Chapter 17

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Captain Marko hadn’t stopped pacing since I explained what Ma had written in her letter, about Albert’s slow game of hiding martial knowledge and extorting martial artists to abandon their lifestyle.  “I am unaware of any sort of activity like this, directed at law enforcement.  Our training includes some training that really could only be called martial arts.”  He spun to face the tent entrance.  “Sergeant, have one of the guards get Fobi back in here.  I want her input on this.”

I heard Riko open the tent flap, and speak to one of the guards, and then I heard running.

Lieutenant Baker rubbed either side of her forehead with her thumbs, at the headache relief pressure points.  “I don’t understand how this isn’t common knowledge.  Albert doesn’t hide anything…”  She paused and winced.  “that we knew of.”  She muttered a few curses under her breath, encouraging anatomic activities that Albert certainly wasn’t capable of.

Nodding, Lieutenant Davis spoke softly.  “We know Albert has been playing a deep game for thousands of years.  Chances are good that he’s treating law enforcement almost the same as martial artists, but not interfering with us as openly, because we’re still needed to keep the peace, especially in the cities”

Riko coughed behind me.

Captain Marko looked up, with a pained look on his face.  “Say it for me, sergeant.”

Riko coughed to clear his throat.  “It’s a lot to take in, all at once, but if Lieutenant Davis is correct, you know that we’re probably being watched right now?  If Allen’s ma wasn’t editorializing in her letter, which I strongly doubt, having known her for over twenty years, then every law enforcement officer is almost certainly being monitored directly by Albert.”

My eyes shot wide open, and I stiffened, thinking to myself.  What have I done?

The lieutenants both stiffened as I did, turning their heads to stare at Riko, behind me.

Captain Marko just nodded.  “Somewhere on the moon, Albert is probably adjusting his plans as we speak.  If we make this public, it might set his plans for us back hundreds, or even thousands of years.”

“Sir.”  I started speaking, and then stopped, realizing I hadn’t asked permission.

“Go ahead, Allen.”  He nodded at me.

I swallowed, and looked down at my hands.  I was probably saying something obvious but nobody else had said it yet.  “We can’t just hide what Albert did, can we sir?  Not now that we know what he’s doing.  For as long as we’re an agrarian society with limited technology, we’re occasionally going to have periods of famine.” I wrapped my arms around my chest.  I felt cold.  “If we don’t actively attempt to maintain knowledge about how to effectively defend ourselves from other states…”

I looked up.  The grim expressions of the three officers facing me indicated that they agreed, so I continued.  “I had considered something like this already, but I thought that it was only going to be myself, and maybe some of my elder family that I was risking when I was going to tell you about the fighting rules Ma gave me.  I was going to pretend I’d just thought up everything on my own, and shield everyone I could.”

Riko muttered a curse under his breath, behind me.  “This is beginning to look like a loose thread in a knit sweater.  Do we really want to continue tugging at it?”

Captain Marko leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, staring up at the ceiling of the tent.  “Do we really have a choice, sergeant?  It has always puzzled me and everyone else in leadership roles why Albert actively dissuades any sort of world centralized government.  We could manage it far better than the Romans or Chinese ever did, between the prism tower network, the road system, and inner sea shipping.”

What?  I thought to myself.  How does that even?  Then it hit me, and I whispered.  “Are you saying that Albert is intentionally keeping us from working together too well?

Captain Marko pushed back his chair and stood, and turned so he wasn’t looking at us.  His voice was bitterly angry when he responded.  “Even Albert needs to test his work every now and then, I suppose.”

**

Fobi sat at the table next to me, clenching her fists in front of her tightly enough to blanch her hands and speaking in a quavering voice.  “I…  I don’t have anything to add to this discussion, Captain, sorry.”

Looking at Fobi’s clenched fists on the table in front of her, and then at her face, which was strained and pale, Captain Marko spoke gently.  “You took an oath to serve and protect, Fobi.”

She twitched, and looked down.  “I am not breaking that oath, Captain.”

“We’ve already explained what we have been able to piece together, Fobi.  I doubt that you’ve got anything Nirvana-shattering to add to that.”  He paused.  “A little confirmation would be useful if you can provide it.  Even though you were taken off patrol duty, you’re still part of the law enforcement system.  Confirmation that you had an experience with Albert similar to what Allen has told us about his ma’s recounting would help us be more certain in our understanding.”

Lifting her head back up into the air, Fobi met his gaze with her own.  “I’ve already given you my answer, sir.  Can I be dismissed?”

Captain Marko leaned forward without breaking eye contact, and lightly tapped her clenched fists with his right index finger.  “Yes, you have, and no, you are not dismissed.”

Fobi’s clenched fists whipped out from underneath the Captain’s finger and into her lap.

Sighing as he leaned back in his chair again, Captain Marko turned his right hand palm-up in front of him, indicating that he expected an answer.  “I would prefer your answer in words.  If Albert is monitoring us right now, he already knows we have some confirmation from you.”

Fobi started to stand, without permission.

Lieutenants Baker and Davis both started to stand, and I heard leather whisper behind me as Riko moved.

