Chapter 23

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Anu looked a bit nervous as she helped me to my seat in the tent, though she was mostly just allowing me to balance myself against her right shoulder with my left hand.

She addressed herself to Captain Marko. “Ah, sir, Doctor Sven told me that Allen wasn’t to add salt to anything for thirty minutes. That was about ten minutes ago.”

I looked up at Anu, briefly, and then back to the officers. I caught the tail end of a smile from Lieutenant Baker. Lieutenant Davis was scribbling on papers, perhaps correspondence. Captain Marko was looking at me, appraisingly.

It’s been at least fifteen minutes.

The salt craving was nowhere near as bad as it had been, so I wasn’t going to be upset with her for being cautious with the doctor’s orders.

After about two seconds, Captain Marko spoke. “Thank you, Anu. We will obey the Doctor’s orders. Please wait outside. The conversation will not be long with Allen in his current condition. After we are done, you two will return to Doctor Sven and follow his orders.”

“Yes, sir.” Nodding briefly, Anu left the tent, ducking through the flap as she passed Don.

I saw that Riko was not present at the door.

“Allen, look at me, please. I know you are tired, but I want to get information from you before you think about what happened too much. You weren’t very coherent when you returned.”

I turned back towards the table and nodded, wondering why the captain hadn’t seated himself.

Is it because I’m tall, and he’s short? If he sits, he’s much shorter than me.

I shook my head. The captain hadn’t seemed to be playing dominance games before. “The last thing I remember clearly, sir, is beginning to run after making a sling and hanging my cameltote from a branch.”

The captain nodded and started pacing back and forth. “Trying to remember a backwards-ordered series of events is difficult, and you are clearly still fatigued. Let’s start from the beginning of the day.”

“Yes, sir.” I took a moment to try to remember what had happened that morning. “I woke up late. No camp or family noises, and I hadn’t been able to sleep right the night before.”

Lieutenant Baker tapped the table, and Captain Marko nodded to her. “Go ahead.”

“Why didn’t you sleep well? Did you notice anything the night before that might have indicated the presence of New Tokyo scouts or hunters?”

I leaned forward in my seat a bit, preparing to put my elbows on the table. With only one elbow mobile that didn’t work. I gasped in pain and started to fall a bit sideways instead, catching myself with a quick grab at the table with my left hand.

Lieutenant Davis jumped back from the table as my hand slapped next to his paperwork, glaring at me briefly, before nodding as his facial expressions softened.

“Sorry, sir.” I apologized as I leaned back against the chair and scratched my head with my left hand instead.

I’m going to have to tell them anyway.

“Albert and I had a conversation the night before. He was not happy with my contributions to the militia’s warfare knowledgebase.”

All three officers froze, and the tent went silent except for the soft noises of the camp outside.

“And?”

“I will no longer act as a violence consultant.”

“A what?” The captain shook his head. “Nevermind. I understand the term.”

Eyebrows furrowed, the captain looked slightly upward in deep thought. “Are you certain it wasn’t a dream?”

“It happened before I went to sleep, sir. I don’t think it’s possible that I dreamed it. I’m fairly certain I’m not mentally compromised enough right now to make that large of a mistake.” I paused, considering if I wanted to say the last part or not, before deciding that I needed to.

“Even if it was a dream, sir, I have to consider it as reality. The conditions Albert gave me for speaking to him again would surely also include me verifying that my memories are valid.”

Grumbling curses under his breath, Captain Marko walked back to his small table, next to what I assumed to be his cot. “Will he speak to you in front of others?” Before I could respond, he waved a hand angrily in the air. “Never mind. If he would do that, he’d probably be speaking now, or you would be asking him to.”

Captain Marko did an abrupt turn back to me and walked to another part of the tent, next to a heavily padded cot. He opened a leather bag sitting on a shelf, pulled out a whiskey bottle, and walked back to his table again, before pouring a shot glass full of the amber liquid.

