Chapter 11

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Doctor Sten pursed his lips and thought for a second.  “No.  That can’t happen right now.  We can’t interrupt our movement for some sort of a disciplinary hearing.”

“But…” I tried to break in.

The doctor kept speaking, not even acknowledging that I had tried to break in.  “After we stop for the day, you might be able to get the lieutenant’s attention.  I wouldn’t suggest it.  Not tonight – unless you think you or your swine are in immediate danger.  The officers are herding cats right now, trying to keep everything together.  What we are doing now is at least as important as the year-end cattle drive to market.”  His eyebrows drew down a bit.  “Or a harvest.”

I started to speak again bit didn’t even get a word in.  “Stop.”  He stared into my eyes for a second, and there was a hardness there that I hadn’t seen before, but didn’t seem out of place.  He held up a hand, and my eyes tracked to the hand.  The index finger raised.  “You said he has relatives that seem to be trying to contain him to some degree.”  He raised the middle finger.  “I am going to be around you during most waking hours.”  The ring finger was next.  “You will be sleeping in this carriage, which will itself be parked inside the guarded part of the camp, near the rest of the supplies and the officers’ tent.”  With a tight, very brief smile, he raised his pinkie finger.  “And I’ve already said no.”

I stood there for a moment before realizing that he was certainly right, and even if he weren’t right, he was an officer.

Doctor Sten didn’t hesitate, however, slapping me on the shoulder lightly before I could fully complete my thoughts.  “Put the staff away and get the carriage turned around so we can move out with the rest.”

I nodded, untied the reins from the fence and carefully juggled staff and reins as I climbed up onto the carriage’s bench.  Once I was standing on the footboard, I set my staff in the wood and leather cup that would normally be used to fit a second lantern post, a flag or marker on a pole, or a sunshade if I ever decided to make one.  It would work nicely for keeping my staff handy as well.

Before I could turn around to offer a hand up, Doctor Sten slapped the pillow he’d bought from Innkeeper Cambel onto the bench before pulling himself up as well, moving a bit stiffly, with a grimace but without hesitation.  His moderately round stomach was more visible as he climbed up the side of the carriage, surprising me a bit – he hadn’t seemed to be carrying extra weight before.  Completely out of nowhere, a thought struck me as I watched him climb.  He’s roughly Granpa’s age.  I wonder how different things would be if Granpa hadn’t lost his foot.

I watched him, ready to offer a hand if needed, but there was no need.

He smiled, this time with humor in his eyes, as he adjusted the pillow with one hand as he turned to sit.  “My backside and hips hurt from the ride yesterday, but I’m not crippled yet.”

“Apparently not.” I replied.  “I don’t reserve help for cripples though.  If a hand up next time makes it hurt less, ask for it.”

He nodded, though he didn’t answer.  He didn’t seem upset either.

I twitched the reins and watched the team, especially Hoss and Bigboy who were less commonly used in harness.  The swines’ ears all twitched, listening for the new command, which I supplied.  “Walk”

Since they would never be ridden, I did not train my swine to follow rein-only commands.  That was mostly because swine harness didn’t include anything in their mouths.  The reins attached to their harness across the back, and were only used to make sure everyone was paying attention before the verbal command was given.  The only command they would follow without a twitch of the reins first was ‘whoah’.  That command was even more uniform than horn calls on farms.  People might train their animals to respond to directional and speed changes in harness to other words or even whistles and clicks, but everyone taught their harness or riding animals to come to a full stop with the ‘whoah’ command.  My swine were no exception.

I realized then that there was another reason I’d been trained to teach the swine to respond to rein-indicated commands when in harness.  The animals behind the carriage would ignore the commands, even if they were harness trained.  The thought of either Hoss or Bigboy being behind the wagon and trying to respond to turning commands given to a team in front of the carriage brought a chuckle at first.  Then the chuckle died with a sober realization that they would damage the carriage suspension or even collapse the wheels sideways and tumble the carriage if the command was at more than a slow walk, especially if the carriage was loaded.

Doctor Sten was watching both me and my team with obvious interest as I drove, but said nothing.

“You can talk while I’m driving, as long as you don’t use command words when I flick the reins.” I volunteered to him.  “They probably won’t respond to a verbal command from you, even if you timed it right, without some familiarization, but if you say it at the right time…” I shrugged.  I didn’t need to explain it all to him, if he came from a ranch.