With a quick gesture of his hand to punctuate his statement, Captain Marko snapped out “No.  If she wants to leave, let her.”  He paused before starting to speak again.  “Fobi, if Albert is monitoring us closely and were willing to do something harsh and immediate, I’m fairly confident it would have happened at some time in the last hour.  I’ve already sent a prism tower message to the Stateman.  Even using fires for light, the message will have arrived by now.”

“If it’s going to arrive at all.”  Fobi spoke abruptly, angrily, still half-standing.  “Sir, I have two teenage daughters.  Even if my ex-husband has custody of them, I still get to enjoy their company often enough that I’m not risking a trip to the women’s prison colony unless we actually are forced to fight.  I will help you brainstorm offensive and defensive tactics and strategies so we can better defend ourselves from New Tokyo, but no more.”

Captain Marko and Fobi stared at one another across the table for at least ten seconds, before he sighed and said.  “Go ahead, mama bear, you’re dismissed.”

Mama bear? I thought to myself, as Fobi walked quickly out of the tent without a word.  I wanted to ask, but didn’t.

A few seconds after the tent flap fell shut, Riko cleared his throat.  “So, is she just scared because it’s sane to be scared, or is she scared because she had a conversation with Albert after she was taken off of patrol work?”

After shaking his head briefly and frowning, Captain Marko spoke while looking over my head at Riko beyond me.  “Fobi is, or I should say was, fearless.  I was her lieutenant when she was a street patroller.  I am absolutely certain she knows something that confirms at least part of what Allen has told us, and I’m also certain I won’t get more from her than what I’ve already gotten.”  He paused.  “It’s public record that she was taken off street patrol because she was unacceptably violent while apprehending four drunk men who were trying to rape a young woman.  Fobi had a troublesome record of being barely on the safe side of being too violent with some individuals that resisted arrest, especially in cases involving children or young adults.  If she had stopped when the men gave up, nothing would have happened.  Kicking them between the legs after they were no longer resisting couldn’t be ignored.  One of the men ended up needing surgery to save his life.”

My legs clenched together in an automatic response as my imagination provided details that I would have preferred to not think about.

Riko’s voice mirrored my thoughts.  “That explains the nickname, I suppose.”

“Indeed.”  Captain Marko sighed.  “I literally wanted to kick her myself when that got her taken off street patrol.  As distasteful as it was sometimes to see what she did to get results, the crime rate in my sector had plummeted in the two years she was on street patrol.”  He shrugged.  “That raises philosophical questions that really don’t have much importance right now.”

Standing, Captain Marko walked back to the small table at the back of the tent and poured himself a second whiskey, “Allen, I don’t want to say thank you for what you’ve told us, but I will anyway.”  He turned back to us, took the shot, and then slapped the glass down on the table.  His face twitched into a lopsided grin.  “I really wish I could have seen Stateman Urda’s face when she read my suggestion that we approach known martial artists and ask for a full list of all the titles and authors of their martial manuals so we can get copies from Albert.”  He snorted.  “Even better, we need to ask them for help establishing a law enforcement and militia verbal tradition like some sort of ancient human preindustrial tribe on Earth.”

Lieutenant Baker giggled briefly, and Lieutenant Davis snorted, but neither said anything.

Captain Marko shook his head, and walked around the table carrying the mostly-full whiskey bottle.  He handed it to Riko.  “Do not give that bottle back to me tonight.  Give it to Doctor Sven when we’re done here.  Tell him he’s in charge of the bottle until I say otherwise.  If it stays in the tent with me right now, I’m afraid it will be gone before tomorrow, and that won’t do anyone any good.”

Doctor Sven sleeps in this tent, doesn’t he?  I thought, before realizing that the captain probably wouldn’t dig through the doctor’s personal possessions to get whiskey he knew he shouldn’t be drinking to excess.

The captain turned away from Riko, towards me, and bent his right arm to point his thumb at the tent flap.  “Allen, you’re dismissed.  Go get some sleep.  If you think of any offensive or defensive ideas, write them down.  If not, don’t worry about it, you’ve more than pulled your weight tonight, and it’s getting late.”

**

I gathered my crutches and left the tent.  On my way back to my carriage, despite the very poor lighting, I managed to spot and avoid stepping in what had been Doctor Sven’s evening meal.  Absently, I made a mental note to bring the swine by and have them clean up the mess if nobody had taken care of it by morning.

After reaching the carriage, I wasn’t particularly hungry for food, but I was desperate for some sort of comfort and there was absolutely no way I was sleeping.  Opening the cabinet that held the pouch with flatbreads in it, I selected two and also pulled out the lap desk, some paper and a pencil from a shelf in the cabinet.

Writing a letter to Marza was relaxing.  Despite knowing that I was setting myself up for a lecture about crossing sunny rocks late in the day, I gave her a true accounting of what happened with the snake at the side of the road.  I also told her about how Riko and I had agreed to claim the land next to the river that the militia was clearing, and described the land.  After I explained that land on both sides of the road was being cleared, I described the land that would be across the road from us as well.

