Chapter 26

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When I woke, it was still dark. My mouth was dry, but I wasn’t dizzy. Something was wrong, and it took me several seconds to figure out what. I eventually realized that I was confused because I wasn’t confused. My thoughts felt coherent, and that didn’t make sense.

The opium had knocked me out. I was sure about that, but I had been expecting disorientation. I could remember Granpa under the influence of opium. Even after his leg healed, he still needed light doses to help him sleep on some nights, for more than a year. Invariably, the next morning he would be groggy and mentally slow for a couple hours. I had taken about twice what Granpa took to help him sleep, and weighed a lot less than Granpa, especially before he had lost so much muscle mass.

Even though I was startled by my clear-headedness, I was happy that Albert had interfered with how opium would affect my thoughts. Not needing to worry about being drugged and taken advantage of in interrogation while I was mentally incapacitated was a huge weight off my mind. I was even happier that he had allowed the drug to knock me out. The possibility of having to remain conscious through major surgery wasn’t something I wanted to consider.

Unless I slept more than a day?

I slowly sat up in bed with small movements, careful to put as little stress as possible on my right shoulder, and reached out into the darkness with my left hand. My fingers found my new cameltote quickly, and I tested its weight. It was still nearly full. My mouth wasn’t dry enough for me to have slept through a full day. I could imagine scenarios where people might have filled the tote for me while I slept, but they seemed too unlikely to give them credence.

I drank several large swallows of water before hanging the cameltote back on its peg.

Instead of laying back in bed, I looked out one of the east side carriage windows. I could see the barest hint of dawn on the horizon. It wouldn’t be more than a few minutes before I could see the difference between a white thread and a black thread. I had woken up clear-headed, and at a good hour.

I hope the officers will let me do something useful to keep my mind busy while they figure out what they want to do with me.

I decided to save deeper thoughts for later. Being out from under blankets without pants on in late summer morning temperatures was not a situation I cared to be in for any longer than necessary. I was already starting to shiver a bit after a few seconds.

Normally, I could dress in the dark, but I’d piled all my clothing onto my bed to make a nest that would support me as I slept. I found matches, lit my alcohol lantern, found clothing in the bed-nest, and then dressed myself as quickly as possible. I could hear the swine grunting softly under me as I dressed. They had become accustomed to the sounds of me waking and dressing in the carriage, and would be ready and waiting to go eat when I stepped outside.

I didn’t have a swine treat bag. It was either lost or with the rest of my gear. I grabbed a handful of treats from the big bag and put them in my pants pocket before I stepped out of the carriage.

As my feet hit the ground, I heard a new voice. “Good morning, young man.”

I turned towards the speaker as he stood. He was a very small man, no more than chest-high on me, and not much more muscular than I was. In the darkness, I could barely pick out the staff he held in one hand.

“You must be Hiro?”

“I am.” He nodded. In the near darkness, I saw a face I did not recognize. Balding, with short, very dark hair in full retreat from heavy, bushy brows. He had a wide face and lantern jaw. More than that, I couldn’t see yet.

“I need to take my swine to the kitchen garbage pit. I’m still allowed to move freely within the camp?”

“You are. I will follow you and offer support if needed.” He took a step forward.

I didn’t feel woozy at all. “I think I’ll be fine, but if you stay within arm’s reach, I’d appreciate it.”

His head tilted slightly to the side. “You were supposed to have taken a sedative dose of opium last night, and Kevin said you were a little weak from blood loss before that.”

I didn’t want to lie, but I also didn’t want to tell everyone that Albert was protecting me from mind-altering drugs somehow.

I tried for partial truths. “Both true, but I’ve got a bit of a hyperactive metabolism. Almost no body fat, since I was a toddler. I heal quickly, and I guess I burned the opium out of my system faster than normal.” I paused and looked down to start untying the spout of the cameltote. “I should probably drink a bit more water for my kidneys.”

I drank more from my cameltote, using that as an excuse to not meet his eyes.

