Chapter 22

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“Albert, does the agreement also include warning me if I unknowingly put myself in immediate life-threatening danger?  If I’m walking at night and would fall into a deep hole, for example?”

“No.  I will only react, not predict.  Thorough predictive analysis of the environment requires significant processing power, even for a single individual.”

I kneaded my leg, which had become a bit sore after all the activity during the day.

Wait a second.  The doctor was very happy with the speed my leg was healing.  Ma had an agreement that her children would remain healthy until adulthood.

“You healed my leg?”

“I did.  There was a small chance that you might have experienced clotting issues leading to a blockage traveling from your leg to your brain, so I acted, repairing only enough to guarantee that you would not suffer a stroke.”

Was the bruise that bad?

“How-”

“Nanites sprayed into your nasal passages while you slept.”

“After I…”  I remembered the day of the injury.  “That was more than an hour after I was injured, Albert.”

“I knew that your wound was not immediately life threatening because I maintain a small population of monitoring nanites within you.  I was prepared to act if you showed signs of a friable clot forming, which might be a stroke risk.  Delivery of nanites to unconscious patients is my preference when possible.”

I shook my head.  If he was willing to talk to me, I needed to ask him things that mattered, not press him on things I had no control over.  “If I think an action that I am considering might violate our agreement, can I mumble a question to myself or write it down, and expect an answer?”

“Circumstances will dictate my response.  If you ask a legitimate question, and no other human is capable of witnessing our communication, I will answer.  If you simply want to initiate conversation, I will not.”

“Am I allowed to offer logistical or defensive planning advice to the militia if I think of something?”

“I prefer that you offer no military-related advice at all.  Your impulse control is not well-developed.  There are several extremely intelligent people that you are regularly in contact with.  Now that you have these ideas in your head, you could easily, accidentally, offer an insight that could lead another person to conceptualizing technologies I would object to.”

I nodded.  Almost anyone could read me like a book.

“I-”

Albert interrupted me.  “I will leave you to your rest.  There is no immediate need for us to speak further.”

The fake bat’s chest closed, it hopped into the air, and with a few flaps of its wings, it was gone.

I stared at where Albert’s remote had been.

Is it even worth my effort to try to think about the conversation, or should I just obey blindly?  I’m clearly not going to out-think Albert, and I don’t want to risk the agreement.

Not thinking about the conversation didn’t work.  After banking the fire, I tossed and turned in my blankets for what seemed like hours.  Every time I neared sleep, I would think about another facet of the conversation, and return to full wakefulness.

Everyone knows Albert is repressing technology to improve humanity.  It’s so frustrating though.  We’re so far below him, mentally, and don’t have tools sufficient to equalize the disparity between us.

At one point, much later, I remember opening my eyes and turned over, staring at my swine.

I’m doing the same thing to my swine that Albert is doing to us.  He as much as said so.  Except we’re smart enough to know it, and could conceivably resist him, given sufficient technology.  He’s like a force of nature with a purpose.

The fact that he’s not breeding us like swine, and is allowing us to live our lives as we wish unless we violate the violence laws is anecdotal evidence that he holds humanity in higher regard than clever animals, at least.

Eventually, I slept.

**

I woke to the sounds and scents of my swine.  It was already early daylight.  I’d overslept by about two hours at first guess.  Considering that I’d been awake for at least four hours later than I should have been, and had no family or camp noises to wake me up, I was not surprised.

The first thing that came into my mind was another observation on the prior night’s conversation.

Albert is essentially rewarding me for being clever, as long as I’m not disruptive to his plans.  The agreement preserves my genetics, and Marza’s.  He apparently knows Riko as well.

I wasn’t sure if I should be furious, or flattered.

Or maybe Albert has no interest in my genetics, he just wants me to think he does, for some reason that’s a best fit for his plans.

It was pretty certain that a headache was the only predictable result I was going to get from pondering Albert’s actions and intentions, so I shook my head and bent my attention to practical things.

Before doing anything else, I released the swine from their leashes and led them over to the large pile of cattail plants left over from harvest and basket-making.  While the swine ate, I also ate my last Marza-made caramel and honey flatbread.  After finishing the bread, and drinking a few gulps from my cameltote, I doused the campfire, packed all of my gear, and lowered the baskets of cattail root to the ground.

