Bam. Foul. Three fouls as an adult, and you’re out of the gene pool.

      Q**Look, only mentally ill people harm themselves, right?
      A**Wrong. I would harm myself to protect my family. I suspect you would too, unless you come from a truly dysfunctional family. I would also harm others who are not my family, in order to protect those that are my family. Not as a first choice, but if I have to choose, my family wins.

      Q**Albert should be attempting to get everyone to see everyone else as part of the greater whole.
      A**No, you are misunderstanding Albert’s goal here. Removing the potential for conflict does not alter how humans deal with conflict, when that conflict does inevitably happen. He cannot select against something that he never allows to happen.

      Q**Albert is carrying a strong stick, but he doesn’t seem to be using any form of carrots and a carrot/stick combination always work out better than just a stick.
      A**Albert provides infallible law enforcement when called upon. He provides knowledge when requested. He provides guidance on genetic policy. While it has not been clearly indicated, he modifies pest species, controls invasive species, and prevents extinctions when he is asked to help doing so. He mostly stays aloof, and people who are in positions to get his attention generally don’t want to get his attention unless they really can’t handle a situation themselves, and it’s serious.

      Q**Albert has already made it clear that he’s just fine with selfishness, which really seems the wrong tact to take when you’re trying to encourage everyone to love each other and treat each other like close family, and also contradictory when you’re fine with selfishness that hurts other people but don’t favor selfishness that introduces a net gain.
      A**It becomes clearer that we are having a nature vs. nurture argument here. Albert does not want a world without conflict. He wants a world where conflict is resolved without violence. The only way to prevent all conflict is by enforcing perfect stasis, which is not something that he wants to inflict on humanity.

      Q** (#17): When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice. -> Albert never asks any of the people that represent him for advice. In fact, if they ever attempt to communicate with him for any reason at all, they are deemed to have failed. (#32) I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by. -> Nobody wants to give any message to Albert for any reason, because it will mean that they have “failed” and the “trapdoor” might very well open underneath them — they might be back working in the fields.
      A**Albert is able to tell when those responsible for calling him are doing so because they are being lazy or are no longer mentally competent. When he does seek out replacement contacts, he specifically seeks out people who are patient, competent, thoughtful, and confident. I don’t think it would hurt things too much to reveal a little early that Albert will never remove someone from office that requests his attention for something worthwhile that they truly do need help with – and his chosen contacts know it. The contacts are forbidden to tell others about the real limits on them, because that would cause conflict between the contacts and the people they represent, as people constantly try to sidestep the authority of the contacts to get to the ‘real’ authority. By being aggressively passive, Albert is actively resisting humanity building a nanny state around him.

      Q**Surely there are people in the world, far outside the normal realm, who have plenty of surplus food this year and would want to make some money by selling it to other people. They should be able to transmit a message, ship most things by sea. They have two months to get the message out and arrange things until the regular harvest is done. With other areas already willing to provide assistance, they should be able to get the message out and get some massive shipments of additional food/stuff before winter hits.
      A** There are no agricultural areas where locusts are not active because locusts are the primary mover of biological metals from seaside to internal lands. Most of Nirvana’s land is concentrated in a Pangea-like continent with a long north-south inner sea splitting the supercontinent apart. The split continent is centered fairly close to the equator. Transport is not a serious problem. If arrangements could be made for food, that food could be delivered. There are a great number of sailing ships, and they would have immediately put out to sea or temporarily sunk when the forerunner locusts were reported.

      Q** If people generally stick to the reasonable “I need labor in the future, you need food right now, let’s work something out”, it shouldn’t be a major problem.
      A**Indentured servitude is not a typical practice on Nirvana. Nirvanans know the history of the human condition quite well, and anything that even smells like slavery is going to make them very nervous because slavery is almost always accompanied by violence. Indentured servants, treated well, aren’t a problem. However, most people on Nirvana who might have an interest in taking on indentured servants already have employees.

      Q**Lots of questions about law enforcement and the prison system.
      A**For the prison system, imagine early Australia. The prisoners are dropped off, and that’s that. Males on one prison island, females on another. Zero crossover of sexes at either prison, including visitors, or staff. If the prisoners don’t work, they don’t eat. They are not forced to work like slaves, but they have to be productive. Escapes are not unheard of, but they are rare, because there is very little unmonitored traffic to and from the prisons. The prisons are designed to take people out of the gene pool, but they aren’t gas chambers. They perform useful work. They grow food for themselves, and produce some simple exports to keep them from being a significant burden on the world economy. The permanent prisons are not heavily populated. For typical lawbreakers, there are jails that aren’t prisons. If someone kills a single person in a fight, they might be sentenced to life in a jail, and allowed conjugal visits. Go to the prison islands, and all your sex will be with same sex partners, or yourself, even if you strike up a friendship with staff.


  3. Things are heating up for Allen as he prepares for the war effort. I like this world you’ve constructed of a really really long peace now disrupted. I ca sense a new WORLD WAR is coming. There was one passage I really liked the description of–great choice of words and it flowed nicely (see below).

    As usual, I always like to give my highlights of the chapter:

    He is not interested in states. He is interested only in culling our genetics to result in a humanity that is less violent.

    I opened my mouth to say something, and immediately forgot what it was as I saw something I’d never seen before. There was a tear rolling down the side of Pa’s cheek.

    The forbidden files had been a strong temptation to mischief for me. Before the time I was eight, I’d been hauled away from them a dozen times by my ear. Threatened with discipline for even thinking about touching them.

    Some farms have dogs with more fight then sense. (there’s a grammar error here–than instead of then (happens to me all the time too!)

    Puzzled, I looked inside the window. I did not see two benches facing one another as I expected. There was one very long, wide padded bench underneath the window. As I scanned the inside of the carriage I saw cabinets and little storage compartments of many different types everywhere. Shelves with high lips so things wouldn’t slide off easily. Netting across the ceiling. Pull-out drawers of half a dozen different sizes. “Granpa, this isn’t really a carriage, it’s a little house?” (GREAT DESCRIPTION)


    Next up… Chapter 5! 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s