“Most of you aren’t idiots.” Captain Marko said without preamble, only moments after stepping up to the speaking podium in the town square. “That being said, statistically, some of you are very likely to scrape the bottom of the intelligence curve, so I need to make this clear.” He looked out over us, his head turning a little from side to side.
After making sure he had our attention, he continued. “We have extensive records of the old wars, and one of the common misconceptions recruits have is that Albert might take some sort of action to prevent a war. He will not. Albert fully understands that there will be conflict between humans. He only cares if we resolve that conflict with violence done to others with intent to harm.” He paused. “At the same time, even idiots know that adults who start conflicts with the intent to do harm three times will go to one of the prison colonies. There are probably quite a few of you who plan to disappear as soon as it looks like we might actually have to resort to violence. I must address this now, and nip it in the bud so the idea doesn’t take root.”
“Take a look at the man or woman next to you.” The captain commanded us, and then he paused to give us time to do as he asked. I was standing next to Riko, and we looked at each other briefly, and then back to the captain.
After people were watching him again, Captain Marko continued. “Since we haven’t formed you into any groupings yet, you’ve probably chosen to stand next to someone you know. That’s important, because people you know matter more. We like to think that we’d be nice to strangers, but in reality, friends and family come first. A bunch of people who we don’t know in New Tokyo will need a lot of food to feed themselves, their friends, and their families this winter, thanks to the locusts. They are extremely unlikely to get a good harvest from a late planting this year, as they are farther north. They will need to get food from somewhere to feed their friends and families.”
There was a muttering through the crowd, and I heard Second Landing mentioned several times.
The captain picked up on that. “Yes, Second Landing is refusing to sell their grain at a reasonable rate. We aren’t exactly certain what they are doing, but it appears to be political. We suspect that they might be planning some sort of long term annexation of New Tokyo.”
That was shocking enough to me that I barely noticed other people muttering. The states had been defined since the colony was first established.
“New Charleston as a state fared better. We have enough food to get us through the winter, but it will be a lean year. Most of the other states fall between having barely enough, and almost nothing. New Ecuador to our south is in a situation a lot like ours, looking at a lean winter. Unlike New Tokyo, however, they are almost guaranteed another harvest this year, since they are farther south and have a bit longer of a growing season. New Ecuador is not mobilizing their militia. Second Landing is mobilizing though, and they have a greater population than both New Tokyo and us, combined.”
“What all this means is that New Tokyo is going to be forced to try to take food from strangers. Those strangers will be us, and we can’t afford to give or sell that food that your families will need for this winter. If you desert, your family and neighbors may well starve this winter. You might think that spending a few years in jail for desertion is worth being safe from going to prison permanently. I agree with that, honestly.”
After he said that, we were all confused. At least I was, and there were a lot of people muttering again. When I looked to Riko, he was nodding, but said nothing and didn’t seem concerned.
Captain Marko was watching us muttering, while nodding slightly. As we quieted, he spoke again, his tone very serious. “That’s not the whole cost though. Sure, you spend a few years in jail for desertion, and there’s no chance you will go to the prison colonies, but…” He paused, and I could feel people listening. “If you desert, New Tokyo militia members will take the food, animals, and fishing boats from your family and neighbors to feed their family and neighbors. We aren’t asking you to risk being sent to the prison colony for something intangible. If you desert, your family, friends, and neighbors may well starve to death.”
Everyone went silent. I hadn’t been considering running away, but I’m sure I would have considered it as we got closer to a fight. I was glad that the captain had taken the time to explain in a way that tied it to family. Mental images of Abe and Molly starving made me shake my head. There was absolutely no way I’d run now.
After he let us digest that for a few seconds, Captain Marko continued. “Having said that, we’re going to do our best to avoid hurting anyone. New Tokyo will need wagons and draft animals to move enough food to make a difference. Those are going to be our primary targets, not people.” His tone got very serious. “If we are pressed hard, we may be forced to hurt people, but that’s the last resort.”
I was certainly relieved to hear that, and based on the sounds others around me were making, I wasn’t the only one.