He looked behind us, where the swine following us on their leads would be visible.  “I see.  Rein-triggered commands make sense if you trail harness-trained animals behind you.”

It took me several years to recognize that, and he picks up on it in a few seconds, I thought to myself a bit grumpily as I flicked the reins and said “stand.”  The swine in harness slowed to a stop.  They wouldn’t move again.  We were now prepared to follow the rest of the militia wagons.

I hoped there wouldn’t be too much dust.  My swine were closer to the ground than horses.  They were also less prone to issues with dirt and dust in their lungs considering the amount of time they spent rooting in the dirt, but if there was a lot of dust, they would still suffer some.

There was a good bit of staring in my direction, and a couple people approached and questioned me, briefly, about the carriage and swine before returning to the groups they had come from.  Some people that approached, I knew, some I didn’t.  Other than students I’d been in school with, I mostly only knew the names of people from the marina, from the north road farms, and people I’d interacted with in town.  I knew most of the families, of course, and could differentiate between their members based on appearance in most cases.  Harvest festival brought everyone together where people could be seen and remembered, even if it didn’t teach everyone’s names to everyone else.  My being very tall, with red hair, and very differently shaped than what was locally typical, I was different enough that almost everyone knew me by name.  It was annoying at times, but I’d long since grown used to it.

The staring eventually mostly stopped as people approached with their questions, which were mostly utilitarian, and returned the answers to the groups that they had been asking questions for.  After explaining that the carriage was meant as storage and temporary living quarters for swineherds who needed to move around or travel a great distance, I got a lot of speculative looks.  Most of those looks didn’t lead to further questions, but some did.

“Why doesn’t your brother Zeke have one of these carriages, Allen?” I was asked by a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper braided hair and beard.  I was fairly sure he was part of the Carter family.  “He’s told me that he can’t go farther south, even though my cousin has expressed an interest in having him and his swine work his fields.  A carriage like this would let him travel farther, and overnight.”

I had asked that question myself, after the shock of being given the carriage, and the answer was simple.  “Zeke already has all the business he can keep up with, while also helping us on the farm.”  I shrugged.  “If some people closer to us chose to stop doing business with him, he’d probably expand the area he works in, and then a carriage like this might make sense for him.  Also, between small families and injuries, our farm has been short of family field-capable labor for a very long time.  Zeke spends a good bit of his time helping at home.  We need him there.  If Edward and Jan, and Zeke and whoever he ends up marrying have several children like Ma and Pa did, that might change.”

The man thought for a second, and nodded.  “Fair enough.  Are you moving south, or north?”

Clearly he was hoping for south, and close to his family, but that wasn’t the plan.  “North, perhaps eventually into New Tokyo, depending on what happens.”  I stopped and raised both hands a little, twisting my wrists to put my palms up, and looked from side to side.  My partner in conversation nodded after a slight hesitation.

After a moment of awkwardness, I continued.  “Abe or Molly might have a knack for handling swine and go that way, but there is another Rickson family farm a couple counties south of here who have swineherds.  Expanding back towards them would be pretty rude of us.  We’re the northernmost family who still does swineherding.  We have to let them have a little room to grow, too.  If they leave the swineherding business though, it might happen.”

He nodded, and thought for a second.  “I thought Zeke said once that he was seeing someone in town?”

I smiled.  He had picked up on my hint that Zeke was unattached.  “He and Dana broke up a few months ago.  She wouldn’t leave town life, and he wouldn’t give up farm life.  He and Rosa Gonzalez were sweet on each other for a while after that, but then started arguing a lot and haven’t spoken for a while.”  I had been very, very glad that Rosa and Marza were not sisters when that debacle had happened.

I was almost laughing as Mr. Carter turned away, clearly thinking about Zeke being unattached, and wondering if, perhaps, a female relative of his might be a good match.  A family connection or marriage could justify Zeke moving south and potentially encroaching on the expansion of the other Rickson family’s expansion.  Zeke might even do it, in a couple years, if Granpa, Abe, and Molly stayed healthy.  It would be a hard sell though.  He’d have to marry a woman in position to inherit land, or he’d never move off our farm.  Otherwise, he’d expect her to come to live with him, since he would inherit, but Mr. Carter or his cousin would probably try to use the marriage to move Zeke down south to better service his family’s farms.  We had generations of labor invested in the facilities we used for the swine, and Zeke was going to inherit the several acres of land that those facilities occupied unless something happened to him or he did something phenomenally stupid.  I hoped Mr. Carter read the situation right and didn’t offer Zeke any insult, if he did have a female relative that Zeke could get along with well enough to marry.