I double-checked the fire, wetting a couple warm spots and seeing a little steam for my efforts before I called Hoss and Bigboy back to the camp to put them in harness and leash.  About half an hour later, each boar was carrying roughly a hundred kilos of cattail root on a small travois.

Before leaving the camp, I poured more water on the dead fire for the third time.  There was no steam, and the ash slurry was cold.  Then I led Bigboy and Hoss over to what was left of the cattail plant pile, and let them eat for about ten minutes, while in harness.  When they slowed down, and seemed satisfied, I took the sounder to the water’s edge and let them drink.

Returning to camp would be easy.  My swine had left easily-visible tracks, scat, and visible signs of browsing along our back trail on the way out.  I wouldn’t even need to use the sun or the river valley ridge to guide me, though I watched them anyway, out of habit.

Unfortunately, I would be returning later than I had hoped, but I had good news.  The beaver dam lake would be able to supply a great deal of food of various types.  I had seen plenty of fish and frogs large enough to be worth catching, and signs of a large deer and turkey population as well.

At the edge of the forest, I turned back to look at the magnificent beaver dam.  The beavers would abandon the area if we kept bothering them regularly with a human presence.  That would lead to the dam failing in a couple years if the industrious rodents didn’t return when there was less human activity.  It was a painful thought, but the militia needed to feed many people, and the lake and surrounding game-rich forest would supply an enormous quantity of food before the ecosystem collapsed.

And it would collapse.  The militia would not be concerned with sustainability in the current situation.  There was nothing I could do to stop that.  Nothing acceptable.

There wasn’t much to do other than watch for predators and think as I walked back to camp.  A lot of the thought was about Albert.  And Speedy.  And whether or not Albert had intentionally misled me about some mystery ability that Speedy had.

It’s far more likely that Albert somehow trained the swine himself, rather than Speedy miraculously demonstrating a new behavior hours before Albert could use it as a strong example in a discussion.  Some of the things the ancients could do might easily allow for training of animals.  Tiny devices in the ears, and on the eyes, to transmit audio and visual data.

He claims to be preserving his sanity by engaging his intellect at the lowest levels required to complete his goals, but it really doesn’t take much for me to teach swine a new behavior.  He’s been watching me as part of his agreement with my mother for years.  He could probably train them better than me.  Not probably, definitely.

I considered checking the swine for anything on their eyes and in their ears, but didn’t.  Albert wouldn’t have left evidence I could see if he didn’t want me to know, and he wouldn’t have been deceptive about the new behavior if he wanted me to know.

I’ll send the note to Zeke anyway.  Tubby sires good squeakers.  Even if Albert was playing games with my head and Speedy’s not some sort of breakthrough, she’s still looking to become a fine sow, and it won’t hurt either of us to have more like her.

“You two won’t like being left out of the action this year, I’m sure.”  I said with a chuckle.  Bigboy and Hoss flicked their ears in my direction momentarily, not realizing that I’d just made a decision that meant they might not get to breed.  Assuming, of course, that I was able to return to the farm with them before they went into rut.  Trying to keep rutting boars and sows in heat separate without the pens at the farm would be possible but very difficult.  If I couldn’t get back to the farm, I would allow Bigboy and Hoss to breed my sows.

Suddenly, I heard blue jays scolding something ahead.  I gave the boars a flick of the reins with my left hand, followed by a ‘stop’ command.  When they stopped, I did as well, transferring my staff from my right hand to the crook of my left arm.  I wet my right index finger in my mouth before holding it in the air.  The air was moving, slightly, from the west.  We were walking into the wind, and the swine seemed to be unconcerned.

Looking into the forest canopy for the jays, I saw them, half a dozen small dots fluttering from branch to branch a hundred meters or so away.  They appeared to be very close to my back trail.  They were not harassing a crow or some other bird that I could see.  By their behavior, they were intent on something on the ground.

Not a predator, or the swine would be indicating threat.  Not another bird, or the jays would be harassing it in the air.  The disturbance is on my backtrail.  I just spoke a sentence out loud, and then gave a verbal command to my swine, and nobody called back to me with a challenge.

I stared down my backtrail, and saw nothing moving on the ground.  I heard nothing moving in the leaf litter.  The brush was not thick, but there were enough tree trunks to keep me from seeing the ground below the jays.