Captain Marko’s face relaxed as he heard our reaction, which probably meant we were reacting the way he had wanted us to. His obvious relief made me remember that he was just as new to this as the rest of us, he just had an education about military matters that we didn’t.
“On that note, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for me to go deal with correspondence from dozens of people who are trying to help us get organized and equipped.” He turned to his left where the two lieutenants had been standing. “I leave you to my lieutenants. They will organize you, answer questions, and advise you as to what you should attempt to bring with you, and what you should not.” He placed his right hand over the center of his chest and bowed slightly to us, turned, and walked around us to the street, turning towards Cambel’s Inn. Presumably, he and the two lieutenants were staying there.
As he passed Riko and me, I noted that the captain was fit and muscular, but not a big man. His blonde hair was shot through with grey, and cut just long enough to tie it all back with a leather tie. His face was wide from top to bottom, with a widow’s peak and a prominent, broad chin.
“OK everyone, eyes on me, please.” Lieutenant Baker was standing at the podium, and as we all gave her our attention, she spoke again. “Any of you who can ride a horse, and are good stalking bow hunters, come with me. I lead the scouts. As the captain said, our targets are going to be draft animals and wagons. I need the people with the skills to move quietly and kill animals accurately from a distance. Do not come with me if you are not quiet in the woods and good with a bow. I’m counting on you to know each other as a group. Anyone who comes with me who knows that another person trying to join the scouts is unskilled with a bow or with stalk-hunting, tell me.” She paused. “We scouts will be moving tonight, travelling fast and light, because New Tokyo may very well be rushing to get wagons and draft teams across the border. The militia will provide riding horses and two remounts for each of us. If you walked into town, we will provide a horse for you to go get your own bows, arrows, and spare clothing. We have plenty of arrows and fletching equipment as well.”
Someone on the other side of the group raised their hand. Whoever it was, they were too short for me to see them over the people near them.
Lieutenant Baker pointed towards the raised hand, and said “Ask your question.”
“What about slingers?” A female voice I didn’t recognize.
The lieutenant thought for a second. “Can you reliably kill a deer with a sling at thirty meters or more?”
The woman answered after a moment. “Probably not, I usually hunt smaller game, but I can damn sure scare the hell out of a horse or elefant at that range. Panicking draft animals destroy harness and wagons, and frequently injure themselves doing it. Also, slingers don’t run out of arrows.”
After a moment, the lieutenant nodded. “Sounds good. Slingers are welcome too, but you have to be accurate.” She looked away from the speaker, centering her gaze on us. “Any other questions related to scouts?”
“What about atlatls?” That was Carver Hershel speaking. One of the middle sons of our neighbor. I was curious. I’d never heard of an atlatl before.
Riko cocked his head a little, seeming very interested, and turned to face Carver.
“What is an atlatl?” The lieutenant asked, which made me feel a lot better, as I’d never heard of one either.
“Atlatls are spear throwers, ma’am. I can throw a light spear a very long ways. Farther than a bowman can shoot. I made it in school as a project and can hunt with it, but rarely do. It’s overkill on deer. If we might have to kill elefants though, I can hit a lot harder with it than anyone’s going to hit with a bow.”
As much as it pained me to think about killing an animal as intelligent as an elefant, Carver had a point. Teak had several massive scars the size of my arm on her left side where she had been wounded. When I had asked him about them, Donal told me how the wounds had happened. A tree had fallen on her, and broken branches had ripped huge gashes and punctures in her side that a man could put a hand into. In fact, after Teak had been sedated with enough opium to kill a dozen men, an elefant veterinarian had literally reached into the wounds to make sure that all of the splinters and bark were removed. Donal had said that the wounds would have probably killed Teak from infection in the wild, but with medical care she had been capable of hauling logs after three months; after six months she had been allowed to lift heavy logs again. She and Donal had continued logging for another twenty years after the accident, before being retired out of logging and moved into road maintenance.
Again, Lieutenant Baker paused a moment, and then nodded. “If you can move quietly and shoot a bow, then I want you to bring your atlatl and spears as well as your bow. I won’t guarantee we’ll have a use for them, but I’d like to see what they can do.”