The two lieutenants were watching him closely, their heads swiveling to keep the captain in view.

A quick motion later, the captain tossed down the full shot, slapped the glass on the table hard enough to make me jump, and put the cork back in the bottle.

After about three seconds standing in front of the table, his left hand on the table and his right clenching the neck of the bottle, the captain looked in my direction suddenly and threw the bottle.

I ducked reflexively under the slow-moving projectile, causing my shoulder to spike in pain again. Behind me, I heard the liquid sloshing as Don caught the bottle.

“Hold that, Don, and tell the doctor I’ve had my medicinal shot today when you give the bottle to him.”

There was no verbal response.

The captain spoke again. When I turned to face him, I found he was looking away from me, showing me his back. “You understand that if the Stateman asks Albert if he spoke to you, Albert will tell him? Even if he will not divulge anything about the conversation?”

Am I that important to the Stateman to bother-

It doesn’t matter.

The meaning of that comment was clear. “I did not know that, sir, but it changes nothing.”

“Fine. Perhaps this will change something.” Captain Marko muttered, in a soft, angry voice that was difficult to comprehend. “You were attacked, by a group of New Tokyo individuals, the morning after Albert chose to speak to you about your contribution to enhancing our ability to fight. Do you believe that to be a coincidence?”

“I-”

My mouth snapped shut.

The idea of Albert attempting to arrange my death seemed plausible, but only for a moment. “Sir, if Albert wanted me dead, I’m sure I would be dead.”

Turning back to face me with a stony face, the captain spoke again. “Leave, Allen. I don’t think I can speak with you effectively right now. Don, help him to his feet.” The captain’s eyes bored into mine as he faced me, but he wasn’t talking to me. “Lieutenant Davis, I want you to go ask Brad what he wants to secure his cooperation with us.”

I slowly stood, accepting Don’s offered palm before moving my left hand to his shoulder. Everyone in the room was staring at the captain.

Lieutenant Davis slowly gathered the papers in front of him on the table, tapping them into a neat pile as he stood. “You’re sure, Captain Marko?”

“No, I’m not. I want to hear what he wants before I make a decision. And no, he doesn’t get to speak to me directly. Not with me in this mental state.” The captain’s eyes never left my face. I looked down a bit to break the stare.

After a deep sigh, the captain spoke in a tired, angry voice. “Allen, New Tokyo is apparently doing something very different from us. We’ve still seen no sign of a camp, but they have scouts in our vicinity. It’s possible that they somehow maintained part or all of their repository of combat-related military doctrines and are acting in ways that we aren’t prepared to counter. If they have a lot of knowledge that we’ve lost, tens of thousands of our friends and family could die this winter.”

I almost broke the agreement with Albert right there, before I did the mental math.

Tens of thousands of deaths in the next few months, or millions later.

I closed my eyes and turned away from the captain. I had already been dismissed. My hand on Don’s shoulder for balance, we left the tent.

Don gestured to Anu, and she approached. Don handed her the whiskey bottle. “Give this to Doctor Sven. Tell him that Captain Marko already took his medicinal today.”

“Understood.” Anu nodded.

Don looked at me, expression unreadable. “I hope you’re good at math, Allen.”

I took a deep breath and shook my head. “Not as good as Albert.”

Don’s jaw clenched, slightly, and then relaxed. “Go. Sleep. Maybe a nightmare or two will bring you to your senses.”

I glared at Don, and he glared back, eyes glittering in anger.

“Enough of that, Sergeant. You mean well, but stop. That discussion is not yours to have with Allen unless you clear it with the captain.” The voice came from Lieutenant Davis as he exited the tent.

Two thoughts snapped into place in my head in rapid succession.

The captain’s going to use Riko against me instead.

Riko will use Marza against me, but I can tell Riko about the agreement.

“Sir. Understood.” Don muttered as he snapped his head to the side to break eye contact with me and stepped back into the tent.

“Where’s Riko, Lieutenant Davis?” I asked.