A person, or people.  Likely tracking me and my swine.  They have to know I’m here, whoever they are.  They have not challenged me.  The scouts are supposed to engage unknowns, and I’m still too far from camp for a normal foraging party.  I should have been challenged.

Almost certainly not friendly.

Drawing my knife, I immediately cut the leather straps holding the travois poles to the boars’ harness, lowering the poles and their cargos of cattail root to the ground as quietly as I could.  The harness on the boars was too tough to cut quickly with a glass knife, which meant I’d have to keep them on leash and harness commands.

I turned and whistled normally towards the disturbance to my east, giving a ‘follow’ command to the leash-less sows, and quiet movement commands accompanied by shakes of the leashes to the boars.  Immediately after whistling eastward, I turned southwest and started walking with the longest paces I could without running, trying to open up some space between myself and whoever was on my back trail.

My luck held for about twenty paces before I heard a wrong-sounding turkey call behind me.  Immediately after the call, I was barely able to hear footsteps on leaf clutter that weren’t from me or my sounder.

I started to quickly flick the reins, calling out ‘faster’ with each flick, to get the boars up to speed, until we were at sprint, and I couldn’t run any faster.  That’s when I gave the boars yet another flick of the reins and another ‘faster’ command.  They sped up again, running faster than I could, but nearing their own limit.  They were pulling me, almost as if I were skijoring or tailing a horse.

Ignoring the mild pains in my leg, I pushed myself as hard as I could, trying to burden the boars as little as possible.  The sows were keeping up.  I wasn’t the best sprinter, but I knew that with a hundred meter lead, there were few people who could catch up with me.

After about ten seconds, I heard a voice starting to call out, raggedly.

“Travois cut loose.”

“Long paces.  Getting away.”

“Boars are pulling him.”

Suddenly, another voice called out, “Whoah!” loudly.

By the time I realized what was going to happen, Hoss and Bigboy had planted all four legs and lowered their haunches to the ground in front of me.  I released the reins and jumped over the boars clumsily, barely avoiding a collision with them.  When I hit the ground after the jump, I tumbled and spun across the leaf litter until I bounced off a tree, my backpack taking the brunt of the blow.  I stared up in the air for a moment as the sky spun around me, before throwing off my pack.  As my pack skidded away from me, I forced myself to my knees and did a forward roll towards my swine to stop my vertigo.  The end of the roll left me a meter or so in front of the boars, who were staring at me as I skittered towards them, backing away a couple steps nervously.

I still wasn’t hearing any horses, but I heard men and women calling back and forth.  At least half a dozen voices.

“Over here.”

“Heard them fall.”

I grabbed the leashes and stood, whispering ‘walk’ and then ‘faster’ to get the boars up to speed again as I reached to my neck and blew the whistle as weakly as I could, and gave another ‘follow’ command for the sows not in harness.

Before we had gone more than ten meters at a run, I heard voices calling over the running footsteps.

“Moving again!”

“Heard ’em whistle!”

“Whoah!”

Again, all my swine simply stopped, at the yelled command, but I was expecting it.  Hoping it wouldn’t happen, but expecting it.  I jumped over the boars, more controlled this time, skidding across the leaf litter on both legs and one arm, waving my other arm in the air wildly for balance before going to all fours as I slowed.

At that point I knew I was probably going to lose the entire sounder, but suddenly realized I might be able to save one.

When I stopped sliding, I scrambled over to Speedy, stood, picked her up, and threw her over my left shoulder.  She was decidedly unhappy with that, and complained, squealing a little and squirming in my grip.

The pursuers were much closer now, and one of them called out “Whoah!” again.  Speedy stopped moving, and I turned to run.

Speedy had been putting on weight.  She was at least fifty kilos.  I could barely lift her, I’d never be able to run with her.

Four men suddenly came into view about twenty meters away, carrying bows.

All four lifted bows and nocked arrows.  “Shoot them!”

I spun and tried to get behind a tree.  There was an impact, and a sudden burning sensation in my right shoulder.  I watched an arrow hit the tree in front of me, moving far slower than an arrow should.  I clapped my left hand over my right shoulder and stumbled, dropping Speedy, who tumbled to the ground, with a thud, squealing shrilly in indignation and pain.