There weren’t any more questions, and Lieutenant Baker and about fifteen people out of the fifty or so of us that had arrived left. Riko was one of them. I wasn’t. I was an accurate slinger, and could hit a full-sized rabbit at twenty meters fairly reliably, but I was not quiet in the woods.
I overheard Lieutenant Baker start to address individuals, asking who would vouch for each of them as a competent stalker and good with a bow or sling. Nobody came back to the main group, and a couple minutes later she walked them all back to the inn to talk to them about what they needed to go get.
Lieutenant Davis had waited for Lieutenant Baker to quickly vet her scouts. When they started walking away, he spoke. “OK, for the rest of us, we’ll be split into three groups. We need people who can find food in the woods, and people that are strong workers. If you aren’t either of those things, we’ll attach you to the quartermasters. If nothing else, you can help haul firewood, prepare food, or do laundry. Everyone in the three groups will learn to use a long spear. We hope we will never need to ask you to use a spear on another person, but you will learn some basics. If someone has to die as we protect our friends and family, I’d rather it not be any of us.”
There was some uncomfortable muttering at that statement, so I wasn’t alone in being nervous about taking up a weapon and learning to use it to kill other people.
“I’m not going to split you up by skills yet.” The lieutenant continued. “If you claim to be good foragers, and anyone else supports you, I will allow you to try proving it. After spear training in the morning, the best foragers will go into the forest, and the rest will work in camp. Our camp will be half a mile from the border. Elevation maps indicate that the road is straight at that point, and we should be able to see the border clearly from that distance. The scouts will range from side to side in front of us along the border, sneaking across to kill draft animals and damage wagons.” He paused. “It’s not that simple, but that’s the gist of it. Do you have any questions?”
I did. I hesitantly raised my hand. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to ask the question, but if it came down to it, family came first. I could be useful with my sounder and boars as a forager, and if I took my swine with me, my family wouldn’t have to feed them.
The lieutenant pointed at me. “Ask the question.”
“Can I bring trained animals with me, sir? I forage a lot in the woods with my sounder. When we find human-edible forest mast in sufficient quantity that they are worth collecting, my boars and I can haul it out by travois. Acorns and other nuts, seasonal fruits and berries, and cattails are easy enough to find around here.”
“What is a sounder?” The lieutenant asked, curiously.
Obviously from the city, if there was any doubt before now, I thought to myself before answering. “That’s a group of swine, sir.”
“You take pigs out into the forest and they help you find food?” He asked, a little incredulously.
“Yes, sir. They do.” I replied, trying not to sound irritated. “I can command them to find specific foods if I have a sample to offer them. Normally though, I simply look for forest mast alongside them. Because the boars are powerful enough to haul a lot of weight, I can gather a great deal of food before returning. Between the boars and myself, we can haul about two hundred kilos of food out of the woods. On a good day, I can gather that much this time of year if we find a bunch of oaks, fruit trees, or a pond with a bunch of cattails. I didn’t go with the scouts because I’m not quiet in the woods. I’m very good at finding forest mast, but swine aren’t quiet animals, so I never bothered learning how to be.”
The lieutenant nodded. “I want to talk to you again before you return home today.” He paused a moment. “Allen, was it?”
“Yes sir, Allen Rickson. I’ll speak to you again when we’re done here.”
The lieutenant spoke to us about bringing clothing and spare footgear if we had it. The militia would supply ground cloths, tents, and bedding. If we had missile weapons we were accurate with, we were to bring them. If we were craftsmen, and we could take tools without leaving our households unable to function, we should speak to the lieutenant about what skills we had and what tools we could bring. Nobody was to bring more than twenty kilos of personal gear. Nobody should carry food – the militia would supply beans and rice plus whatever we could forage.
When the Lieutenant finished with us, he sent everyone but me and four crafters to the inn to get backpacks from the other lieutenant, and admonished everyone that everything they brought should fit in the top part of the pack, leaving the bottom empty for militia-supplied gear.