Hiro clearly didn’t fully believe me, but he didn’t call me out as a liar either, so it was good enough.

I let the sows out from under the carriage. They were nervous. I could smell pork cooking. They certainly would as well, far more strongly than me.

Hiro collected his staff and walked beside me, to my left, staying close enough that I could reach out to him if I needed a shoulder.

After I had settled the sows into the garbage pile behind the kitchen, Hiro and I collected our morning bread. I could smell pine, pork, and boar taint as we got in line for morning bread. The boars had been nearing rut. The only way to prevent boar taint this time of year would have been to separate the boars from the sows for a month.

Normally a butcher would send fat from a tainted boar to a candle-maker or feed it to chickens or dogs, and mix tainted meat with lots of spices and fat from untainted animals to make hot sausages. The kitchen, however, had clearly used lard from the boars while making the bread, and it seemed like they tried to cover it up with the taste of pine. Nobody would be enjoying that breakfast.

Not that anyone would have cared for pine-flavored bread, even without boar taint.

I managed to get Mrs. Zeta’s attention when I was at the front of the line, and she approached the big kitchen window to talk to me. I stood to one side of the line, looking in the window as she approached.

The heavy-set woman put her hand through the window and touched my forearm lightly as she looked up at me. “You paid a heavy price for that cattail root, Allen. My condolences.” She seemed sincere.

I swallowed. “I did, but the boars saved the sows and me. That was their job, though I never expected them to fight people.”

She nodded and patted my arm again. “You needed to speak to me? Mealtimes are busy. I can’t give you much time without good reason.”

I could respect that. I’d seen her working. Running a kitchen for well over six hundred people wasn’t a trivial job. “Yes, Mrs. Zeta. Please don’t put anything made from the boars in the refuse pile. This breed of swine are sensitive to being exposed to food made from other swine, a lot like dogs shouldn’t eat dogs.”

“I see.” She paused. “I’ll have someone check with the mahouts, scouts, and hunters to see if they want the wastes from today. If not it’ll go to the jakes. The rest has already gone to the tanner and the dogs.” She paused and nodded at me. “That means the refuse pile will not get much added to it for the next three meals. Is that all?”

There were already two men and a woman lined up behind Mrs. Zeta, all wearing impatient faces as they looked at me. I nodded. “That’s all. Thank you, Mrs. Zeta.” The impatient faces disappeared, and I was given a thankful nod by one of the three as Mrs. Zeta began to turn around to face her undercooks.

I looked at the small loaf of bread in my left hand as Hiro and I walked around the building, back to where the sows were busily rooting through the kitchen refuse pile. I didn’t want to eat the loaf, but I had to. The flatbreads Marza had made me were gone, and I certainly didn’t have the luxury of starving myself, especially not when wounded. I also couldn’t go out and forage for myself with the sows. The sows could eat grass, but I would have to go fairly far from camp to find much human-edible forage, and that would certainly not be allowed.

Asking for food made just for me would be absurd. Not from a kitchen cooking for so many. Without my having any real choice but to eat food made from the boars, the sows would certainly be uncomfortable in my presence for a couple days. I could only hope they would remain tractable to direct commands.

I found a stump near the garbage pit and quickly ate the terrible tasting bread. Then I washed my mouth out with water from my cameltote. Hiro, fortunately, didn’t seem interested in conversation. In fact, there was almost no conversation in camp other than complaints as people ate the bread.

Perhaps I won’t see so many people looking at my swine with bacon thoughts after this.

Time to think was what I needed more than anything else, and I wasn’t doing anything else while the sows ate. I doubted I would be able to figure out what Albert was trying to do, but I might be able to rule out some things that he was clearly not trying to do.

Concentrating first on things I could understand was a clear priority. If Albert had gone insane, then all humanity could do was hope he wouldn’t destroy us before he ceased functioning.

First assumption: Albert is sane.

If Albert is sane, then he remains a machine intelligence guided by data, not instincts.

Second assumption: Albert does not act without reason.