He answered, without looking at me, as he walked towards the wagon confining Brad. “Riko and Fobi led the group down your back trail.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I need to talk to Riko.

I put my hand on Anu’s shoulder for balance, and we started to walk towards the medical building.

“Do I want to know what that’s about?”

“Probably not.”

“Do you want to tell me what it’s about?”

“No. Not now. Sorry, Anu.”

I wondered if I would be able to refuse to help the militia if the captain chose to force me to refuse in front of my friends.

Then I wondered if Anu was pretending ignorance. She hadn’t been far from the tent.

Doctor Sven had a large bowl of beans and rice brought to me, with enough sawdust filler that I could see it, but there was only a slight taste of pine. The cooks had apparently found a way to remove or break down the volatiles that gave pine its scent.

After being helped into the cot I’d been laying in before, I stared at the ceiling for an hour. Even with the exhaustion, blood loss, and a full stomach of warm food, my mind would not slow down enough to allow me to sleep.

The prospect of talking to Riko was getting less and less pleasant. Riko had a large family. My agreement was for myself and Marza only, with a minor mental health benefit for him. It was entirely possible he would disagree with the value of the arrangement.

Albert’s warning about Riko’s probable question about a marriage arrangement with his family only made my nervousness worse.

Eventually, Doctor Sven pulled a chair next to my cot, checked my pulse, listened to my breathing, and looked into my eyes. Then he sat straight up in his chair and looked at me sternly. “I want you to sleep, to rest properly for at least a few more hours. You’re clearly thinking too much. I am willing to sedate you lightly since your vitals seem strong. I know you’re probably worried for your boars. You returned without them, I heard, and you called names in your sleep that I remember from the carriage ride.”

I immediately felt horrible. I hadn’t even thought about Bigboy or Hoss, since before the meeting with the officers.

“Yes, Doctor, please.” I enthusiastically accepted the sedative with a glass of water.

**

Something touched me, and I woke. It was light outside, and I had been asleep.

I overslept.

I wasn’t in the carriage.

As I started to sit, a firm hand in the center of my chest held me down. My shoulder hurt enough for me to wince.

I followed the arm with my eyes and relaxed at the familiar face.

“You awake and thinking straight, Allen?” Riko asked, with a serious look.

Where?

Memories returned. I collapsed back into the cot.

“Awake, yes. Thinking straight, not so much.”

I stared out the window at the long shadows, trying to remember the alignment of the building and the doors. The shadows were wrong for morning light. “How long was I asleep?”

“Only a few more hours, Allen.” Doctor Sven’s voice, sounding a bit disapproving. “I would have preferred a few more hours since you were resting well.”

“We discussed this, sir.” Riko started, with a bit of irritation in his voice.

I turned my head towards the doctor and saw him waving his hand back and forth. “No, I understand and agree, Sergeant, I preferred more, but I agreed.”

I looked back and forth from Doctor Sven to Riko. The first with a tired look on his face, the second, still covered by travel dirt.

Riko had gone with the scouts along my back trail.

“Did you find them?”

“We did. Can you stand?”

“Yes.” I tried to sit and fell back, holding my right shoulder. “Maybe.”

Riko chuckled and stood, offering me a hand.

“Sergeant, make him hold your shoulder while he walks, for tonight. I didn’t give him a large dose of sedative, but there’s likely to be enough in his system still to interfere with balance, on top of the other stress from today. He should also eat.”

Riko nodded. “Understood, Doctor Sven.”

I walked out the door with Riko a couple minutes later, after the doctor made me drink another glass of water.

As soon as we were a few steps outside the medical building, Riko stopped. “I’m not going to sugar-coat this. We found where the fight happened. There was a cairn nearby, with a single corpse, and a wounded survivor. Three sets of tracks, humans, each pulling a travois, crossed the river to the New Tokyo side. We did not pursue.” His hand reached up and gripped my left shoulder, squeezing a bit. “Your boars did not survive.”