A leatherworker and a tailor were quickly advised to bring their tools, and the militia would purchase their utilitarian stocks at a standard rate if the quartermasters hadn’t already bought them. The militia wouldn’t pay for exotic leather or cloth. A cooper was next, and was quickly told to bring her tools, and again, the militia would buy all of her stock at standard rates if she had any remaining stock. The last crafter was a tanner. His most important tools were large and cumbersome, and would not be able to be brought. He would, however, be allowed to bring a lot of ropes that he could use to set up stretching racks between trees.
The lieutenant seemed mostly uninterested in the idea of a tanner setting up a full shop, and said so. “Your trade doesn’t produce anything immediately useful. It would be more efficient for us to collect hides, and ship them to a tanner with an established facility than it would be to build your own. We will let you treat hides so they won’t rot on the way to the tannery, but you won’t be processing them into leather unless we end up with a lot of extra labor to build a tannery. Labor will be in short supply, since we’ll be building cabins and preparing to winter along the road.”
When the tanner seemed disappointed, the lieutenant cheered him up by telling him that, like the other crafters, the militia would purchase all of his available non-exotic stock for standard rates. Then it was my turn to make my case.
“Allen, walk with me back to the inn, we’ll talk on the way.”
“Yes, sir.” I walked beside him and matched his pace.
In a patient voice, the lieutenant spoke. “Allen, I want to be very clear here. I know pigs are smart enough to learn tricks, but I’ve never heard of trained pigs doing useful work. If you bring your pigs and they are a drain on our resources, they will be slaughtered for food.”
I had been expecting this conversation, so I only got a little upset at the bluntness of the threat. “Sir, my family have literally been breeding forest swine for intelligence and tractability for thousands of years. Even though we do breed them with farm pigs now and then to keep from inbreeding, any swine we keep are far and away more intelligent than most dogs. A very smart dog might be close, but most dogs are dull in comparison to our swine.”
The lieutenant looked skeptical, but nodded. “Will you be able to keep them under control in camp? The only restraints we can reliably offer are reins or neck leads, like we would use for horses or cattle.”
Granpa said it was mine, I hope he doesn’t get upset. “My swine will accept restraints, but they are normally penned. I have a carriage that can have the sides converted into a pen under the carriage in a few minutes time.”
“You have draft animals to haul the carriage? Carriages aren’t efficient for hauling cargo, we won’t give you draft animals.”
“It’s a small, light carriage, sir. My larger swine can haul it. I won’t need draft animals.”
“Allen, I’ll be honest with you, I want to say no. The border is very wild, and we won’t be able to send anyone into the woods to guard you if something wants to attack your pigs.”
I held my tongue, despite thinking, I’m the experienced trainer here and I’ve been saying swine, and you keep saying pigs. Why?
“There isn’t much around here that will attack a group of swine, sir. Swine are very capable of defending themselves. Even the largest black bears will normally avoid a sounder. Most predators wouldn’t hesitate to take a squeaker, but…”
“A what?” He paused. “Never mind. Small pig, right?”
Swine, not pig, I thought to myself. “Yes, a small swine, sir. Sorry to seem to be pedantic, but my family has been improving the bloodlines on our swine for a very long time. We differentiate between forest swine and farm pigs. Like dogs, mutts can breed with purebreds, but if you call a purebred a mutt in front of a dog breeder, they are probably going to correct you.”
The lieutenant chuckled under his breath. “I’ll try to remember, Allen, and it sounds like your… forest swine are a lot more like a pack of trained dogs than a bunch of… farm pigs.” He looked at me, and I smiled back at him for getting the words right. Then he continued, looking up and to his left me straight in the eye as we walked. “If I ask the Countyman, will he support your statements about what your swine can do?”
“He will, sir. In fact, I have four of my swine hitched to a small cart in front of his house now. The front of the Inn was a bit crowded, and I’d rather not risk putting them too close to horses when they are in harness.”
“Do your swine not like horses? That would be a problem.”
“That’s not it, sir. A horse might injure them in a press of animals. A bunch of horses side by side won’t hurt each other, but forest swine are just a lot smaller than horses, and if they are hitched, they can’t stay out of the way.”
The lieutenant nodded. I can see that. “We got off track a minute ago. You say that swine usually aren’t bothered by predators if they are in a group?”