Letting Marza know that Riko was probably going to claim the land across the road for another young married Gonzalez couple would let her at least try to shape that decision.  She would, hopefully, be able to work behind the scenes to arrange for members of her family to be chosen for that land who would synergize skills and socialize with us.  Eventually, we planned to sell the first farm and move farther north into an area of established farms, where I could hire out my swine for extra income. Cutting trees was only the start of what needed to be done to create a working farm; nobody could be an expert at every needed skill.

As I wrote the last part of the letter with my more heartfelt expressions, I slowly peeled the wax off the two flatbreads, eating them in little bites so they would last longer.  Honey and persimmon preserves in one, caramel and mint in the other.  After one page, front and back, I addressed the envelope to Marza, and put the letter inside.  One benefit of militia service was that Marza wouldn’t have to pay to receive the letter.

I was still not tired in the least.  Looking out the window at the position of the moon, it appeared to be close to midnight.  With a sigh, I looked at the paper and considered writing to my family before brainstorming about how to kill people.

A part of my brain responded, telling me that Captain Marko had excused me from that duty, but I knew I’d do it anyway.  I wasn’t sleeping any time soon.

The front page of my letter to my family glossed over the whole snake encounter, carefully avoiding the details that would make Pa want to poke me in the chest and tell me to use my head for something other than a hat rack.  I was a lot more specific in terms of the land, the plants and trees, as well as the visible rocks and the fact that it appeared as if the land had been farmed long ago.  I told them that while marking trees that could provide forage, I had even found several piles of weathered paving stones with hints of mortar on them that had obviously been sorted and scavenged.  The stones remaining were strangely shaped, likely broken as walls fell, but they could certainly be used in new construction to fit odd holes in walls.  There was a tributary stream leading to the river, but it didn’t carry enough water volume for irrigation of much farmland.  It could, however, provide enough water for the swine and the house. That assessment was supported by clear evidence of what had once been a cistern for house water.

I didn’t want Ma to be dragged into the Albert mess if she could somehow still avoid it.  In my head, I knew it was almost certain that she would be approached because her verbal traditions would likely be at least a little different from the verbal traditions of martial artists in New Charleston.  In my heart, I simply wanted to pretend it wouldn’t happen.

In the end, I decided I would mention it in the next day’s letter.  If Albert was going to do something active to stop us, he would almost certainly make it happen soon.  If the captain got a response from the Stateman, and the rest of us didn’t mysteriously disappear tonight or tomorrow, I’d warn her in tomorrow’s letter.  That decision finally reached, I mentioned nothing at all about Albert, martial arts, or how the militia’s tactics knowledgebase had been lost.  I had never heard of any sort of vindictive streak in Albert, but the sheer scope of what he was doing to human society made me realize it was very unlikely I would ever hear of such a thing.

I wrote a short, personal comment for every family member, and then addressed the envelope and set it on top of Marza’s letter.

Then I spent at least an hour trying to figure out ways to attack our position, and how I would defend it.  That particular mental exercise was more excruciating than my first year of calculus had been.  I cannot even begin to explain the depth of my fervent hope that I was a terrible tactician, and someone else would have better ideas.

Eventually, I managed to come up with three methods of attack and defense, set aside my lap desk and managed to fall asleep.  By the position of the moon in the sky when I last remembered staring at it, I fell asleep at some time after two in the morning.

**

I woke to the scent of bread, and a knock on the door of my carriage.  Doctor Sven’s voice shattered what sleepiness remained.  “Allen, we need to get your leg into a soak if you want to be done before the tactics meeting this morning.”

“Yes, sir.  Give me a minute please.”  I rapidly threw off my blankets, put on a shirt, slipped on my moccasins, and grabbed the two envelopes and folded sheet with my ideas, putting them in my pouch.

There was a chuckle outside the door.  “It’s almost daylight, young man, sleeping in today?”

I groaned.  “Had a late night, sir, and then two letters to write followed by some extra work the captain asked us to do.  Even after all that, sleep didn’t come early or easy.”

Even through the carriage door, the doctor’s voice seemed tired, bitter, and frustrated.  “I suppose I cheated.  I wasn’t able to sleep at all last night.”  From his reaction to what we had discussed last night, it was no surprise he hadn’t slept.

Carefully arranging my words and my crutches as I opened the door, I emerged while speaking in a serious voice.  “I think, sir, that if I were a man of your calling, I wouldn’t have slept either.”

He stared at me for a moment.  “I would hope not.”  Then he turned away from me and started walking towards the medical building under construction.  “I’m certainly not going to be attending any tactics meetings in the future.  Strategy meetings are bad enough.  I don’t need to know what’s in the sausage.”  I saw him stiffen slightly, and then stumble and shake his head as he completed the sentence.

“Have they cleaned up the construction mess around the medical building, sir?” I asked, hoping for a negative.

“No, Allen.  It’s still quite a mess.”  He turned back to face me, speaking quickly.  “We won’t be inside the building.  The roof and shingles are being put on this morning.  I need to be there though, since I have several large pieces of cabinetry for storage that have to be unloaded from supply wagons, and the carpenters will be working with me on a few pieces of cabinetry for the centrifuges, as well as masons creating stoves for space heating and sterilization of water.”