While I wasn’t impressed with Doctor Sven’s logic concerning Albert’s motivations, discounting his medical knowledge would be foolish. He seemed extremely confident when he said Albert could have edited or erased my memories. In fact, Albert himself had said he could reprogram me to do what he wanted if it was important enough. I could only hope that preventing humanity from entering a real stone age was important enough.

Third assumption: Albert allowed me to retain my memories.

So far, I had simply retraced Doctor Sven’s logic. But all Doctor Sven saw in the future was me getting angry and giving Albert a reason to take action against humanity on a global scale. He seemed to believe that it was Albert’s intent that I should do so.

That scenario was incredibly frightening. At the same time, it made no sense if Albert was acting rationally. Why would Albert need me to be a scapegoat for his decision?

Remember the first assumption. Albert is sane.

After a little thought, it seemed obvious that the question I needed to answer was why Albert allowed me to retain my memories. Clearly, what I’d figured out shouldn’t be made public knowledge, so there was undoubtedly a reason he hadn’t simply removed or adjusted my memories.

Fourth assumption: I am expected to avoid divulging what I know, but having the knowledge is required for some reason.

A very large piece of the puzzle fell into place, suddenly, almost feeling like a physical blow.

Not just ‘some reason.’ It’s a test.

My thoughts scattered, abandoning me as my eyes popped open. I found myself staring at my swine with an empty mind as a voice intruded.

“Are you well, Allen?” Hiro’s voice.

I shook my head and looked over at him. He was sitting on a stump nearby, watching me. “Yes, why?”

“You grunted like you were in pain.”

“An unpleasant thought, Hiro. One of many. Not physical pain.”

As I spoke to Hiro, I looked towards my sows. Speedy was usually a good indicator of when the rest of the sows were getting close to satiated. She wasn’t eating or exploring. She wasn’t coming over to get her head scratched. She was just standing there next to the rest of the sows, staring at me, clearly nervous. I could expect that behavior, or worse, from all the sows, for at least a week.

I stood and blew my whistle briefly before calling out a ‘follow’ command. All nine sows followed, but they were hesitant, requiring treats to get them under the carriage.

After I had the sows back under the carriage, Hiro spoke again. “I’ve seen them follow you before, and they never seemed that skittish. Did losing the boars bother them that much?”

I shook my head. “They don’t care that the boars are gone. They do care that we’re eating the boars.”

“Oh, yes, you mentioned that to Mrs. Zeta. How much like dogs are they?”

I was getting tired of explaining the behavior of my swine to everyone, but Hiro was being polite. “They are smarter than normal farm pigs but not as smart as most dogs. They are motivated and trained with food, not social bonding. Like canines, our swine get nervous when given evidence of the death of other swine. Most farm pigs don’t mind being around other dead pigs. They only get bothered if they are around other pigs that are indicating that they are in pain.”

“Ah, I see.” Hiro nodded slowly.

No, you don’t. You don’t understand swine unless you raise them, just like any other animal.

I didn’t say it out loud. There was no need to antagonize him. He wouldn’t ever deal with our particular swine breed as anything other than a way to turn table scraps into meat, or an odd pet. I couldn’t remember anyone buying our swine to breed them. Breeders wanted farm pigs.

Hiro walked beside me to the medical building, and Doctor Sven checked my wound for signs of infection. He indicated that everything seemed to be healing well, with no significant infection, before applying more iodine, a new dressing, and a fresh bandage. We did not discuss Albert at all. I wasn’t happy with the doctor’s lack of clarity on the topic, and I suspected he didn’t want to think about me as a ‘weapon’ to be used by Albert against humanity.

Oddly, Doctor Sven did seem quite cheered up when he checked my pupil dilation and had me recite the alphabet backward. He advised me to be certain to drink plenty of water if my body was processing opium so quickly.

When I returned to my carriage, I found a spare pencil and asked Hiro to sharpen it with his knife. I had no idea where my knife was. I had spare blades in the carriage, but no handle.