My hand came away bloody.

They shot me.  This isn’t about the swine anymore.  It’s about me.

“Stop!  Keep running and we’ll shoot again.”

A warning?  After saying ‘Shoot them’ as soon as you saw me?’  Not bloody likely, psychopath.

I said nothing out loud, swerving to my left around another tree, running as hard as I could, not running in a straight line for more than two steps.  Several arrows passed close enough to me for me to hear them cutting the air.

That was when I heard deep-toned squealing from behind me and realized that Speedy wasn’t the only one of my swine that had been injured.

They shot Bigboy and Hoss.

The same voice that had been shouting ‘Whoah!’ now screamed “Ignore the pigs.  Stop the man!”

I heard people running again, chasing me.  The deep-toned squealing from the boars suddenly shifted tone from confusion and pain, to higher pitched rage.

There was another raging squeal, the sound of a heavy body running, and a thick-sounding thud, punctuated by the sound of something large skidding through leaf litter and a scream.  “My leg!”

A different voice competed with the raging squeals of the boars and screamed “Whoah!” before I heard another meaty thump and another sound of skidding followed by an incoherent human scream.

More voices started yelling, panicked.  “The boars aren’t stopping!” and “‘Ware the boars!”

The ‘Whoah’ voice called out loudly.  “Shoot them!  Get into the trees, and shoot them!”

Angry yells and pained screams of men and women mixed with the shrill squeals of raging boars in a cacophony of chaos as I grabbed my whistle and blew, screaming ‘follow’ at the top of my lungs.

Left hand over my right shoulder, barely able to move after the long sprint, I forced myself to maintain a jog.

This time, nobody said ‘Whoah’.

**

I didn’t slow down until I couldn’t hear the screaming and squealing any longer, and even then, I didn’t stop.  I couldn’t stop.  But I did have to make sure I wasn’t bleeding to death.

My shirt sleeve was bloody to the elbow, but when I looked at the wound, it was scabbed over, only oozing a little blood around the edges of a shallow, ragged wound.

They shot me.  Without even asking me to stop.

All nine sows had found me and fallen in around me, nervous and alert, but there was no sign of either Bigboy or Hoss.  At least one, and probably both of them, had been shot with bows.  Boars were absurdly tough, but I hadn’t seen where they had been hit.  If any of our attackers had made it into a tree with a bow and arrows, the boars would have been easy targets if they hadn’t run away.  I had heard what sounded like two people, at least, get knocked down, but I wasn’t sure how much effort my attackers would invest in trying to chase me down.

I certainly couldn’t go back to check on the boars.  I had lost my backpack in the first fall, and lost my pouch, with my sling inside it, somewhere along the way.  I’d dropped my staff early in the chase.  Even my knife was missing from its sheath.  All I had was my mocassins, pants, underpants, a yellow ribbon in my pocket, a bloody shirt, and a cameltote slung across my chest that I’d rolled over, popping the cap loose.  I drank everything left in the cameltote, which was only a few mouthfuls of water, unslung it from across my shoulder, and hung it on a tree limb where I could perhaps retrieve it later.  It was only dead weight without water in it.

For the next two or three minutes, I very carefully removed my shirt as I walked, using the shirt to make a sling for my right arm.  Finally, I gingerly tied the yellow ribbon around my right upper arm above the bicep, and below the arrow-furrow in the meat of my deltoid muscle.  Tying a knot with my left hand only, as a right-handed person, was exceedingly annoying.  I had to do it though.  I needed some way to know for sure if the bleeding started again.

As much as I ached to go back to get the boars, or blow the whistle loudly and call them in, hoping they were alive, there was no sane option other than to keep moving towards camp, quietly and quickly as I could.  I was in the deep woods, smelling of blood, with no weapons, no tools, and no boars to protect the sows and me.  A bear, cougar, or wolf could be deadly to me, and would almost certainly take at least one of the sows.  A pack of wolves might take several, perhaps even all of us.  Heading back to try to find a weapon or the boars might run me directly into pursuit by homicidal maniacs that had already tried to shoot me in the back once.

After a minute or so walking, I picked up the pace to a slow jog, carefully watching the ribbon on my arm every few minutes for fresh bloodstains, calling each sow softly by name, so I wouldn’t have to use the whistle.