Nodding to myself, I raised a finger.  “In that case, one moment, sir, I’ll bring my swine for cleanup duty.”  I quickly gathered leashes for the swine before releasing them from beneath the carriage.  Yesterday, I had seen that both the medical and kitchen buildings were surrounded with piles of rough-cut lumber, sod, branches, leaves, and bark.  Swine couldn’t eat lumber easily (and I was sure it wouldn’t be appreciated if they tried) but they would eat most of the rest of it with no problem, even if it wasn’t something that they particularly enjoyed.  I’d be able to watch them, and I could probably convince whoever was cleaning up to just drag all the construction detritus to the swine, as opposed to gathering it and dumping it somewhere farther away.

Doctor Sven thought briefly before nodding slowly.  “That makes some sense.  They will have to stay at least fifteen meters from the building though.  I don’t want swine scat tracked into the facility.”  He turned in the direction of the building and thumped his right index finger against his jaw.  “That distance won’t be a real problem though, since we can’t be in the building yet.  The soaking water is already heating and the trough is mobile.”

We walked past where the doctor had been ill the night before, and I saw where someone had used a shovel to turn the turf over and bury it.  Not very sanitary.  I didn’t even need to give a command.  Bigboy and Hoss were starting to root it out within seconds of me passing it.

“Doctor Sven, I’m going to let them clean this up, if that’s OK?  It won’t take more than a couple of minutes.”

Turning around briefly, the doctor grimaced and said “Fine.”

The other swine did not even try to push in on the two boars in such a small feeding area.  I watched them closely, to be sure they didn’t go after one another.  The turned over section of turf was almost a meter across, and about half a meter wide.  The two boars worked from opposite sides of the upended turf towards one another, watching each other carefully.  Before they got close enough to touch snouts, I called Hoss to me and fed him a half-treat.  When he tried to go back, I commanded him to lie down, and fed him another half-treat.  He enjoyed the treats, but was restless, looking up at me.  To distract him from what he was missing, I scrubbed Hoss’s neck vigorously with my fingers. When Bigboy finished cleaning up the mess, I turned around to follow Doctor Sven, calling the sounder after me.

Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting on an empty crate, and my leg was in a water boot suspended by ropes under a tripod.  I’d never seen a water boot; it was pleasantly simple and elegant.  We used hot compresses at the farm, which was simpler, but this was something that could be used by many people, and easily sterilized.  The inner boot was several centimeters larger in diameter than my leg, and filled with water.  The outer boot was several centimeters in diameter larger than the inner boot, and around two decimeters deeper.  It was about half filled with water.  I put my leg in the inner boot, and some of that water spilled over into the outer boot.  Then the doctor covered my leg and the inner boot with a heavy rawhide apron and poured boiling water from a skin into the outer boot until it was about three-quarters full.

The cold water around my leg quickly grew warmer when that was accomplished.  The fire next to me had a large number of water-heating rocks with holes through them.  Doctor Sven handed me a stout stick and told me to pick up the rocks one at a time with the stick, and drop them into the outer boot every couple minutes.  I was to keep the rawhide apron between my face and the boot when dropping rocks into the water.  Even stones that had been heated and cooled many times could sometimes fracture and throw fragments.  If the water in the inner boot got too hot, I had a dipper of cold water in a bucket next to me as well.

Doctor Sven made getting the swine fed easy.  I tied them to a couple nearby persimmon trees, and the doctor simply told the construction boss to have a couple workers take all the branches, bark, leaves, and sod over to the swine.  A man and woman were assigned to that job and started moving a steady flow of edible construction waste over to the swine.  When the two workers saw how quickly the swine were eating the waste, they started making a game of it, trying to bring material faster than the swine could eat it.  It wasn’t a fair competition.  The swine were very hungry, and there were eleven of them compared to two workers.  The other workers started making fun of the haulers, who were both around my age.  There wasn’t any hard feelings from the two haulers.  They seemed happy that they wouldn’t have to haul the trash to where the elefants were kept at night, which was much farther away.

When I was able to get the construction crew boss’s attention, I also mentioned that I was going to be carving spoons while I was cooking my leg.  At first, the she was a bit sour to me, apparently a little irritated because the doctor had simply ordered her to have her people feed my swine the construction trash.  I offered her team the first six spoons, one for her and five for the crew members she chose, and I’d repeat the same for every visit I made to cook my leg if her team would bring me thirty hand-length pieces of thumb-thick red cedar branches.  Making crude spoons wasn’t hard, but it did require a good knife and some time.  I had both, and I was good with a knife.  As a carpenter, I was average at best – but I was a good whittler, bordering on very good.  I’d been making my own whistles for years, experimenting with different woods and designs.

The deal was struck, one of the shingle-cutters used an adze to cut thirty pieces of hand-length red cedar from branches, and I started carving crude spoons.  I added a stone to the water boot for every spoon I carved.  Soon, thirty stones were in the deep bottom of the outer boot, and I’d only had to cool the water in the inner boot twice.  The thermal transfer from the water into my leg and through my body was strange.  I was sweating without exerting myself, in late summer morning temperatures.  Every wind gust made me shiver heavily because I was sweating.  I made a note to bring a second shirt or even a jacket to future heat soaking sessions.  Sweating in the cold was not smart for anyone, but especially not for me; I didn’t have the meat on my bones to insulate me.