I closed my eyes. They weren’t pets, but they had been important. Part of what I had been building my future with was gone. Not irreplaceable, but years of training gone. Boars were harder to train than sows. Despite the logical reasons not to be emotionally upset, I was.

That much meat wouldn’t have been left behind.

I shook my head. “I want to see them.” I paused. “Or have they already been butchered?”

Riko fidgeted a bit as he answered. “Field dressed, not butchered. They are hanging now.”

“You said there was a survivor?”

“Yes, there was a wounded survivor. You aren’t allowed to see them yet.”

I was silent for a moment. “I understand.” I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be to someone who had tried to kill me, and had managed to kill my boars. Part of my future, gone.

My right shoulder was starting to hurt, a lot.

I stopped clenching my hands. The muscles in my arms and shoulders loosened.

My right shoulder felt a little wet under the bandage. I’d probably broken the wound open.

It could wait.

“Take me to them, Riko. They saved my life, I’d like to see them off. Closure for me, at least.”

Riko nodded and stepped off, wordlessly, and I followed, my left hand on his right shoulder.

“We retrieved all of your equipment, and read the signs. You detected them, in concealment, from over a hundred meters?” Riko was not looking at me, but he was tense.

He would have reported to the officers first. Does he think Albert told me about them?

“Bluejays. I saw a few over my back trail making a fuss. The swine weren’t reacting to predator scent. The wind was from the jays. Had to be human. My swine and I make a lot of noise in the woods, but there was no challenge.”

Riko nodded. “That makes sense. Please tell me you didn’t train the boars to attack men.”

I stopped, shocked. “No. I never taught them to attack men.”

Riko nodded, saying nothing.

He clearly wanted more from me. “The boars were in harness. I couldn’t control them without leash tugs. The others… One of them apparently figured out I had trained animals with me and started yelling ‘whoah.’ When they came into view, the leader, I guess, he shouted ‘Shoot them.’ ”

Riko nodded. “Some of the arrows meant for you hit the boars?

“I… don’t think so. I think some of them shot the boars instead of me, out of confusion.”

“Or maybe they just refused to shoot a person.” There was a rasping sound as Riko rubbed his jaw.

“There were more arrows shot after me as I ran. More than one man could manage.”

Riko turned to look at me. “One wound?”

“If I was hit again, it’s minor enough that I didn’t feel it then, and it’s not bothering me now.”

“Eight shooters, close range. Unless they were all incompetent, they should have hit you several times.”

I turned to face him. “Riko, I’m not willing be charitable right now. They shot at me and killed my boars.”

“If it’s any consolation, your boars killed one and severely injured several others.”

Is this a test?

Coldly, I responded. “It’s not a consolation, Riko. They killed a person and injured three-”

Riko interrupted “Four. Three transported away and the one we captured had a tourniquet on a nasty compound fracture of the calf, complicated by two nasty gashes from tusks.  He might lose the leg.”

I nodded and kept walking with him. “One dead. Four wounded. I would have had to put them both down. No way to trust them around strangers again. I couldn’t be fully confident of their reaction to me if I had to treat a wound. Both boars were dead as soon as they broke conditioning and attacked men like that, one way or another.” I took a deep breath and blew it out. “Though, I could possibly have put the cull off until after this season’s rut.”

Riko nodded but said nothing.

“A violent sow? I might consider keeping as a breeder only, no field work, and immediately transfer her piglets to another sow, watching for behavioral issues. Sows are small enough to manhandle. Never a boar. Not after a violent episode like that.”

Another nod from Riko.

Why is he doing this?

He talked to the officers.

I’m an obstacle now.

Abruptly, without looking at him, I asked, “So. When are you going to start asking me questions about Albert?”

Riko sighed. “Later, after you get some closure and food. This conversation isn’t an attempt to soften you up, Allen.”

“It’s not just small talk either.” I carefully avoided looking in the direction we were walking.