Between midday heat, blood loss, and exertion, at some point, everything went blank.

**

“…awake?”

Sunlight?  Did I oversleep?

I tried to sit up.

Hands on my chest gently pushed me back down.

“Whoah!”  Someone’s voice I knew.

Hearing that word caused me to sit bolt upright, with a spike of panic and a sharp pain in my right shoulder.

Where am I?

“OK, fine, sit up then.  Here, have a drink.  Can you hold a cup?”

Someone’s hand gently pulled my left hand off of my right shoulder, and brought it down to lap level.  I felt something placed into my hand, with the texture of wood.  Looking down, I saw a thin, elderly hand helping me hold a wooden cup of water.

“Go get Lieutenant Brown, immediately.”  The same voice, a command.

I was in a building I didn’t recognize.  Crude.  Log cabin.

“Where-”

“You’re in the infirmary, Allen.  Relax.  Drink some water, slowly.”  Doctor Sven’s voice.  I looked up.  Doctor Sven’s face.  He was looking at me with some concern.

“How did I get here, Doctor Sven?”

“One of the camp guards brought you to me.  I don’t know the details.  You weren’t very cooperative.”

I tried to remember.  The lake, the harvest, starting on the trip home.  The scolding blue jays.

Bigboy and Hoss.

I tried to get to my feet.

“None of that.”  A hand on my chest gently bumped me back.  “Sitting is one thing.  Standing is another.”

“Do you need help, Doctor?”  A female voice, several paces away.

“Not yet, Mada.  If I back away, I need help.”  Calm, controlled voice.

I shook my head.  “I need to tell the officers-”

“You already told them enough to get a squad of scouts and hunters searching down your back trail for New Tokyo scouts and hunters.”  His voice was calm, relaxing.  Apparently I’d already done what I needed to do?

I tried to switch the cup of water to my right hand.  I couldn’t move my right arm at all.  Looking down, my arm was tied to my waist, and slung with a cloth around my neck.  My shoulder had a heavy bandage on it, where…

I stiffened with the memory.  “Shot me.  They shot me.  I was running away, and they shot me with a bow like I was an animal.  They shot Bigboy and Hoss, too.”

Doctor Sven put a hand lightly on my left forearm.  “Calm, Allen.  Drink water.  You were dehydrated.  I gave you some broth while you were out, but I’d like you to drink more now.”

I nodded, and drank obediently.  One sip told me the water was unsalted.  “Salt?”

He nodded and reached onto a bag on the cot next to mine, pulling out a bleached leather pouch.  “Only a pinch.  There was salt in the broth.”

I nodded, and he dropped a pinch of salt into the small cup, which I quickly half-drained in two gulps.  I dropped the cup back towards my lap and slowly moved my hand in a small circle, swirling the water without using my finger.  When I could no longer see granules in the bottom of the cup, I quickly drank the rest.

“More?”

“Not yet.  If it stays down for a minute, you can have more.”  The voice of reason.  He was so calm.

How was he so calm?

“They shot me, Doctor Sven.”  I shuddered.  “They said ‘Shoot them!’ and shot me.  The arrow-”

“Allen.  Calm.  You’re OK.”

I stared at the doctor.

Calm?  They shot me!  How can I be calm?

A door pushed open, letting more sunlight in, silhouetting a female figure.  “He’s awake?”  Lieutenant Baker’s voice.

“Awake, yes.  Not all there yet.  Still in mental shock, unknown level of blood loss but not enough volume to leave his blood pressure dangerous.  He’s likely still slightly dehydrated.  I got enough broth into him that he’s probably not having blood sugar issues, but he’ll still need to eat soon.”

“Where are my swine?”  I asked, suddenly realizing that I hadn’t heard nor seen them.

“Sounds like he’s coming around fairly quickly.”  Another female voice muttered from the doorway.  It took a moment to place the voice.  Anu.

Lieutenant Baker turned from me to Doctor Sven.  “Can he walk, with help?”

Doctor Sven looked at me.  “With help, yes.  He shouldn’t try to stand on his own yet.”

“I came prepared, doctor.”  The lieutenant turned to the door.  “Come in, Anu, let’s help get Allen to his feet.  He’ll want to see his swine, I’m sure, before he’s willing to talk about much else.”