While I was working on the second-to-last spoon, I saw Riko.  He saw me and waved before walking over to the doctor.  A few minutes after that, Riko walked from the doctor to me, starting to speak when he was several paces away.  “Allen, the doctor was pleased with the condition of your leg earlier and doesn’t want to re-bandage it or put another poultice on it unless it worsens.  After lunch, he will check the leg one more time, and give you willow bark tea if it looks good.  You have a few minutes before the meeting starts to put your swine under your carriage.  The doctor also said to use the water in the water boot to put out the fire.”

“Yes, sergeant.” I said, using his rank rather than name since there were quite a few people around.

Riko nodded and left, presumably to gather the others who would be attending the meeting.

I gave six of the thirty spoons I had made to the construction crew boss, as promised. After that, I quickly did everything else I had been told to do, barely managing to get the swine watered at the river and back under the carriage in time to avoid being the last one to the meeting.  I nearly threw away the abysmally slow crutches in frustration twice that morning as I took my swine to and from the river, but the leg still felt tender and painful.

**

“They wouldn’t write down my ideas.” Brad shrugged. “You said they would.”

He had said last night he wouldn’t help without concessions from Captain Marko.  If concessions had been made, I was fairly certain I didn’t want to know what they had been.

Lieutenant Davis had a pencil and paper ready already, taking notes.  “I’ll speak to the guards, captain.” He said while scribbling.  In the meantime, go ahead and tell us your ideas.  I will write them down.”

Brad leaned back.  “These ideas work for either side.  My first idea is simply to start a forest fire behind the militia, so they will be forced into the river where opposing side’s archers can pick them off.  If you can get enough lamp oil, you might even be able to put enough oil on the river to burn, which would eliminate the need for archers.  That seems like a stretch though.  The river here moves quickly, from what I’ve been told.”

Leaning back, a bit grey-faced, Lieutenant Davis looked at Captain Marko.  “On the other hand, I’m not entirely certain his guards didn’t have the right idea.  Do you really want me to record that in our minutes?”

Captain Marko was staring, shocked, at Brad.  After several seconds, he closed his eyes and muttered something to himself before continuing more loudly.  “Yes.  Be certain to attribute it to Brad by his full name and indicate why he was incarcerated.”  Then he opened his eyes and looked towards the tent entrance.  “Riko, I want patrols behind us as well.”

“Do you really think anyone from the New Tokyo side could possibly think of something that depraved, Captain?” Lieutenant Baker spluttered, red-faced.

“We don’t have a monopoly on violent prisoners, Lieutenant.”  He whispered, eyes locked on Brad.  “I can’t risk overlooking something that might work against us.  I don’t have to use it, but I can’t neglect defending against it.”

“I’m not done yet.” Brad said with a grin.

After a deep breath, Captain Marko said “Continue, Brad.”

Nodding with a malevolent grin that made me shiver, Brad continued.  “Flu season is coming.  The oh-so-comfortable portable cage you keep me in is close enough to the quartermaster’s wagons that I overhear conversations.  We brought centrifuges to spin out plasma from the first people who get the flu, to immunize the rest.  What would happen if we sent our first few flu cases over to their side of the river, with orders to mix heavily with the enemy side while attempting to hide their symptoms?”  He smiled a huge grin.  “Give them additional orders to destroy the centrifuges that the opposing side has, when they can no longer hide their symptoms.”

The idea was just so incredibly wrong that I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it.  Deliberately encouraging an uncontrolled flu outbreak?

Lieutenant Davis’s pencil snapped in his hand, and I saw blood.  His eyes were locked on Brad and he tensed up.

Brad was looking at the lieutenant with another of his seemingly unending supply of frightening smiles.  “The only reason I’m telling you about these things is because I don’t want them to happen to you, because that would mean they would happen to me.  I don’t particularly like the idea of burning to death in my cage, or dying from the flu.  I don’t plan on giving you any other ideas that you might actually use to win.”  His head swiveled to Captain Marko.  “Unless I get concessions.”

So the captain didn’t make a deal with him.  I thought to myself with a sense of thankfulness that hit me like a tidal wave.  I blew out a breath that I had been holding.

Fobi looked at me.  “You OK, Allen?”

“I am.  Now that I know Captain Marko isn’t giving him anything.”

Brad gave me a flat stare, with dead-seeming eyes, and then turned his face to the captain.

There was a muttering of agreement, even from Lieutenant Davis, who was pulling a large pencil splinter out of his hand.  It was a very good feeling to hear almost everyone in the room agreeing with me.

Even Rikard gave me a short nod without looking me directly in the eye.  The fact that he was agreeing with me soured my stomach a little, and I did my best to pretend I hadn’t seen.

Unfortunately, Captain Marko didn’t confirm that he would give Brad no concessions.  He only stared at Brad, and Brad stared back at the captain with no expression.

After a few seconds staring, Captain Marko spoke.  “Lieutenant Davis.  You will create a guard detail for the medical facility.  Work with Doctor Sven and the construction crew to ensure that the centrifuges will be in a separate room in the facility, and there will be a guard post between that room and the rest of the facility, with a guard in it at all times.  The guard will not leave their post for anything other than life-threatening situations.”