After Mr. Carter left, nobody else approached, and I set the reins in their holder and waited.  The militia officers had been so insistent to have us here early in the morning.  They said it was important that we get to the border quickly.  Doctor Sten had said the officers were too busy to talk to me about Rikard.  I looked at Doctor Sten as he scanned the people around us, but said nothing.  He’d made it very clear that I would be waiting until at least tonight to see if I could get that issue addressed.

Hurry up.  Hurry up.  Wait.  I thought to myself, wondering if all militaries were dysfunctional about time management, and decided that they really couldn’t have been.  The ancients had been far too efficient at killing each other to waste time like this.  We were just incompetent and wasteful at the whole military thing because we’d never done it before.

I found Rikard in the crowd, and looked in his direction, but not directly at him.  I’d see it if he moved, but it wouldn’t look like I was staring at him.  Satisfied that I’d be able to react if he were stupid enough to start something with the doctor sitting on the bench next to me, I tried to force my mind to consider something to keep it busy.

My most recent conversation had brought up something that I could think about for a while, so I let myself fall into thought about moving west.  Granpa had mentioned the option, but it still wasn’t entirely certain how well the new farming communities there were going to do.  The road construction for a second band of farming communities west of us had only started a few years ago.  Most of the farms were small, and would have little use for swine field labor for a few more years until they cleared more land and started growing more than they needed for themselves.  Abe or Molly might go that way in about eight to ten years, to farm or to be swineherds.  It was even conceivable that Marza and I might move back into that area as opposed to moving farther north if relations with New Tokyo went seriously bad in the long term, but that would shrink the family’s growth options.  New growth should always be directed in the direction where there was the greatest room for growth, if possible.  For me, the first adult to leave the farm for generations, that was north.

Rikard hadn’t moved.  In fact, nobody was moving yet, other than a dozen or so townsfolk running back and forth between the wagons and militia members, carrying papers.  Most of the paper-carriers were going to and from Quartermaster Brown who was rapidly flipping through a huge, accordion-like leather folder and comparing his documents to theirs before signing papers, so the documents were probably receipts and bills for goods the militia had requisitioned.  Captain Marko was on a horse in front of the Countyman’s porch, speaking to the Countyman who was standing on the porch – probably so he didn’t have to look up so much to speak with Captain Marko.  People in authority tended to not like to look up when they spoke to you.  The two of them didn’t seem to be animated in their discussion, so my eyes drifted past them and back to the people around Rikard, who still hadn’t moved.

Doctor Sten followed my glance, apparently seeing something in my expression, and was about to say something when I turned my head slightly and focused my glance on a group of schoolchildren, still keeping Rikard in my peripheral vision.

That’s what we’re doing this for.  I thought to myself, knowing it was silly.  The ‘children’ I was watching was a group of older students who were supposedly doing exercises between classes, but were mostly staring at the militia as we waited to move.  None of them were more than four years younger than me.  Still, for all intents and purposes I was an adult after having graduated school.  My sixteenth birthday would seal me into full adulthood, but I felt like I was already there.  I hoped to have children of my own within a couple years.

With no activity yet, I allowed for my thoughts to wander as I watched the students pretending to exercise as they were watching us.  Population growth on Nirvana was generally slow.  Families as prolific as the Gonzalez family were as rare as families like my own, where there were barely enough children to replace the adults.  Despite families averaging a birthrate around five children per two adults, childhood illnesses and injuries claimed many, especially in rural areas.  Severe allergies, like what my parents thought I might have had, were extremely rare but not entirely unheard of.  If the history books had it right, the vast majority of deadly allergies had ceased to express within twenty generations after technology was taken from us.  Humans had never edited the genes that expressed most allergies because it was far easier to simply suppress the reactions with implanted devices.  When human medical technology was no longer available to suppress severe allergies, nature took over and suppressed them permanently. Severe shellfish and nut allergies were two examples given in genetics class; deadly allergies that were once common, but now almost nonexistent.

There were those who pointed to the improved basic health of humanity as something that we should be grateful to Albert to, as a race.  There was certainly some validity to that, but I’d never been able to subscribe to the idea wholeheartedly.  Maybe my imagination was just too good.  I couldn’t help but imagine over two hundred generations of mothers and fathers watching children dying of anaphylaxis while Albert withheld the medical technologies that might have saved them.