My right shoulder was not very painful, and I had a lot of writing to do. Breaking doctor’s orders was something I generally would avoid, but I was tired of left-handed chicken-scratch handwriting. I carefully eased my right arm out of its sling to allow myself to write quickly and legibly.

I spent the next hour or so writing down all the different things I could think of that Albert might be trying to test.

Eventually, there was a knock on the door, followed by a female voice. “Captain Marko wants to see you, oh, dangerous one.” The carriage bounced a little towards the door as Fobi hopped up onto the step and looked in the window.

I regretted tying the curtains back for light as I stared at Fobi’s face through the window. She hadn’t done anything to deserve my anger, so I tried to avoid sounding too angry as I repeated her words back at her. “Dangerous one?” I managed to bite back a comment about kicking people when they were down.

“Ooh, that struck a nerve. Sorry.” She smirked back at me, clearly not very sorry. “Other than being almost a half-meter taller than me, half my age, and male, you remind me of myself.” Her face grew serious. “Captain Marko isn’t in a good mood.”

“That makes two of us,” I muttered, looking back down at the paper again.

She tapped on the glass, and I looked up at her more serious expression. “Maybe, but it matters more when the captain isn’t in a good mood because he can make everyone’s life miserable. Hurry up. No joke.”

“One moment, let me make some notes.” I scribbled a quick summation of what my most recent thoughts had been before I set aside the lap desk and pencil. Then I very carefully put my right arm back in the sling, and tucked the folded papers I’d written into the sling, under my arm.

A few seconds later, I stepped out of the carriage and followed Fobi toward the officer’s tent. As we approached, I noticed that the guards were several meters away from the tent, instead of next to the entrance.

The officers expect to say things that they don’t want to be heard.

When we received permission to enter, there were only two people inside. Riko and Captain Marko. I had never been in the tent without at least one of the lieutenants present taking notes for the captain. My eyes wandered around the tent, looking for other people, and found nobody else.

“Thank you, Fobi. Please step outside, as we discussed earlier.”

I did not miss Fobi’s displeasure at the command. She left the tent rapidly after a terse “Yes, sir.”

Riko stared at Fobi as she left, and then looked at Captain Marko. He picked up a pencil and put a fresh sheet of paper in front of him.

I said nothing. I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like what came next.

“Sit, Allen. I’d rather not have Doctor Sven irritated with me if you fall over and injure yourself.”

“I’d prefer to be standing for bad news, sir. I didn’t miss the fact that you’re keeping the guards away from the tent. I can’t think of any good reason you would have Riko taking notes for you as opposed to one of your lieutenants.”

Riko’s mouth twitched. I was nearly certain it was a suppressed smile.

The captain looked at me for several seconds. I got a slight sense of disappointment from his expression. “You are stable on your feet already? Doctor Sven said you would probably still be having difficulty standing due to blood loss and the opium dose.”

“I am stable on my feet, and in my mind, sir.” I smiled a little at him. I couldn’t resist.

You wanted me to be weak of body and mind for this conversation? Tough.

Doctor Sven’s happiness about my mental condition makes a lot more sense now.

The captain frowned a little, then pressed on. “I received a note from Stateman Urda about thirty minutes ago by prism tower. Albert denies having spoken to you.”

What?

I took a step backward, nearly falling despite my claims of stability.

I managed to meet the Captain’s glare. “I… see. I’m going to have to re-think everything. Albert may well be insane if he doesn’t admit-”

The captain interrupted me. “That’s not what I see. What I see is a young man with a strong track record of imagining useful things for this militia to use to protect his home and family.” He paused. “That young man, you, had a powerful, dangerous idea that scared him. Apparently, your imagination supplied you with a falsely remembered conversation with Albert, which you then used to justify not providing your new idea to us.”

He tapped the table in front of him with his right index finger. “I want you to write down the idea that scares you so much, right now. I will then judge how dangerous it is. Sergeant Gonzalez will give you a pencil and paper. If it is truly dangerous, I will burn it here, in the tent, before you leave. If you prefer, I will ask Sergeant Gonzalez to leave, so there is no chance he can see what you write.”