“No, it’s not. I wasn’t sure if you had thought through everything.” Riko turned his head and locked eyes with me for a second, before looking forward again. “Part of it is me making sure you know you couldn’t have saved them. Even temporarily. Several of us read the tracks. I, personally, read the tracks. Your statements match what we found.”

“Part of it…” I stopped, intentionally drawing attention to the fact that I’d noticed the wording.

He pointed ahead and nudged my back gently to get me walking again. “The rest of it is for later. I’ll leave you here and get you something to eat from the kitchen.”

A few steps later, Riko stopped. I didn’t want to look, but I certainly wasn’t going to say goodbye with my eyes closed.

The two boars were hanging by their hind legs, suspended under a crossbar between two posts. They had been field dressed but were still individually recognizable.

I took the last two steps to allow me to put my hand on one of the two wooden posts, and gave the boars my full attention. Riko stood behind me, silent, watching for a moment before leaving. I stood in front of the carcasses, examining them.

The light was still good enough for me to see their wounds. The arrows had been removed, but there had been at least a dozen wounds in the sides, neck, and back of each swine.

Carefully, I ran my hand over the wounds, assessing them, pressing and seeing how they gapped. None of the arrow wounds had been killing blows. The boars had bled out, their movements tearing muscles and skin, agonizing wounds growing worse with each exertion.

Trying to kill boars with arrows?

My fists clenched. My shoulder ached fiercely.

Even animals should die with dignity.

The memory of the boars’ squeals of rage mixed with the screams of men and women echoed in my mind.

You reap what you sow.

Whispering, I gave the boars their farewell. “Good job, Bigboy. Good job, Hoss. You saved my life, and the sows too, I’m sure. They would have driven you all back to their camp for meat, and left me under that pile of stones.”

I almost expected them to look up at me, puzzled, waiting for a command after their names were spoken. Almost. Reality proved to be more durable than I would have preferred.

Hesitantly, at first, and then vigorously, I scratched each boar’s neck, ending with a light slap and a forced smile.

After I properly rewarded the boars for their second-to-last service, I turned away, waiting for Riko to return. The kitchen would need to process them quickly. They hadn’t been properly bled out and had died excited.

They didn’t even die a good enough death to be worthwhile cuts of meat.

I had to wipe my cheeks a couple times as I stared at the setting sun.

Enough of that. I haven’t fed the sows.

Riko was returning, walking slowly, looking at me.

I waved him forward with a tired motion.

As he approached, I took a couple steps away from the boars without looking at them. “Riko I need to feed the sows as well. I also need to make sure the remnants from the butchering go to the dogs, not the kitchen garbage pit.”

“No need to worry about the remnants. The dogs have first claim to all butchering wastes. The hunters were very vocal about that with your sounder in camp.”

That arrangement made sense. I nodded.

“Let’s get your swine, settle them in somewhere, and let you eat.” Riko prodded me, verbally.

I took a breath and put my left hand on Riko’s right shoulder, allowing him to guide me. I didn’t think I needed it, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to tumble with one arm tied across my midsection and my shoulder wounded.

Yeah, that was it. No other reason.

**

A few minutes later, I had let the sows out from underneath my carriage, and we were all back at the kitchen garbage pit. I had chosen a spot to sit which did not allow me to see where the boars were being butchered. That didn’t stop me from hearing the kitchen team working quietly, but it wasn’t visible, so I could ignore it. The sows were nervous, but not requiring special care. They were very hungry. Their last meal had been in the morning, and they had run with me for however long I’d run. The kitchen garbage pit had two days waste in it. Swinish priorities for food dominated nervousness in the proximity of the dead boars. If I hadn’t been there, they might have been a lot more skittish. That was a big difference between our swine and farm pigs.

Farm pigs had no compunctions about eating other pigs’ corpses. Smart farmers wouldn’t let their pigs acquire that taste, but it happened from time to time.