Is Albert human enough in how he thinks to have a conscience?  I wondered, before realizing I was going off into thoughts about things that were useless to contemplate.  I shook my head and tried to focus on something useful, but what could I focus on?  I didn’t have anything to do, other than wait, and Doctor Sten seemed content to simply watch people.

Going back to think about my conversation with Mr. Carter, I started thinking about how the family would expand if Ma’s family predisposition for a lot of children carried more genetic weight than Pa’s family tendency to have few children.  It would certainly be interesting to see the Rickson family grow large and expand both in individual farm sizes and in where we lived throughout the world.  I frequently envied Marza for the huge family she had.

Still bored, my mind went off on a tangent.  Most of the population of Nirvana was in a narrow band around the inner sea.  Farming communities without nearby towns to serve as a hub of activity were very rare, and towns more than a hundred kilometers inland were almost unheard of.  There were two states with very rich agricultural land and towns more than a hundred kilometers inland.  Second Landing was one such state.  Landing, on the other side of the inner sea and farther south, almost equatorial, was another.  The two landings had both been chosen by the original colonists because they occupied vast river valleys.  According to the history books, the two landings had, at one time, provided the majority of all agricultural needs for a world population of millions.  The machines of the ancients had performed unthinkable amounts of labor to improve upon the arable land around both landings, creating an incredible network of canals designed to both provide flood protection and allow for barge transport.  Even the ancients had appreciated the convenience of using water and gravity to transport heavy loads, and a lot of that canal network was still useful today.

I really wish I had something to do.  I thought, irritated.  Couldn’t they have given us some sort of documents about soldier-y stuff to read to keep our minds busy?

That was when I realized that I’d been sitting, staring at people, letting my mind wander, when my mother’s unread letter was sitting in the pouch over my shoulder.  I’d forgotten it in the excitement earlier.

Apparently just being close to Rikard turned me into an idiot, briefly.  I thought as I slapped myself on the forehead and reached into my pouch to pull out the folded pages.

Doctor Sten’s head turned to me with a rapid, birdlike motion as I slapped myself. He then smiled and turned his head away as I pulled the papers out of my pouch.

I checked to see if Ma had written on both sides of the papers.  She had, so I leaned forward a little and held the papers between my thighs so I could read without Doctor Sten seeing what she had written.  Pa had known what Ma would be telling me in this letter, and Granpa had too, apparently.  What Ma had said and Pa’s clear worry about it told me it was something that I’d at least want to read before risking people in authority seeing it.  Realizing that there was a militia officer sitting right next to me made me realize I had been an idiot, again.  I considered putting the pages back in my pouch, but that would probably look extremely strange to Doctor Sten, and he didn’t seem to be a nosy sort.  Just very keenly aware of what was going on around him.

So many people that I’m meeting recently who are older than me seem to be so much more aware than I am, I thought, briefly irritated.  Is it a good thing that I’m noticing this now, or am I slow, and should have really noticed it years ago?

I dismissed the thought after quickly concluding that it was clearly a good thing to be more aware, and I had obviously been slower than I could have been to realize how aware other people were.  I was also repeating my thoughts on the matter, as I’d had a discussion about this very thing with Granpa the other day.

I bent my head to read Ma’s letter.



Before I write anything else, I am going to say once again how much your Pa and I love you and how proud we are of you.  That’s been made pretty obvious in our parting, I’m sure, but this can be a little reminder of that.

Saying goodbye again is not what this letter is about though.  This letter is about keeping you alive.  You know, at this point, that I came from a family of fighters, and was, in fact, myself a fighter.  You know that I knocked out my first fiancé because he cheated on me.  That doesn’t tell you the whole story.

There have always been people who enjoyed competing against one another in sports that resemble fighting.  We are called martial artists.  I suppose I should say ‘they’ instead of ‘we’ since I’ve left that group because of my lack of self-control.

“What?” I blurted out, almost dropping the papers.

I read it again, and it said the same thing.  I remember trying to imagine that, questions shot through my mind rapidly.  Sports that resembled fighting?  Did you score points for hitting people?  What if you hurt someone?

I continued reading where I’d left off.

I am smiling as I write this now, imagining your confusion, and will answer the questions that I imagine you will be having.  Hopefully I will answer all your questions, but I probably won’t.  You’ll have to ask me when you get back, if I miss any.