Brad seemed to have been waiting for the Captain to finish speaking, but as soon as he was done, he chuckled.  “Get me out of here.  The rest of you are pathetic.  When you realize that you can’t win this without me, the Captain will give me what I want.  I don’t even need to hear your ideas to know they will all be useless or impractical.  You aren’t tough-minded enough to realize you’re trying to fight another kind of locust here.  You insist on seeing them as people, so you won’t do what needs to be done to win.”

What was more frightening to me than Brad’s ideas was realizing that if we didn’t come up with better ideas, I would use Brad’s ideas to save my family, Marza’s family, and everyone else I knew in other farms and in town.  I started feeling sick to my stomach and looked down at my clenched hands in my lap.

Suddenly, I looked up at Brad.  Killing him before the captain gave into him might keep us from hearing even more terrible ideas.  Justification for it went through my mind.  We kill rabid animals without a second thought.  I don’t really see where Brad is any different.  The minutes of the meeting and the witnesses here would certainly give me some sort of plausible defense against a murder case.  Wouldn’t it clearly be a case of temporary insanity?  I could just say I lost it, blanked out, and the next thing I knew, he was dead?  A crime of passion?  His insanity simply drove me to temporary madness?

My mind provided a quick answer to that.  If Albert wanted to hide what we knew, he could certainly intercede in a court case, even if not asked – he had that right by law.  Even if Albert didn’t choose to lie, there was no way I would be able to falsify madness to him.  I would go to prison for life for premeditated murder, because I was certainly premeditating.

Even more frightening, if Albert chose to lie, he could simply draw every person in this tent together in a court case, and create false evidence of prior violence for everyone other than me.  He might even be able to find real evidence of violence, in the history of Fobi or the other officers who had worked in law enforcement.  One court case could get every one of us thrown in prison for life or shipped to the prison colonies.  Albert had been working on unexpectedly deep levels.  How important was it to him that we not interfere with his plans?  Would seriously discussing something like what Brad suggested get us all killed by an irritated Albert dropping a lunar rock on us from orbit to keep the rot from spreading?

I found that I’d locked stares with Brad, who appeared to be meeting my eyes in challenge, without any humor or derision.  My right hand was on my knife sheath.  I was furious, not scared.

Fobi was looking straight at me, immobile and tense.

The lieutenants were looking back and forth between Brad and me.

Then my mind snapped back to my prior thoughts.  I realized that if we didn’t come up with something that would work, everyone I loved might starve to death without Brad’s rabid ideas.

How many of the others are thinking what I’m thinking?  Are any of them as horrified as me about what Brad might convince us to do?

From the corner of my eye, I saw Rikard was slowly pushing his chair back from the table, while looking at my face.

Captain Marko cleared his throat.  “Sergeant, please take Allen to the side of the tent.  Take his knife, give it to Fobi, and stand between Allen and Brad while Brad is escorted out.  Fobi, back up Sergeant Gonzalez.  Lieutenants, take Brad back to his wagon.  Tell the guards that next time, if they do not write down his ideas, they will answer to me, personally.  If you need to, find guards with stronger stomachs.”

Riko’s hand firmly gripped my right shoulder.  “Not worth it, Allen.  Give me your knife.”

Without taking my eyes off Brad, I handed Riko my knife.

Brad smirked at me as I stood.  I stumbled a bit on my leg, but didn’t pick up my crutches as I moved to the side of the tent and looked away from the door.

After Brad was led out of the tent, Fobi handed me my knife back.  As she carefully put the haft of the blade into my hand, she looked up at me with a grin.  “Have you ever considered a job in law enforcement?”

I just stared down at her for a second.  “No.  I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be able to control my temper with constant exposure to crime.”  I stared at Rikard, briefly, and then back at Fobi.

She shook her head.  “In another few years, after the hormones cool down a bit, if you decide to get away from farming, you might have what it takes to be a street patroller, Allen.”

Captain Marko coughed.  “Fobi, you are not exactly the best judge of patroller qualities.”  His eyes shifted from Fobi to me.  “Still, she’s not the worst judge either.  You have to be at least twenty with no violence record between sixteen and twenty to be considered.  Keep it in mind if farming doesn’t work for you.”

Picking up a sheet of paper from in front of him, the captain continued.  “Now, before the lieutenants come back, I’ll go over a list of ideas we already have, and if you have duplicated them, mark them off your lists.”

In the end, the officers had already thought of four of my six ideas.

Fobi had another idea that the two of us shared.  The New Tokyo population would simply eat everything they had, and then cross over and spread over our land.  If they were imprisoned, we would still have to feed them.  All we could do to stop this would be to put them in camps and feed them starvation rations.  We might be able to ship a fair number to other states by boat or carriage, but not a large number of them.  Large numbers of weak prisoners in camps would be large disease vectors, and keeping them from escaping and wandering off into the rest of the state would be nearly impossible in the first place.