I backtracked in my mind to where the conversation had diverged. “Yes sir. Swine are very powerful for their size, and boars especially, are extremely tough. Anyone who hunts feral farm pigs or forest swine will tell you that a man on the ground with an angry adult boar is dead if they don’t have a long spear and know how to use it very well.”
I looked at the lieutenant, and he nodded, saying “Yes, I’ve heard that boar hunting is dangerous.”
I was grateful that he at least knew that much. Even farm pigs are a lot better able to take care of themselves than most people think. “Most predators won’t stand up to a sounder of forest swine. They will chase predators off fresh kills or corpses.”
“Really? I’ve never heard that pigs…” He paused. “swine, would eat meat.”
“Yes, sir. Swine will eat anything we will, and then some that we won’t, sir. I don’t think there’s a vertebrate alive that can eat the same range of foods as a pig. They will eat grass, roots, corm, bark, bones, and anything humans can eat too.” I paused. “On a couple occasions last year, I commanded my boars to chase mountain lions away from fresh deer kills. Two adult boars against one mountain lion was a certain win for the boars every time, and the lions knew it.”
“You can command them to attack? Why did you teach them that?” He sounded very interested.
“A boar is a hell of a lot tougher than me, sir. I’d prefer to count on them in the woods.” Then I realized what he might be thinking. “I wouldn’t try to send a boar against a horse or draft animal, sir. Even a pony outweighs my boars by a lot, and they can kick very hard. I’d probably lose a boar and only lame a single draft animal, if that. I’d send my boars against a black bear before I’d send them against a draft animal.”
The lieutenant nodded. “Makes sense, I suppose.” He responded. “Go on? What about bears? I know there are bears around here.”
“We leave bears alone, because a single blow from the paw of a large adult black bear can break even a two hundred kilo boar’s neck. At the same time, bears normally leave healthy adult boars alone, because a boar can rip them up bad with tusks. The only thing I’m worried about in the woods is a big pack of wolves, and I’m not terribly concerned about them either. I have a sling, and I’m good with it. My swine trust me, and I’ve trained with them using predator pelts. If they smell a predator, they will quickly return to me, bump my legs, and then face in the direction of the danger. Then they will stay around me until I command them to stop circling me. I haven’t lost any of my swine to a predator yet, but it will probably happen sooner or later. Squeakers are light enough to be dragged away and big enough to be solid meals for solitary mountain lions and wolves.”
We were in front of the inn now, and walked up the stairs to the entrance. The lieutenant looked over at the Countyman’s house. “I see your swine hitched to the cart. They’ve been hitched since you first spoke to me?”
“Yes, sir.” I looked over at my swine, and, thankfully, they had apparently been behaving. They had clearly heard me already, and were looking my way. They were certainly bored, and there was nothing to root for in the gravel driveway.
“Bring your team and cart over here. I’ll go get your issue backpack, and wait for you.” The lieutenant waited for me to respond.
I nodded. “Yes, sir.” Then I walked off the porch of the inn and over to the Countyman’s house.
I thanked the Countyman for allowing me to hitch my swine in his driveway. He offered me a drink of water, which I refused, explaining that the lieutenant was waiting for me and wanted to see my team of swine. His eyes narrowed a bit then he nodded, but didn’t ask me any questions.
As I drove the swine team and small cart over to the inn, I saw Captain Marko, and both lieutenants were standing on the porch. Next to Lieutenant Baker was Riko, the four of them were talking between one another. Seeing all three officers probably waiting to speak to me made me nervous. Riko’s presence helped me keep calm though. He seemed relaxed, which probably meant I didn’t need to worry about the upcoming conversation, as long as I kept my temper.
Riko caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up, out of view of the three officers.
I pulled the cart up to the hitching post, hopped off, and then fed each sow a treat. I looked up at the officers. “If you don’t mind I’d like to take them off the cart, briefly, to let them all water at the trough here. I was going to water them at the river and see if there were any acorns on the ground yet, but if I have to get the carriage ready tonight, I don’t have time for that.”
Captain Marko smiled. “Go ahead. We’ll just watch until you get them watered and hitched again. I’ve never seen cart-trained swine before.”