Do not send me letters about this in the post.  Martial artists are considered to be fighters by anyone except other martial artists, and people like me have contributed to that perception.  For us to be caught consulting with one another about martial arts would start so many rumors that I’d rather just not have to deal with.  That being said, you will probably want to destroy this letter.  The last page is a real teary letter that you can keep.  It won’t be the end of the world if someone else finds this and reads it, but it will be annoying and disruptive.

Martial artists spar.  They do not fight.  When sparring, they wear heavy padding on the joints, head, feet, and fists.  Very highly trained martial artists sometimes use padded staves or even improvised weapons.  The object of a sparring match is generally to either strike a blow that knocks the other down, or force them out of a defined area, with the winner of the match succeeding in one of those two things either twice out of three or three out of five times.  Injuries can happen, but they are rare.  Typically, a sparring match only lasts a couple minutes, and a large part of martial arts is learning how to avoid and absorb blows.  It’s not all about hitting people, and blades and points are never used.

Right now, I suspect you’re either thinking I am insane, or extremely interested in what I have to say.

The page ended a little shy of the bottom, which was oddly wasteful.

Can I think both?  Ma’s a little insane and I’m very interested? I thought to myself, with a little smile.  I’d been prepared for this, at least a little, by Ma’s revelation about knocking out her fiancé, but this was nearly unbelievable, like the absurd mystery short stories we used in Primary class to learn to read when we were young children with short attention spans.  I read everything up to the bottom of the page twice before flipping to the next page, carefully.

One thing that martial artists have done for the last several thousand years is maintain a verbal tradition.  We/they do this because the earliest practitioners found that Albert was removing instructional manuals for a lot of different styles of martial arts from public and private collections.

In the very beginning, even Albert was not fully aware of how tenacious a human verbal tradition could be, because no humans in recorded history had been forced to embrace verbal traditions as the most accurate means to preserve their knowledge.  He has always allowed the existence of martial arts style manuals, but would provide them when requested after they mysteriously disappeared from public and private collections, and even then only if requests were made with the complete title of the book and the full author’s name.

When confronted about the fact that other knowledge could be retrieved with far less exacting requirements, Albert simply stated that for as long as humans remembered the names and authors of the human literature that predated his existence, he would be certain to continue to provide access to them.  Works subsequent to his existence would have to be protected and maintained by humans.  It was very clear that he was attempting to encourage humans to lose the knowledge of martial arts, while providing as few options as possible for people to rediscover the knowledge.  No manuals were ever discovered in the worldly possessions of any deceased master, no school ever had the manuals available, and only rarely could any martial arts style manual be found in a public library.

After realizing the fact that we were using a verbal tradition successfully, Albert began watching martial artists far more closely than other humans.  To be fair, to the best of our knowledge, he never falsified any accusation about violence.  He watched martial artists directly, with tiny machines protected from insects by glass and carbon.  He did seem to understand the difference between fighting and sparring, and never gave an infraction when we sparred, even if there was an injury in a sparring circle.

If a martial artist causes any physical harm to another with intent to cause harm, they are almost immediately warned that they were under strict and close supervision because of their status as a martial artist.  If they want to be removed from strict and close supervision, they are advised that they need to stop learning and teaching martial arts, and stop communicating with the martial arts community.  I can attest to those last parts.  I had that talk with one of Albert’s tiny little glass and carbon machines less than a minute after I knocked out Paul, and I agreed to Albert’s terms.

Albert has nearly succeeded in wiping martial arts from the collective memory of humans, despite the verbal tradition, through propaganda and strict enforcement of violence laws on martial artists.  We have little if any support in the world community; anyone who is not a martial artist is almost certain to immediately be frightened of anyone who claims to be one.  Several of my family have been martial artists, and a lot of them refused to give up the practice when Albert caught them in petty acts of violence that most people would simply ignore.  Before I left the martial arts community, there were less than three hundred martial artists left outside the prison colonies that we were aware of, throughout the entire world.  Most of them were older, with no students because Albert had scared their students off after their first post-adult violence infraction.