I was fairly sure my family hadn’t bred for the trait of cannibalism avoidance intentionally. It had probably been associated with other traits that we’d encouraged. We wouldn’t feed swine to other swine, regardless, but it hindered us to some degree to have our swine be nervous or even uncooperative in the presence of evidence of the deaths of other swine.

Stop thinking about death, Allen.

Speedy was exploring instead of eating. As the smallest, she’d filled up first from the pile of kitchen refuse.

“Speedy.” Speedy looked up from her nearby explorations.

I tapped the ground in front of me and called her name again. “Speedy.” She looked at me for a moment, before twisting her head back and forth slightly and finally approaching where I’d tapped the ground.

‘Tap and name’ was used in fields to put swine in new rows, and there was no crop row where I was. ‘Follow’ commands were used for outside fields. It was a sign that she was a little smarter than average. I was still unconvinced that she had independently learned how to teach behavior to other swine that were older then her.

Speedy was standing in front of me, looking up, waiting for a treat. I didn’t want to confuse her training, so I gave her a ‘sit’ command, which she followed, before dropping a small spoonful of beans and rice in front of her.

Obeying an out-of-context command. I’ve seen that before, but it’s uncommon.

I scratched Speedy’s head behind her ears, and she rubbed against me. Her stripes were nearly gone. She was probably around fifty kilos now. She would probably put on another ten kilos before her first heat.

“You’re getting to be a big girl, Speedy.” Her ears perked at her name, but there was no command, so she pushed a bit against my leg for more scratching.

I gave her what she wanted, scratching absently as I waited for the other swine to eat their fill.

If the boars were-

I cut off the thought.

I knew that was going to be a problem. It would restrict my foraging ability. Without the boars for protection, or for heavy hauling, I would have to stay fairly close to camp, or go out with other foragers and hunters. Especially while my arm healed.

I could go out myself, and most predators would leave me alone. But with nine small swine and no boars to protect them, the sows wouldn’t be safe. I wouldn’t be able to go out on longer distance trips without risking my sounder unacceptably.

Or me. I’m in as much danger as my swine if the New Tokyo scouts are hunting our foragers.

Which is a good idea, tactics-wise, even if it’s sickening.

I sighed.

And I can’t tell anyone.

After a few more minutes of mental wheel-spinning, I saw that the sows were only halfheartedly eating.

Riko had been giving me space. He wasn’t far away, scribbling in a notebook in the last remnants of light. Occasionally someone would ride or walk up and speak with him, briefly. I wasn’t paying enough attention to Riko’s business to know if they were scouts or camp messengers.

We’d agreed to talk after the swine were fed and put away. He hadn’t pressured me at all.

The degree of patience made me nervous. I couldn’t believe the officers would be so patient with me if they were going to try to convince me to reject my deal with Albert.

The idea of them simply giving up on me helping them with ideas seemed unlikely. I knew the captain hadn’t been angry because some kid he didn’t need was refusing to help. Captain Marko’s parting comments about Brad were certainly more for me than Lieutenant Davis. There was no way he didn’t know how I felt about Brad. Not after our first meeting.

I suddenly realized the reason for their caution.

They know they are competing against Albert, but they only need to win an argument with me.

They were right to try to convince me, from their point of view. Because they didn’t know what I knew. Worse, I couldn’t tell them why they were wrong. If I told them, even obliquely, I might end up becoming responsible for promulgating firearms technology into a verbal tradition, leading to millions dead. Humans dropped to lower technology levels. Thousands of years to erase the…

A horrible thought struck me, suddenly.

Is this really the first cycle?

Surely Albert isn’t hiding past cycles from us. That can’t be possible.

Or could it? Could Albert have put us through one or more long cycles already? Has humanity already been dropped back to barely above animal technology levels, and then brought back? Did we know that only roughly 4500 years has passed, or…

No. The road networks. The quarries. The canal systems of the ancient colonists. Someone would surely have noticed if they were over 4500 years old, wouldn’t they? What about ancient, crude tools? The martial arts verbal traditions would not have survived a long cycle of extreme low technology. Ma wrote that there had been books written about martial arts.