Riko pushed a blank sheet of paper and a pencil to a section of the table close to me, his face was expressionless. Captain Marko was staring at me, expectantly.

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter, sir. I’m going to my grave with what Albert told me not to mention, whether that’s next week or ninety years from now. Even if I imagined Albert talking with me about it.” I locked eyes with him. “No matter what you do.”

The captain slammed both of his hands on the table, flat-palmed, an immense slapping sound like thunder from a close lightning strike. His face was reddening, and his eyes narrowed as he leaned slightly over the table, almost hissing at me. “You insist on continuing this farce?”

Riko was still looking at me, expressionless.

I looked away from the captain’s glare. I couldn’t stare him down, even though I knew I wasn’t in the wrong. I looked at Riko, at the lack of expression.

Something is wrong. Riko should be reacting.

I shook my head and continued thinking, ignoring the captain’s angry diatribe.

I did not imagine the meeting with Albert. That would require a level of dementia I’m certain I don’t have. Or Albert would have had to program me to have memories of Albert talking to me, which is wasteful and wrong on so many levels that I’m not even thinking about it.

Not only that, I was too clear-headed this morning after a sedative-level opium dose the night before. If it had been a pain-reducing dose, maybe my metabolism might have dealt with it cleanly overnight. But a sedative dose? No, that tells me the meeting with Albert was real.

“Are you even listening to me, Allen?”

I couldn’t ignore him any longer, or he’d certainly escalate, somehow.

“I’m a bit confused as to why Albert is lying, sir. Please give me a moment.”

“No, I need you listening to me now.” He stood and reached a hand forward, rapidly across the table towards me.

Riko interposed his hand between the two of us without standing. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, sir, unless you want to risk him striking out.”

The captain looked at Riko with a sideways glance, and then back at me. “Ten seconds.”

I nodded and closed my eyes. My mind raced. Only two things made sense to me. The test Albert was running had become far more complex than I expected, or someone was lying, and Riko seemed to be the key.

It’s almost certainly either Stateman Urda or Captain Marko lying. If it’s the captain, then that would explain Riko’s lack of expression. Riko is good at hiding his expressions, but not when he’s really angry. He would be furious if he thought I’d lied about something like this. If Stateman Urda is lying, Riko wouldn’t know, and he would be far more likely to be displaying anger.

I carefully avoided looking at either the captain or Riko as I pulled my folded sheet of ideas out of the sling. I gripped it by one corner with the thumb and index finger of my left hand and held it in the air next to my chest, flipping it like a signal flag on a stick.

“I am convinced that this entire scenario is a test of some sort.” I looked down at the paper and twitched it again. “This, Captain Marko, is a list of what I think Albert might be trying to test. Even if Albert is lying to Stateman Urda about my conversation with him, I am confident that most of the ideas I’ve written down are sound. A lot of them are contradictory, but everything is guesswork until we know more. Older, wiser heads than me might have already thought of all these things, but I’m not sure.”

I flipped the paper back and forth again. “If you truly believe that I am insane enough to lie about the conversation I had with Albert, I’ll be glad to burn this paper. After the emotional turmoil of the last day, I would be more than happy never to talk to anyone about any of this, ever again.”

I’m done bending, and I’m not breaking, Captain Marko. I thought in his direction, knowing that he could probably read my belligerence, but glad he couldn’t read my thoughts.

Captain Marko said nothing. His cheek twitched, and his face got a little redder.

I knew I was possibly pushing too hard, but I was done with the word games. “Captain Marko, please stop asking me to end human civilization in order to keep a few people from starving. I’m nearly to the point where I’m going to lie and say I remember absolutely nothing about the discussion I had with Albert, and pretend I never had any ideas that got his attention.”