Captain Marko looked at Fobi and scratched his jaw thoughtfully.  “I would be willing to bet that this is what Second Landing expects to happen.  They have the food reserves to absorb a great many refugees.  With enough debt generated against enough displaced people, Second Landing will be in a position of great strength, even if it’s morally repugnant.  Having a substantial part of the New Tokyo population imprisoned already and unable to generate income to pay debt, New Tokyo might not be able to get a worthwhile crop in next year.  The imprisoned New Tokyo people would simply generate more debt as they get fed season after season.”  He tapped his fingers on the table.  “Eventually the New Tokyo economy and government would collapse, and Second Landing would sweep in to collect a vassal state, or a second state in a republic, or whatever their plans are.  We will have our own share of New Tokyo prisoners in our own camps, but most will go to Second Landing because that’s where the food is reported to be.

Cleaning the wound on his hand with some wood alcohol, Lieutenant Davis hissed in pain.  “If that’s the case, why would New Tokyo send anyone our way?”

Lieutenant Baker spoke in a thoughtful tone, “If Fobi’s right, they will try to send enough refugees our way to not kill us all in starvation, and beg for debt leniency to work their fields and industries while they pay us back.  We would have to give it to them, or risk Second Landing doing the same thing to us the next time there’s a blight or off-season early locusts.

Captain Marko nodded.  “I’ll send this to Stateman Urda, she should be made aware of this, if she hasn’t already thought about it.”

Rikard was next, and shrugged.  “All of my ideas for offense and defense have been covered, but I have an idea about where to get more ideas.  Letters can go to and from the prison colonies, even if people go only one way.  We can send letters to imprisoned family members in the prison colonies, and see if they can brainstorm more ideas for us.”

There was general agreement that Rikard’s idea was very useful.  Even I had to agree it made sense. Certainly, at least some prison colony inmates would try to think up ideas to help prevent their families from starving.

“What about you, Allen?”  Captain Marko asked next.

I nervously looked at the one remaining idea on my paper.  “I’m not entirely certain how workable this is, sir, but from what I remember about my history of violence classes, starvation, exposure, and illnesses killed more people in preindustrial wars than fighting.  To avoid starvation in war, cities stored food.  When there was war, people from outside retreated into the cities, and the attackers would sometimes siege the defenders in the cities for months, or even years.”

I looked at the captain and he nodded, saying “Yes, that matches what I learned.  How can that history help us?”

I twisted my hands under the table a bit.  “I’d never made the connection before, but the only way sieges could have happened in preindustrial days is if the people inside the cities could keep the people outside from just walking in and attacking them or taking their food.  There had to be barriers, and we don’t have them in our cities.  On the farm, we keep animals from going where we don’t want them with walls.” I looked up at the captain. “Can we move all the food and people into cities and towns and build barriers like pits or walls to keep out people we don’t want?”

There was silence at the table for a minute.  Lieutenant Davis spoke first.  “Walls around a town, maybe.  But New Charleston?  That’s…  Captain, is that even possible?”

Captain Marko raised both thumbs to the headache pressure points at his temples and whistled a barely audible single tone.  “Yes, that’s undoubtedly possible as a long term solution.  In the short term though?  Sergeant, go get Quartermaster Brown.  I’m not entirely certain the idea can work to help us right now, but I don’t know enough to say how fast we could build a wall big enough to protect a town or the city.”

Rikard tapped his fingers on the table.  “We’ve still got crops in the ground.  It won’t do us much good to leave them and go build walls around towns.”

I bristled a bit that Rikard was challenging my idea, but tried to keep my voice even. “You aren’t thinking it through.  New Tokyo also has late plantings in.  Their farmers will not leave them.  They are certainly hoping to get some sort of a decent crop in with a lucky late autumn warm streak.  It’s early enough in the year that they will almost certainly get a poor crop.  They may get a decent crop.  The chances of a good crop are very low, but possible.”

The officers were looking at me in curiosity, probably wondering why I knew so much about farming in this area.  “Riko and my Granpa did a lot of research on this area.  I know a little about it from talking to my Granpa the other day.”  Thoughts of Marza crossed my mind.  I carefully did not look at Rikard.

After I paused to clear my minds of thoughts of Marza and Rikard, I continued.  “The weather patterns break around the border.  In just a few kilometers north, the mountain ridge behind New Charleston ends.  The cold air from the northwest gets pushed across New Tokyo and a little down into this area.  The growing season here at the border is a week shorter than it is where we live, and two weeks shorter before you get more than fifty kilometers into New Tokyo.”

“Yes, that’s pretty much what Riko’s already told us.  Why does it matter here?”  Captain Marko asked, with his head tilted.  He didn’t seem puzzled, it sounded like a question he already knew the answer to.

“Sir, there may be time to build walls around towns while we tend and hope for a good late planting crop.”  I paused. “At least there’s time to start building walls.  The New Tokyo farmers and agricultural workers won’t move until their crops are either harvested or have failed.  Even after a terrible harvest, even if they have to eat all of their own farm animals they can’t use for traveling, they will have enough food to last them until our crops are in.  They would have to be idiots to abandon their own land while our crops are still in the ground unless they absolutely have to.  You did say in the talk you gave us that they had some reserves, right, Captain?”

I couldn’t remember who had said they had some reserves.  “Or maybe it was the draft letter?”  I shook my head and felt a chill as I thought about what it would mean if New Tokyo had no stored food.  “If they have no reserves, New Tokyo city itself might empty in days and scour their own farmers’ land on their way to us and Second Landing.”