How thoroughly could Albert control the world, to censor existence of a prior, far more primitive society?

Stop. Making too many guesses with too little information. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first cycle or the tenth. I can’t risk being responsible for twenty thousand more years of this, or worse.

As I stood, Riko immediately looked up, saying nothing.

I nodded to him. “The sows are done eating, Riko, thank you for your patience.”

Riko stood and put his pad and pencil in his pouch with a shake of his head. “No need to apologize.  I kept busy. Other work to do, ideas to consider, and preparations to make.”

I must have given him a funny look, based on his lopsided grin.

“Sure, some of them have something to do with you. Most of them didn’t. I am the scout sergeant, and the events of this morning proved that we now have active opposition, and the New Tokyo militia is acting in a way we hadn’t considered.”

It didn’t take long to get the sows back under the carriage since they were homed there after several days. Three of the larger sows trotted ahead of me a short way to get under the carriage before I even indicated they should enter. As the rest of us approached, those three poked their noses out between slats, likely watching to see if I gave commands that would require them to do something different from what they expected.

Riko chuckled. “Definitely not like farm pigs I tried to raise once. More like Marza’s dogs.”

I laughed a little, remembering Marza’s indignation at similar comparisons we’d shared about each other’s animals over the years. “Marza wouldn’t care much for that comparison. Her dogs really are much smarter. My swine are grunt laborers.”

I was given a quick grin for my pun before Riko continued. “I know, and she’d be right if I meant it as a serious comparison. Your swine are like a cross between farm pigs and dogs. I can see some of both types of behaviors. If it wouldn’t interfere with your family’s livelihood, I’d consider trying to buy Zeke out. I was a little upset that he and Rosa didn’t get along well.”

“Granpa and Zeke might take one of your youngest-”

Riko shook his head. “Your granpa and I talked about it a long time ago. Then you were born, and later your Ma had Abe and Molly. Your family business wasn’t in danger. It was a solution to a problem that no longer existed.”

“Granpa and Pa never said anything about that.”

“Why would they? There was a potential problem, but the problem solved itself without needing to resort to apprenticeship.” He shrugged. “There was no anger or resentment. Just plans that we no longer needed.”

After I had dropped the last slat in place to pen the swine under the carriage, Riko spoke. “OK, time to talk about more serious things.”

I was not looking forward to the upcoming conversation with Riko. I knew he was a lot smarter than me, more experienced in reading people, and, on top of that, Marza’s granpa.

“We need to talk where nobody else can hear.”

“Why?”

“I was specifically told that I could speak to you and Marza about some things that I was not allowed to speak to anyone else about.”

“This is in regards to personal or militia business?” Riko looked suspicious.

“Both.”

“How?”

I started to sweat a bit. “Because my personal decisions will impact both the militia and my personal life.”

Riko stared at me. “So, Albert has somehow tied me into whatever agreement he concocted to control you.  Wonderful.”

He pulled out his notepad and started tearing out sheets. “You have paper in the carriage?”

“I do.”

“Good. We’ll communicate in the carriage, with paper. When finished, we’ll feed the paper to your swine.”

I considered it for a moment. It was clearly a better idea than trying to find a place to talk with nobody overhearing. Especially considering that Riko was apparently now the focus of a lot of scouts, who were chosen partly because they were stealthy in the woods.

“Better than anything else I can think of,” I replied.

Giving Riko control of the conversation immediately. I’ve half-lost already.

I opened the carriage door. “Enter, guest.”

Riko nodded, with a little smile. Clearly recognizing my attempt to pull back a little control of the situation by setting the tone for him to be a visitor in my ‘home.’

Getting into the carriage with one arm was annoying but less annoying than getting in with a bad leg.