By my agreement with Albert, I’m not supposed to teach martial arts or the verbal tradition, and I will not.  This isn’t to say that I value my agreement with Albert more than I value your safety, son.  If I had known a couple months ago that your life would be at risk now, you and I would have been sparring by now and hang Albert!  However, two days simply isn’t enough time to do more than confuse a new student.  Nor am I going to give you the names and authors of any martial arts texts or style manuals so you can demand them.  You don’t have time to learn them.  It takes weeks to learn even the most simple basics, and months to learn enough to be allowed to spar.  Finally, sparring isn’t fighting.  If can be a sound foundation for fighting from what the verbal tradition tells us, but it is not real fighting.

Now, after telling you what I won’t do, I’ll write down what I hope I can do.  Below, I’ve given you several scraps of knowledge that I thought of while I wasn’t sleeping over the last two nights, which will possibly be useful to you in a real fight.

First, cheat, and expect the other person to cheat.  Carry a pocket or pouch full of sand or loose dirt with you at all times, and be ready to step back and shield your eyes when they cheat.

Second, as I’ve already told you, watch the eyes.  When an untrained person fights, they will almost always give away where they will try to hit you by looking there with their eyes.  Even a trained person will sometimes give away their target after they’ve been hurt.

Third, to check if someone knows the eye-watching trick, the very first attack you make against someone, you should look at one part of their body, and attack another.  If they defend where you looked rather than where you attacked, that means you’re fighting someone who knows the eye-watching trick.

Fourth, watch the center mass of a fighter.  It’s not as clear of a signal as the eyes, but nobody can fake it.  The body always follows the belly-button.

Fifth, if the person you are fighting has demonstrated that they know to watch eyes, and you didn’t take them down with your first attack, they may attempt to hide their center mass movements with fast arm and leg movements that seem to indicate they will move one way, when they are actually moving in another.  Like I said above, watch the belly-button – where it goes, the body goes.  Always.

Sixth, without training, don’t try to trick someone who tries to fool you with fast arm and leg movements.  They are likely to read your center mass.  You’ll just get your arms and legs tangled up.  You are tall, so use your reach, and keep your distance.

Seventh, stay balanced.  Without far more training than even I ever got, you should never jump or lunge in a sparring match, not to mention a real fight.  Your center of mass becomes ballistic when you jump, and you cannot put force against the ground, making you less able to dodge an attack.  Lunging is almost as bad, it puts you terribly off balance.  If you miss a lunging strike, the person you are fighting probably won’t miss the easy target you just gave them.

Eighth, circle their injured leg.  For instance, if you injure someone’s left leg, walk around them to their left, your right, if you can.  For an opponent right leg injury, walk around them to their right, your left.  Doing this forces the opponent to plant their injured leg and twist their bad hip, knee and ankle, or, more likely, they will plant their good leg to rotate on and take careful steps backwards (where they can’t see) with their bad leg.  Walking around them to their good leg side lets them see what they will step with their bad leg, making it far less likely they will trip, fall, or further injure the bad leg.  You want to force an enemy with a bad leg to stress their bad leg and hope it will give out on them.

Ninth, if you have an injured leg, and someone tries to circle you like I described above, the best thing to do is make sure you are on the best stable footing you can find, with as few obstructions as possible, and switch how you move, planting legs randomly if you can.

Tenth, never assume the other person is actually as hurt as you think they are.  Even if you knock them down, assume they are pretending.

Eleventh, if you are severely overmatched by someone, are injured, and know without a doubt that you can’t win, pretend to trip and fall or collapse, drop your weapon close at hand, and hope the other person is careless.  If they are, try to finish them when they approach to finish you.

If you have read this, then either Albert really did stop watching me closely, or I’ve managed to convey information to you that doesn’t violate my agreement with him.  If he is still watching me and I did violate our agreement as he understands it, I have no doubt that somehow or another, you will never see these first three pages, and only see the fourth, sappy, weepy, heartfelt page that I included for you to let other people see.  That will probably confuse you to no end, considering what I plan to say before you leave, and how I plan to say it, so I’m sure I’ll hear confusion from you if I don’t get a talking-to about it first from Albert.

I love you.  Do your best.


I read and reread the entire letter several times, and committed the eleven rules to memory.

Still in something of a mental daze after verifying I’d memorized the rules; I carefully folded up the letter while it was still between my thighs, and put it back in my pouch.  I would check my recall when we stopped for the night, and then again in the morning after sleeping.  If I still had it right, I would shred the paper, soak it in water and feed a little of it to each of my swine.

I saw that Doctor Sten was not looking at me so carefully that it was painfully obvious that he was watching everything I did.  I wondered what he was reading in my expression, and figured that, at least this time, there was no way I was giving away what I was thinking.  That thought made me chuckle.