Then I remembered what Brad had said, and whispered it.  “Like locusts.”

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15 thoughts on “Chapter 17

  1. You’re missing quotes here.

    Captain Marko nodded. I’ll send this to Stateman Urda, she should be made aware of this, if she hasn’t been made aware of it yet.

    You have quotes in the wrong place here.

    There was silence at the table for a minute. “Lieutenant Davis spoke first. Walls around a town, maybe. But New Charleston? That’s… Captain, is that even possible?”

    It’s really interesting to see how their psychology are so different from ours. They have so much more empathy for their enemies while we are quicker to adapt to friends changing into enemies. Abhorrence against violence seems like it might be a genetic component, but it might also be an extremely ingrained cultural trait. The biggest flaws I can point out in their planning (not in your writing and plotting though) is how they are focused on ways to attack or kill the other side. They have only ever heard of war as a slaughter or atrocities, so they are biased towards thinking of it as only immoral actions. As a result, they aren’t thinking of things such as keeping up the moral of the soldiers, protecting the supply routes, how to adapt to the potential aftermaths win or lose, training the soldiers to be desensitized (it looks like they aren’t thinking of the psychological backlash), and others.

    Granted they just might not be doing it in front of the readers and this was explicitly a strategy and tactics planning session. But I get the impression that they aren’t thinking of all the aspects that war touches on and their blindness goes deeper than inexperience.

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    • Found and fixed! Thank you!

      In my own defense, my right hand is a little mangled and the a, s, h, n, m, o, & l keys on my current keyboard have the paint worn off. I type a lot.

      Between those two things, there will be misspellings, occasionally baffling ones, and I appreciate every one you notice!

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  2. Hmm… Given that Second Landing will likely use this tactic on them in the future, a reasonable strategy would be to ally with New Tokyo to fight Second Landing, with the open intent to do enough property damage there that Second Landing’s gambit will be deemed, on the whole, Not Worth It.

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    • Thank you. While you didn’t figure it out exactly, and I’m keeping the twists to myself, thank you very much. You proved to me that I’ve created a narrative that can be predicted in advance to some degree, which is one of the requirements of rational fiction.

      Now, get out of my head! I’m not saying anything else!

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  3. I think Allen might get close to insanity if you keep him too close to Brad and Rikard. Although, both of their ideas seem less nefarious than current day warfare.
    🙂

    Suggestions
    a knowledge -> knowledge

    punctuate his statement
    established farms
    As a carpenter
    missing comma after last word

    the land across from us was settled by members of her family
    members of her family settled the land across from us

    first couple years.
    first couple of years.

    rough cut -> rough-cut

    I told him to lay down
    I told him to lie down

    every couple minutes
    every couple of minutes

    me and Brad
    Brad and me

    There were certainly some prison colony residents that
    Certainly, some prison colony residents

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    • Aye. I don’t have gratuitous violence as a viable outlet for conflict. I’ve got to keep Allen from being too complacent.

      Thank you once again for all the errata! A great many adjustments have been made.

      Like

  4. Is Set in Stone on a break and I just missed the announcement? – I’ve read Symbiote, Reject Hereo, and now Set in Stone, very much enjoy seeing your development as a writer.

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  5. The hiatus was unplanned. I’ve been doing a few other things recently, and have lost track of time. It’s amazing how time just flies away from you, especially after something out of the ordinary. After responding to the USPTO on a patent application I was pretty burnt out on doing word processing work for a while and started doing other things. I didn’t expect to miss more than a couple days.

    And now, it’s been how long? Oof. There will be a chapter posted in the next couple days.

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    • Well….I must be a very lucky person to have stumbled on The Hunt is On (Worm x Wile E. Coyote) at http://forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/the-hunt-is-on-worm-x-wile-e-coyote.17189/threadmarks while you are on your hiatus then.

      I’m actually slightly surprised that you didn’t mention it here. I mean while you seem pretty modest, you did mention Overseer and Knights of the Broken Sword when you finished them other times after a chapter.

      It’s a very nice story with some crazy mood whiplash at the end….twice! It’s well written and I liked it, but it didn’t feel as fleshed out as your other stories. I’m marking it up to this being some you just did for fun without trying to go in depth on everyone’s personalities.

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      • Yes, that was a fun little project – It was something I was doing while I was writing SIS, and didn’t interfere with SIS writing much. It actually helped to some degree. Allen and most of the people in this story require a lot more thought to write. Over there, I just came up with a idea and ran with it.

        The patent response and the gap between the first and second epilogues of The Hunt is On happened at the same time.

        For the next SIS book, I’ll probably just swap off working on other original works. Perhaps keeping two projects running at the same time. Fanfiction is fun, until you finish it, then someone’s unhappy. That’s why I ended up writing two endings.

        Tomorrow is a writing day, however 🙂 And every day after that, until the next chapter gets hammered out.

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  6. Great job here! So weird to see them go back to the histories to figure out a strategy of warfare but because it’s been so long since that time they’re having a hard time fully grasping it. Very cool to see this branch out into a war/political theme.

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