After a couple minutes, we were both seated on the bed, with enough space between us that my lap desk could sit there. I had made sure the curtains were closed.

Riko cleared his throat. “Before we get to the point where we start writing things back and forth, I’m going to give you a little background, and ask one question.”

I braced myself. “I will answer on paper if it is something I can’t speak about publicly.”

“That will not be necessary, I’m certain.” Riko’s face became very serious.

I’ve given him and the officers how long to think about this?

“If you are not allowed to continue acting as a ‘violence consultant,’ the militia will have to find another use for you. Considering your age, your demonstrated willingness to perform violent acts, and your familiarity with the woods, the officers will certainly put you at the top of the list for a new group of aggressive scouts that will try to seek out New Tokyo scouts.  There is no meaningful justification a militia scout sergeant can use to keep you out of that new unit. Being in that unit is going to be the most dangerous job we have. We can’t allow the New Toyko militia to starve us out of this position. You will not be allowed to keep your animals. That was the background. Do you understand it?”

“Yes. I will have to send a letter, asking that my family send someone to retrieve my sows and take them back to the farm.” I swallowed.

And direct that most of the sows should go to slaughter if we don’t get a decent second harvest.

My full sounder was not important enough to burden my family with, in a potential famine year. Despite that, I could probably convince Zeke to keep back a couple of my best if I gave him picks of their litters for a couple years. That would be a painful decision, but Zeke would likely be sending some of his sows to slaughter to save mine. I’d need to compensate him for that, somehow.

Riko took a deep breath. “Now the question. Have you considered whether or not Albert’s agreement with you is worth keeping if you die?”

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 23

  1. Oh, it’s no problem, in fact throw me in the worst situations. As long as I don’t die immediately, I basically can’t die. And I’ll be certain to tell Albert that I’m going into a dangerous situation so he’ll be better prepared to save me.

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      • “If you.. suffer a grave wound, and I can get a medical remote to you soon enough, you will live…”
        The hour was for random accidents. With some forewarning, the presence of monitoring nanites and remotes in the area could be increased.

        Liked by 1 person

        • And this is why I like attentive readers, Thank you!

          I have amended that passage to make it clearer.

          **

          Albert paused several seconds before continuing. “I will be clear. I am not offering full recovery to perfect health from any injury. If you, anyone you marry, or your children suffer a grave wound, and I can get a medical remote to you soon enough, you will live, but you may still be maimed, even handicapped or in pain for the rest of your life. I limit my response guarantee to one hour, as mentioned before, because you will not be my only responsibility. If a medical remote attends you, I must reposition a large number of other medical remotes in the areas near you in order to be able to properly meet my obligations to others. My medical resources are extraordinarily difficult to maintain, and I have many commitments.

          **

          Remember that even if Albert would be otherwise willing to go through great quantities of resources to keep people alive, if they do not know this, they will tend to be more careful.

          If he promises them near-immortality, he will end up spending even more resources on each individual, especially the more daring ones. He also refuses to completely heal severe injuries for the same reasons – resources, and deterrence.

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    • Even if Allen hasn’t realized that yet, I’m certain that Riko will, and that Riko will try to surreptitiously put Allen in the most dangerous spots.

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  2. Aww, I caught up…

    Haven’t even been at it for a few hours, oh well. I really like your stories! Overseer gave me good laugh and I’ve caught up with every other one of your major stories.

    Can’t wait for more updates!

    Like

    • Wow, you’ve been a busy reader, I’ve got over a million words online 🙂

      If you haven’t already poked around in the ‘Other Web Fiction’ tab, I highly suggest it. There’s some good stuff in there!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eh, I just like to read. Read worm from metaphorical cover-to-cover in about a week. I’m just slowly chunking my way through as many stories as I can right now before school starts. I don’t imagine I’ll have much time to read then.

        ‘Cause advanced classes are SO FUN!

        *sigh* Anyways, again, you’ve got the makings of a great story here! Keep at it!

        Liked by 1 person

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