Anu stepped into the building and walked over to my cot, helping me to stand, gently.  Once standing, I found that I did need to lean on her shoulder for several seconds while I got my balance.

Doctor Sven put a bowl into my hand.  “Finish this.”

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Anu, I lifted the half-bowl of vegetable broth to my lips and drained it.  Delicious, salty.

Another small wooden cup of water was offered to me by the doctor, who gently gripped the empty bowl with his other hand.  I didn’t let go of the bowl.

“Pour the water in the bowl, doctor, would you?”

He started to say something, but hesitated and shook his head before pouring the cup into the bowl I was still holding.  I swirled the water around in the bowl before drinking the slightly salty water.

When I was done, Doctor Sven looked at me sternly, reaching forward and tapping me between the eyes with a knobby finger.  “No more salt for at least thirty minutes, Allen.  Give your body time to process what you’ve just taken in.  It should be plenty.”  He looked at Anu.  “You’re my enforcer.  Thirty minutes before he adds salt to anything.”

I nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

Anu nodded as well.  “Yes, doctor.”

“On that note, Anu, take him by his carriage so he can check on his swine, and then bring him by the officer’s tent.” Lieutenant Baker ordered.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Anu responded.

Doctor Sven spoke before we could take a step.  “If he starts having difficulty with his balance, bring him back immediately, Anu.”

“Yes, doctor.”

Doctor Sven and Lieutenant Baker stayed behind, talking softly as Anu walked me out into the sunlight.

“What day is it, Anu?” I whispered, a bit nervously.

“Same day you came back.  You’ve only been unconscious for a few hours.”  She chuckled.  “You gave the perimeter guards a fit.  You completely ignored them as you jogged straight into the camp and put your swine under the carriage.”

I halted a meter or so outside the infirmary, and turned to Anu, holding her arm for balance.  “I what?”

She grinned at me, and chuckled.  “You just ran into camp in pants and moccasins, arm in a shirt-sling, blood down the side of your body.  Whenever anyone got close to you, you snarled something about speaking to officers.  They were afraid to touch you, and just followed you into camp.”

I started walking towards the wagon park again, and Anu walked beside me.  “I don’t remember.”

Anu continued softly.  “You put your swine under your carriage.  By that time someone had found Lieutenant Baker.  She met you at your carriage, and spoke to you, briefly.  Word is that you collapsed after telling her that you’d run into a small New Tokyo foraging party that had attacked you, and killed your boars.  She sent ten scouts and ten men who could use a bow out on horses to follow your back trail.”

Bigboy.  Hoss.

“I don’t know they are dead.  They probably are.  If they aren’t, they might be too wounded to survive.  It was two of them against at least half a dozen men and women with bows.”

Anu spoke gently.  “I’m sorry.  I hope they’ll be OK.”

“It’s their job.”  I muttered, getting me a strange look from Anu.

Seeing her confusion, I realized she probably didn’t understand.  “That’s part of the reason I go into the forest with them.  To protect the sows and me.”

With a strained voice, Anu asked “You train them to attack humans?”

I shook my head rapidly.  “No.”

We were at the carriage.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I saw that most, if not all of the sows were under the carriage.  I started to reach into my swine treat bag at my hip, and my hand found nothing.  There was no swine treat bag there.  I’d lost it too.

I opened the carriage door, and carefully sat down inside, pulling out a few swine treats.

“How did-” Anu started.

I cut her off.  “They shot the boars and me with bows.  Apparently they hit the boars with more than grazing wounds.  We train our boars to be aggressive to threat, using predator pelts.  They aren’t like pet dogs that will whine and stay away from you if you accidentally hurt them.  If you hurt a boar more than just a little bit, you had best stay out of his way for a few days.  Especially if he doesn’t know you.”

Anu was looking at me, a little irritation on her face.

I realized I’d interrupted her.  “Sorry, Anu.  I’m not quite all here right now.”

She nodded, and I continued.  “Anyway, full-grown boars are remarkably tough.  It’s hard to hurt one without a tool or weapon.”  I took another deep breath and spent a second controlling my voice.  “Bigboy and Hoss did their job.  It wasn’t a job I trained them for, and it wouldn’t have happened if the people chasing us had all shot at me like their leader seemed to want.”  I pushed off from Anu slightly, and leaned against the carriage as I lifted a few slats out of the way, calling the sows out, counting them as they emerged.