The fact that all three of them were watching me, and had obviously been talking about me with Riko as I brought the cart over made me nervous. Lieutenant Davis chuckled – knowing me, I’d telegraphed my nervousness to everyone with my facial expression. I figured he had told Captain Marko that I had objected to calling my swine pigs, and Captain Marko was having a little humor at my expense.
Fortunately, my swine behaved. A few neck scratches and harness inspections later, all four sows were lined up, grunting deep in their throats while happily drinking from the trough. When they stopped drinking and started looking around at the ground, obviously looking for food, I took them back and hitched them, before giving them another treat.
“OK. Thank you for letting me tend to them.” I said, sincerely. They hadn’t bothered me or said a word the whole time I was tending the sows.
“I’ve seen good horse teams less well behaved than your swine, Allen.” Captain Marko said, before continuing. “Sergeant Gonzalez says he knows…”
My mind tripped over the word. Sergeant? That’s a military rank, isn’t it? I looked at Riko, and he shook his head slightly, and pointedly looked at Captain Marko.
Captain Marko had caught my attention shift to Riko, frowned, and was about to say something when I looked back at him with my full attention. After a moment, he started again. “Sergeant Gonzalez says he knows you well, and will vouch for everything you said about what your swine could do, except that he’s never seen you command them to drive predators off fresh kills. With this demonstration, and with his recommendation, please bring your swine and carriage. I’m going to direct the doctor we bring along to work with you as well. If your swine can find things by example, there might be some things in the woods that he will want you to keep an eye out for as time goes by.”
“Yes, sir.” I replied to Captain Marko.
Lieutenant Davis tossed me the issue backpack and said “See you in the morning, Allen.”
“Yes, sir.” I said again, this time to Lieutenant Davis, and then I dropped the backpack into the bed of the cart.
The three officers turned to go in, and Riko spoke to Lieutenant Baker as she turned. “I’ll be in shortly, ma’am, I’d like to pass a message to my family through Allen.”
The lieutenant nodded. “Be quick, please, sergeant. We need to be on the road to the border as soon as possible, and there are plans to finalize.”
“Understood, ma’am, I’ll be quick.” Riko said as he walked down the steps to me. When he reached me, he looked at me seriously. “You’re risking a lot, but if it works out, it will be a good thing for you and your family both.”
I nodded. “Figured I should get my swine off the farm. Zeke’s swine will have more to eat, and the family too, even if mangel beets are not that tasty. If the late planting comes in poorly, most of my swine would be sold off before any of Zeke’s. His swine are better trained, older, more experienced.” I shrugged. “You had a message to pass to your family? You aren’t going to see them before you leave?”
Riko shook his head and handed me a folded piece of paper. “Too busy to go home. Give this to my wife, and tell her I love her and for her to wish me luck. We already discussed it last night, and she’s expecting to get a note rather than a visit.” He took a deep breath. “Last night, I did my best to try to figure out what the militia would be doing, and I guessed well enough that I don’t need to go home. My saddlebags have everything I need, and I brought my bow. I impressed the officers here with my readiness, and they drafted me in to be Lieutenant Baker’s sergeant.” He winked at me. “The fact that I’ve extensively studied the land around the border while your Granpa and I were figuring out where to do a first homestead for you and Marza helped too, especially since I brought the original maps. They have maps too, of course, but having my own just impressed them more.”
All of a sudden it struck me. He planned this, to be a sergeant. “Does anything ever happen to you that you don’t plan for, Riko?”
He slapped me on the shoulder and grinned. “That’s sergeant to you, young man.” He paused. “In all seriousness, I try my best to not count on luck. When I was a young man, luck made me rich enough to buy a large farm and pay for a little help getting started, but I made that luck. I researched ancient maps and found references to places that were once inhabited and very difficult to get to. Then I went and explored those sites based on topographical data, looking at places where I, myself, would have built a house. I got lucky after sixty-three failures, and almost missed what I did find. Yes, it was really a motor. An honest-to-goodness motor.” After a long look at me from a face that suddenly appeared far more worn and aged than normal, Riko turned away from me and walked up the stairs. “If there’s a chance that I’m going to have to kill people to keep my family from harm, I’d rather have some say in what happens.”
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