I couldn’t even believe what I’d read.  There was absolutely no way Doctor Sten could have any clue.  I wondered how much that was bothering him.  From the relaxation on his face that I saw after I chuckled, he’d been at least a little concerned about how I’d been reacting as I read.

I shrugged, and looked around.  Fifteen minutes of reading and memorizing and still no sign that we were ready to move.

I checked where Rikard was, again, and then settled my gaze on the door to the butcher’s shop, close enough to him to keep him in my field of view.

At least I have something useful to think about now, I thought, nervously, as I shifted slightly on the driver’s bench.

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13 thoughts on “Chapter 11

  1. I was going to ask a question about martial art but it was answered. So Albert don’t like them, not even if it is just sparring. I was wondering if someone had invented a martial art focused on incapacitating your opponent with as little lasting harm as possible, for the usage of the army and police for example. So I’m going to assume that while there is an officer school there are absolutely no permanent ground troop, otherwise they would be a little better at organizing themselves. And so far we haven’t seen any law enforcment.

    I wonder how that work? Have they never gotten any problem with someone who just didn’t cared about society? Prison time and prison island are laughable punishments if you are willing to kill those who would arrest you. If such a perso got a little lucky while learning how to kill he could become a true scourge, moving from town to town, hiding in the wilds, easily killing people because they’re just not used to real fighting…


    • Oh wait. Albert would put such a person on close watch and warn people if he got anywhere near other people wouldn’t he? Or maybe he would just give is position to the proper autorities and leave it to them to trap him.


      • Law enforcement officers are trained on how to subdue violent people in something that might be considered a very soft martial art, but are also carefully trained to use the least amount of force necessary to prevent injury to others. As long as they act with the intent to protect and defend others or themselves, as opposed to only wishing to do harm to the alleged violent criminal, they can fight. Law enforcement violence cases do get brought before Albert somewhat regularly, and sometimes law enforcement officers are taken out of the field and put in desk jobs because they acted with intent to harm, even if we, today, would accept their actions as acceptable.


  2. Hmmm, didn’t like this chapter much. A little too much ‘Tell’ and not enough ‘Show’ if you ask me. 😛

    The previous one was nice, introduced the first real antagonist, even if he’s not much of one yet. It add a bit of tension and drama that this story needed. A lot of the background info is probably not needed right now, and will be easily forgotten by the time any of the locations mentioned comes up. It also killed the bit of tension and drama that you had built up last chapter, so no rising graph of action for you! 😛

    I know you like to go into detail, and that’s find for interesting dynamic things like a farm, what the people on it are doing, ect. But this one really could have been edited down to half the size and had something interesting happen in it at the end as a little hook to keep us interested.

    Also, just a general criticism for the last bit of this post…

    I know it makes your characters more interesting and able to do subtle intrigue better, but you do have a habit of making all your important characters very, very, very observant and able to read subtle clues. I saw it a lot in your other stories too…

    You should perhaps try for more diversity in thought patterns and perception levels? You don’t have to be super-subtle-observant-clever-guy to be awesome and interesting. 😛
    You can also still be rational, smart and yet think differently, but I’m seeing the same characters and patterns of thought as your previous stories, its getting a bit… old? I mean, you do it well, but after how many words you have written in one style, you must be getting the urge to shake things up a bit?

    But in real life, most people are not usually that good at it due to the oddities of humanity. I mean, I’m rather unobservant myself so its hard for me to relate to the endless supply of people in your stories who see a small head nod and seem to know exactly what it means. In that position I would only be able to guess at the meaning, and just dismiss it as a simple nod meaning something vaguely positive.

    I find it impossible to be super clever like your characters. I can’t go, ‘oh this is a subtle insult upon my family’s honor’, because what if it isn’t?
    And what if I try to give someone a reassuring smile, but my face doesn’t move the way it should, so it looks more patronizing one? Would a super clever person like in your stories somehow be able to notice that I just had a face malfunction? Cus I have tried to look at my face in the mirror as I try out expressions, and believe me, sometimes they don’t look like you think they will.

    (I’ve heard a few storys from some nice people who found out that all along they had a natural ‘resting bitch face’ and that’s why people always would assume they were grumpy or act defensive when they came up to them for something innocent.)