Nine sows.  I didn’t lose any on the run back.

“But you still hope they’re OK.”  It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah.  I do.”  I took a deep breath and released it, loudly, intentionally trying not to think of the boars.  Hoping Anu would drop the topic.

After a couple seconds of silence, I started having the sows roll over one at a time so I could look them over for obvious injuries without going to my knees, giving each of them a treat and shooing them back under the carriage after checking their condition.

“She’s limping, is she hurt?”  Anu pointed at Speedy.

I had Speedy roll over for a treat.  No visible wounds.  No noticeable swelling.  The legs and hips seemed fine.  It was just a hesitation in her walk.  I’d look more closely later.

“She seems fine, probably a light sprain.  She kept up with me on the way back, and I don’t see any wounds or swelling.”

I put the slats back in place after I shooed Speedy back under the carriage.  Then I returned the unused treats to the big treat bag in the carriage, and grabbed a shirt.

Staring at the shirt, I realized that with my arm immobilized, a shirt wasn’t going to work very well.  I tossed the shirt onto my bed and grabbed a jacket instead.  Anu helped me drape it over my shoulders.

I leaned a little into Anu’s right side as we walked towards the officer’s tent.  I noticed one of the tent guards stepping inside when we started walking in that direction.

“Thanks for the support, Anu.  In more ways than one.  First the snake.  Now this.”

She reached across and up with her left hand and ruffled my hair.  “No problem, Allen.  I’ll wait outside for you.  Lieutenant Baker put me in charge of making sure you don’t collapse somewhere, since I had prior experience with that job.”

I smiled and nodded.

Lieutenant Baker stepped partway out of the officer’s tent, briefly, looked at us, and then backed into the tent again.

“Looks like they’re a bit impatient to speak with me.”

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28 thoughts on “Chapter 22

  1. I’m almost as shocked as Allen. Most people seem to be disturbed by the idea of violence against other human and here they shoot him without even trying to take him prisonner first?

    Theory: New Tokyo used violent offenders and criminals too, but they were desperate enough to actually put them in charge. The leader of the scouts was probably one of those with no qualm against violence and murder. When he ordered Allen shot he also shot and was the only one to actually manage it, maybe some others tried to do as they were told but having a human as a target messed their aim. The other scout couldn’t bear to attack other people and attacked the boars instead.

    Which is pretty stupid considering the fact that as long as you can shout “Whoah” they are not a threat. However it’s pretty obvious that if you hurt them their survival instinct will override their training.

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    • if your told to do something in an authoritative way you do it training helps this reflex enormously. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Dave Grossman is a wonderful resource for this topic

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      • Yes but these people have ben told “Violence=BAD” for centuries and even at war they know that if they act violently they will be sent to a prison island, even if it was because of the war.

        Also I think I remember something about a significant percentage of new recruit not trained to kill shooting away from the target the first times they where told to shoot?

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  2. “I drank a few mouthfuls of water, everything remaining in the tote, (…)” <- What? He removed water from the tote and afterwards it was full?

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  3. That was an interesting turn of events. I think the leader of those people may have made a value judgement. If Allen was to make it back, he likely would tell militia officers and the hunter/gatherer group wouldn’t be able to gather as much food as they’d like. That food might save their family’s lives. His death would likely save many of their own family’s lives.

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    • Part of the reason why most of us don’t have salt cravings is because of processed foods. Sports drinks also tend to come loaded with both salts and sugars.

      Allen suffered significant blood loss, and exerted himself jogging for at least an hour or so. The combination of blood loss and sweating is going to have his body in a state where there’s a pretty significant salt craving.

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  4. I have been reading through this and I have found it excellent, one problem though is in earlier chapters I have found quite a few characters do not have their own voices.
    As in they all seem to sound the same, they didn’t seem to be much variation in word choice or structure of the sentence. something to work on.

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    • I understand 🙂 I have a Nokia 6015i – I suspect I hate typing on it more than you hate typing on your phone!

      (I tend to hold onto things till they break, or are completely unsupported.)

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  5. Just airing an opinion here, but I don’t see how they can beat New Tokyo under the current conditions, everything I’ve read about war seems to indicate that they’re about to get shredded.