I leaned forward slightly and spoke in a slightly louder voice, squaring my shoulders slightly. Despite a little pain in my right shoulder, I hoped that intentionally looming might help make my point be taken more seriously. “Which I now realize is what I should have done from the very beginning. Perhaps I failed Albert’s first test.” I stopped looming, standing straight so my height would be less threatening.

The captain looked startled for a moment, before grating out a response. “Don’t try posture dominance games with me, Allen, or I’ll make you sit on the ground. Do you have any idea how incredibly ridiculous it is that Albert might have given a fifteen-year-old the ability to destroy human civilization?”

Well, scratch the looming idea.

I glared down at him, trying to keep my anger repressed. “You are letting your understandable frustration with the situation cloud your judgment, sir. Albert gave me nothing. I came up with the idea, myself. If Albert hadn’t interfered, I probably would have handed the idea to you and the lieutenants before giving the repercussions any significant thought. I’m still not sure which would have been worse. My idea, or Albert’s reaction to the idea if I give it to you.” I paused. “It seems fairly clear to me which result is worse in Albert’s eyes. I’m not sure I agree with him, considering his history.”

The captain broke eye contact with me and pushed back his chair to stand. He started pacing back and forth. “Allen, if you had an idea that dangerous, we need it. The New Tokyo militia apparently had several prisoners like Brad, and they got two of them to cooperate with their militia. They are far ahead of us if even a small part of what our prisoner tells us is true.”

He closed his eyes for several seconds before continuing. “Brad is demanding freedom for his cooperation, and I’m not letting a murderer loose in camp. Even if I was willing to do so, there’s zero doubt in my mind that he would disappear into the forest within a couple days. I have no idea how the New Tokyo militia is keeping their incorrigibles under control.”

Riko nodded at that, slightly.

“Are you saying you haven’t thought abou-”

I shut my mouth mid-word.

I can’t say that. Being able to use Brad would definitely be helping to inflict violence on others.

I stared at Captain Marko, furious. He had considered using drugs on me for interrogation. Doctor Sven and Quartermaster Brown had blocked him from doing so. Despite that, he had apparently not considered getting Brad addicted to drugs through his food, and then using the addiction to gain his cooperation? I didn’t know if Doctor Sven would have agreed to drug Brad. But I’d have been willing to bet a few fisc that Quartermaster Brown would have, allowing the other officers to overrule the doctor.

The captain stared back at me, looking up slightly as we stared at one another across the table. “Haven’t thought about what?”

“Sir, I am not ending civilization, even at the cost of a lost war. If we’re so overmatched, then we would be better off-”

As I cut myself off a second time, the captain’s expression went from annoyed to angry again.

Creating many fake food caches isn’t a way to inflict violence on others.

“Sorry, sir. I had to think a moment to be sure the second idea had nothing to do with violence. If you haven’t already thought about it, having people create as many fake food caches as possible might make it difficult for invaders to find and steal food.”

Riko started writing for the first time, nodding.

I finally realized what had been bothering me about the entire conversation, and decided to end the farce. “I know what happened to me, sir. I’m not mentally impaired. I don’t know who it is that’s lying above me, whether it’s you, Stateman Urda, or Albert, but someone is.”

The captain took a deep breath and started getting ready to say something loud.

I broke in, cutting him off before he could start. “If I was lying about something this important, why am I not under arrest?”

Captain Marko visibly deflated, and turned his back to me.

Riko chuckled, getting him a brief, fierce glance from Captain Marko. “I told you this wasn’t going to work, sir. I’ve known Allen since he was knee-high to me. He’s always been smart. After my conversation with him last night, and after Doctor Sven explained to us later that Allen had partially shut him down in a discussion, it was pretty clear that mental stress was making Allen think more clearly, not less.”

Looking at me soberly, Riko continued in a droll voice. “I’m certain that if we watch closely enough, there’s still a bone-headed teenager in there.” He shifted his gaze from me back to the captain. “I don’t think you’re going to get what you want from him. Not without taking actions that I don’t think you could find anyone to support.”