    It’s a bit like Sherlock you know? In the books he is all brilliant, pointing out the worn purse and wear of the shoes to figure out some lady’s job or something. But it only seems to work because the author hides the fact that in reality, so many possible things can cause the same clues that its impossible to know for sure. Anyone else given the same clues, no matter how brilliant, would be able to come up with a few dozen good explanations each possibly true.

    Obviously its a bit too late to change your character plans, its just I was hoping for a bit of a change of pace with this new story, and so far it seems to be the same stuff as before. You haven’t really changed the writing style much from your Symbiote days.

    Eh, Sorry. I’m probably disappointed only cus I read your old stuff only within the last year or two and got caught up recently with the end of the Reject Superhero one. So to me, I’ve read a lot of words written in the same style, so I got jaded, or tired of it. Or something. Its probably just me… 😛

    But I’ll keep on reading anyways. I’m a book-a-holic and I cannot stop. 🙂
    But I hope that you do eventually get in a bit more diversity of thought patterns, in at least a few important side characters. Gotta have some dashes of opposing colour in that painting(word art?) of yours! 😀


    • I tend to try to write at least moderately intelligent characters. This story is intentionally designed to be in a rational style, which means that if I give the ‘idiot ball’ to anyone, I have to be very careful with it.

      If you want to see something I wrote that’s a little more emotional, it’s a crossover fiction but you can find it here. I’m afraid the characters are still fairly smart, but they are by no means rational.

      Yes, I do need to practice writing less observant characters. I have plans for that already 🙂


      • Nah, the rationality is fine. I love that part of it! Its just that rationality isn’t always combined with lots of genius, being super observant, or being unemotional. 😛

        I found that some of the female mom characters you wrote in this story are the ones I like the most so far. Probably because you just kept them a bit simpler and more… real? It’s hard to describe and I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m no word-smith.

        But no reason why you can’t be a simple, loving mother (or other), yet still be logical about doing whats best for your future or family. You don’t have to be smart to learn how to do the right (aka rational) thing, you just have to probably work harder at learning it. (Hufflepuffs are the best, everyone knows that.)

        Although I do think you managed to do a good combo of emotion, smarts, and rationality in this current main character of Allen. He’s still hotheaded, but tries to think things through when he can. Its pretty reasonable, with room to grow as he goes on the journey of life. Maybe a bit too much internal monologuing and exposition, but hopefully that slows down once the plot picks up.

        They are just all too darn observant! 😛

        Besides, everyone knows that if you make the protagonist more average, they become more relatable and easy to identify with, increasing reader satisfaction! The rational thing to do would be to doooo iiiiit~~~ 😛

        *spooky ghost noises* DooooooOOOOOoooo it!


  3. Thanks for posting the letter. This chapter helped fill-in many blanks.

    Normally, the period goes outside a single quote.

    school children
    usually: schoolchildren

    When sparring
    At least now
    Comma after each phrase


  4. I am curious as tot he blank spot on the end of the first page of the note. It screams out to me that Albert removed the last paragraph on that page


    • That is possible. It is also possible that Allen’s mother intended for there to be a pause in narrative at that point. A place where Allen could take a deep breath and think.


  5. Funny how the military basically has no idea how to run like a military because they’ve never had to do it. I can picture Allen being asked to do all these different things and them culminating into nothing because even the leaders are at a loss as to what to do.

    The letter from Allen’s mother helped tremendously to fill in a lot of blanks that you wouldn’t have gotten from the story if you hadn’t read the backstory page. I liked when you added that Allen paused after reading about the sparring and his mother being a martial artist. It adds to the whole incredulity of the world here. What, fighting?! Never heard of it!

    The letter was quite long. You can just imagine the cramped hands. But there’s a promise made there with a whole load of fighting to come.


  6. “two hundred generations of mothers and fathers” but thats roughly 100 000 years, this must be a mistake! It should be 20 genetations i.e. about a 1000 years.


    • Eh, a biological generation for humans is roughly twenty years. The media definition of a generation that we use can vary, but biologically, a definition of generation is the amount of time it takes for a creature to reach adulthood and have it’s own offspring. Humans can have generations as short as twelve years but socially we reject that. The Census Bureau only recognizes one generation with official dates. Baby Boomers, and they are born between 1946 and 1964.

      On Nirvana, legal adulthood is at sixteen years. Not everyone immediately has kids at sixteen, though in the farming communities, that is the norm. Most people start having children by twenty, if they are going to have children at all.

      I’ll take a look at it and clarify it a bit.


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