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      • What do you eat when there’s no more food left? Do the other walking meatbags start looking tasty?

        Most of the affected population will likely die, correct? If 1/3 is Soylent Green’d, would that keep the other 2/3 alive? Is it better to lose 1/3 of the people from planning or 2/3 from starvation?

        And if these people don’t descend into cannibalism, then shouldn’t they be the computer’s new chosen people? Maybe this was all orchestrated precisely to see how the genetic weeding is coming.

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  6. Finally, I’m back to using something besides a stupid tablet. I hope this one does not crash as soon as the last one. Last computer lasted four after purchase.

    No real comments except the obvious: ‘god’ aka Albert is a jerk. Setting up Allen to get injured does not show much benevolence. I like how your portraying Albert but I hope Allen gets revenge someday.
    😀

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  7. Another comment brought on by the obsessive-compulsive need to problem solve that is my life:
    I must resurrect the ceramic daemon.
    metal sequestering bugs + clay without enough metal content to make decent ceramics + the existence of working chemists with a modern, or better-than modern knowledge base ?=? good ceramics

    My brain is prodding me with suggestions for methods of making materials with higher tensile strength every time I start sympathizing with your characters and imagining myself in their shoes.

    Long-shot ideas include:
    Growing certain types of crystals chemically.
    Have modern chemists made any progress on creating other types of meta-materials using lighter elements that are both possible to make with story tech and capable of withstanding stresses of heat and kinetic force?

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    • There’s always carbon structures, (graphene, nanotubes, buckyballs) but I don’t know of any way we’ve managed to create them without requiring pretty scary amounts of resources for tiny quantities.

      There are quite a few things that might be possible, but are implausible. In an agrarian society with no source of power more efficient than animals, it takes a vast workforce to grow, harvest, process, store, and distribute food. Add on top of that the large glass and stone industries required to produce tools, and practically all of your available labor is gone.

      It’s conceivable that some rich dabblers or universities might build a couple exceptions to the rule, complex or innovative things are frequently out of reach, even when possible.

      In the end, after Albert removed technology, the biggest impediment to creative invention after a lack of metals is a lack of labor. There just aren’t enough people to spare from things that need doing.

      If you do come up with a simple way to do something differently that would be an improvement over the expressed world’s technology, I’d be glad to hear about it, but a lot of the suggestions I’ve seen end up having a great deal of hidden labor behind them. Like fluid computers, which seem possible, but highly implausible.

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      • There are many amazing works of engineering built by people in previous eras. Most had metal, but this society has metal substitutes, and high science.

        Does this society have nylon, for good ropes, or are their ropes only made of fibers? Industrial looms mean ropes are woven in a much stronger pattern these days, even with only fibers. There are some stunning Neolithic engineering projects out there.

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        • There is nylon. It’s typically used for bearings, but can be used for other things, but the industry is tiny, and the expenses high. It’s also not manufactured to the same standards as today. We can make a nylon bearing that will last for years under load, if properly lubricated. Not so much on Nirvana. Impurities, imperfections.

          Nylon ropes could exist, but I’m not sure how much of an improvement they would be over silk or even high quality hemp. Again, inpurities, imperfections. Is it *enough* better to justify it’s creation?

          Blown fiberglass reinforced concrete is a real thing. Blown fiberglass (the pink scratchy insulation) isn’t that hard to make. Formed fiberglass in resin is possible too, but again, impurities, imperfections. High quality wooden construction coated with resins will be very close to comparable to low quality fiberglass-in-resin construction. Look at early fiberglass-hulled boats. They weren’t immediately successful, and were questionably better than wooden boats.

          I love references to truly ancient engineering projects! However, a lot of those projects were completed with massive amounts of slave labor. The road networks of Nirvana are better than anything the Romans ever made, but they take centuries to build without devoting massive manpower to the job. They are needed for trade. The original road networks were built by the colonists, but they were not able to be maintained easily without technology, and were used as foundations for later Roman-style roads.

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    • And I just understood your comment about the ceramics. You mean to take something like a meerschaum clay and then grind up a bunch of lower life forms that are known to consume aluminum, and mix them, in order to create a aluminized clay.

      That… might even work. I don’t know how complex the processing or chemistry might be though. I’ll poke at it a little bit later.

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