The captain grunted once, angrily. More of a harrumph then a grunt, followed by one rapid step towards the back of the tent. He started to extend his arm but stopped suddenly, allowing his arm to fall to his side again as he shook his head. I saw the whiskey bottle near where his extended hand had been, looking far less full than I remembered it from last night. The captain looked back over his shoulder at Riko. “How can I trust his judgment?”

My anger escaped before I could rein it in. “First you abuse your position of authority and lie to me, and now you start talking about trust?”

Captain Marko snapped his entire torso to the side far enough that his head could turn to face me directly, and he started speaking rapidly, and heatedly. “Allen, always telling the truth is not part of my job description. There is a difference between using and abusing authority in emergency situations. Only I and my superiors get to decide what that is, and if my actions were appropriate for the circumstances. Not you.”

I opened my mouth, saw that the captain was clearly waiting for me to say something, and shut my mouth before I said something stupid.

Riko was clearly enjoying himself as he watched the two of us. When I shut my mouth, he smiled. “See, sir, I told you he was thinking more clearly.”

I glared at Riko, who just smiled back at me. It was a big smile. Something I rarely ever saw on Riko’s face.

I’m going to talk to you later about this.

Riko turned his head slightly and winked the eye that Captain Marko couldn’t see.

I have a very hard time believing Captain Marko didn’t see what I saw. I hope you know what you’re doing.

The captain joined me in glaring at Riko for a second before starting to pace three steps back and forth. “Again, how can I trust his judgment? We can’t trust Albert fully any longer, especially not when it comes to military knowledge. How much can we trust Albert filtered through the life experiences of a fifteen-year-old with a hot temper?”

I flipped the paper back and forth at chest height with my left hand again, drawing the captain’s eye. “If you’re done trying to play games with my head, do you want this?”

With an irritated look, Captain Marko stopped pacing and extended his hand over the table. “Give me that.”

I thought about asking him to say please but decided that being juvenile was probably a bad idea. With a quick motion of my arm, I put the folded sheet in his hand without saying a word.

“Sergeant Gonzalez, please call the planning team in.”

“Yes, sir.” Riko stood without delay, quickly leaving the tent.

The captain turned to face me directly. “Allen.”

“Yes, sir?” I answered, trying not to sound too pleased with myself.

Shaking his head, Captain Marko sat in his chair and started unfolding the sheet of paper I’d given him. “Get out of my tent. Now. If I have questions about this, I’ll send for you.”

As I turned to leave, I heard him muttering “If you stay here, I’ll start drinking again.”

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8 thoughts on “Chapter 26

  1. I kind of figured it was a test from the beginning.

    I’m more anxious to see where this goes, how the testing proceeds.

    Also, Speedy now knows that Allen apparently enjoys the taste of boar. I wonder if that’ll change her opinion of him.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Boar taint isn’t something I made up for the story. It’s real, and it makes pork pretty foul when it’s present. Walter over at Sugar Mountain Farm discusses it in some detail, and if you’re into that sort of thing, I really suggest poking around at his site (link on the sidebar). It’s fascinating to see how a brilliant man takes organic pig farming, and runs with it, while avoiding going tech-crazy.

        If Walter ever reads this chapter, I hope he remembers that the Rickson swine are genetically much closer to European Forest Boar than farm pigs. They haven’t been bred to reduce taint, because meat production is a side-benefit. These are working animals bred for intelligence, temperament, and smaller size.

        Like

      • But he ate it all. He might have grimaced, but humans are always doing funny things with their faces like that. If he didn’t like it, then he wouldn’t have eaten it, or so Speedy might rationalize. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting how Allen keeps building political power without even really trying. Rico and Fobi are the only two to still see him as a 15-yearold kid. I really like how you’ve changed Fobi. Her making fun of Allen was great. See you can add humorous dialogue into an end-of-world story. Thanks

    Nice chapter and if was nice you cleared up my doubt in Sven. Allen needs a pseudo-grandfather to work through his issues.

    Liked by 1 person

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