New Eden

Scene 10

Tired, deep down in his bones, Neo still thought seriously about skipping the meeting that night. If he wasn't so hungry, if there was a way to get a decent evening meal without joining the group, he wouldn't even hesitate and would just go straight to his cubby, straight to sleep.

He'd heard a lot of similar comments from others, and he liked to roll the problem around in his head, searching for a solution. They all agreed they didn't want the big government they'd left behind. Personally, he didn't think they had enough people available to support that. They needed every hand every available hour just to make it.

Conversely, there had to be a way they didn't have to have all of the people involved in all of the decisions. It took so long, especially over really basic questions. How many fishing spears should they make? They had two people fishing, it wasn't a big stretch. But it would result in a two hour discussion. Some people talked too much and took shit way too seriously. It was a fishing spear. Or a loaf of bread. Or how many jars of mead to put up. They didn't all need to be that involved.

His feet dragged down the path, drawn forward by his growling belly. He grabbed a bowl from the stack, shuffled forward for a spoon, stood in line and waited for that evening's stew. He could smell the fresh bread, and his stomach made an increased protest at the wait. He smiled at those in front of him, gave a tired nod, got tired nods back.

That's how the evening chow line always looked: tired. But it was a good tired, he thought as he stared down at his empty earthenware bowl. He used to come home from work exhausted, after a day of pushing papers for the Law Offices of Butthead and Brownose. But that had been a stressed, frazzled kind of tired, leaving him mentally incapable of anything more than staring at the television. These days, although at the end of the day he was body-sore to the bone, he felt alive in a way he couldn't even describe to his former rat-race self.

Not everything about being here was bad, he thought, nodding to himself as he watched Olga walk up to the line. Her hair hung in dripping-wet black curls on her tanned shoulders. Her smile flashed twin dimples and her eyes sparkled. She had that zip-zap personality and rocking bod that reminded him a little of his wife, before they got married, had kids, and she began to hate him.

But he didn't really want to go down that mental road, so he shook his head, grabbed a roll, and let them slop a generous portion of pork stew into his bowl. He missed tortillas; but they'd found a good many chilies and other spices, here in their jungle paradise, so the food was tasty. But he missed tortillas. He found a seat, a stretch of log that had been sanded down by a few months of butts, and dug in to the stew.

Scott, his sort-of boss, and Isaac came and sat next to him. That meant that Olga came over, too. There wasn't room on the log, so she sat on the ground, resting her back against Neo's right leg and Scott's left. Neo tried desperately not to think about it. He was a married man.

"What are they talking about?" Olga leaned back and whispered.

"Beehive," Scott answered, wiping his chin on the back of his hand. "Someone wants to build a beehive, so we don't have to spend so much time hunting wild hives."

"That makes sense," Isaac whispered. "We've had apiarists all throughout history. What's the problem?"

Neo gulped down a mouthful of broth-soaked bread. "One of the potters is worried about bee allergies."

"Who is it? Letha? She makes baskets, not pots," Olga said.

Neo shrugged. That didn't matter terribly, no more than the foolish argument going on over the fire.

"Does she have a bee allergy?" Scott asked.

Again, Neo shrugged.

"Has anyone said they have a bee allergy?" Isaac asked.

"No." Olga shrugged.

"So, why are we talking about this, again?" Scott asked.

Neo stood up, interrupted the whole group. "This is ridiculous. Why are we even arguing about this?" He looked at the crowd, stunned into silence and staring at him like he'd grown an extra head. He shrugged, and looked the Doc right in the eye. "We can't keep doing this. We can't."

"What do you mean, this?" Doc shook his head, holding his arms out.

"Talking every little thing to death." Neo handed his bowl and bread down to Olga, and stepped forward. "I'm all for democracy, and everyone having a voice. But," he paused, looking around the fire-lit moon faces, all staring at him with blank, confused expressions. How to say this? He went with honest. "I'm tired. We're all tired. We give all our effort, all day, and then at night, always we sit down to talk every little point to its smallest death." He shrugged. "We can't keep doing it."

The moon-faces around him began with a low murmur. Some of them in protest, most of them agreeing--at least about being tired.

Guy spoke up again, before the murmurs started another huge debate. He may not want to be the leader, but he was a hell of an M.C. "So, what do you suggest?"

Neo gave a self-conscious chuckled, and admitted. "That's where my brilliance escapes me." He shrugged. "We need something, someone, who can deal with the small-time issues. The day-to-day stuff that no matter how long we talk about it, it would go the same way."

"Like how many spears to make," Scott chimed in.

"Or whether or not someone can have more baskets," Farideh said, nervously tucking her head scarf around her neck.

"So, like a small council?" Doc nodded, gripping his chin in his fingers. Behind him, Haya nodded also.

"But what if it seems every day, but it isn’t?" that sour-faced know-it-all Henry stood up. "A situation may seem to a casual observer to be of mundane circumstances, whereas another may have information germane to the point that would render such a decision far from the initial estimation."

Doc blinked.

Neo shook his head and looked down at the shadows of his feet; sore and aching like every other part of him. "I don't know, guy. I don't have the answers. And I sure as hell didn't want to start another all-nighter." He looked up at the crowd, tired tears dancing in his eyes. "We just have to figure out a better way of handling the questions, than sitting around all night and talking. Sometimes, talking about big things, checking in once in a while to make sure everything is still going according to plan, sure. But there has to be some nights that we can just eat and go to bed."

"All work and no play makes Jane a cranky bitch," said a toothy blonde chick. She worked with Marny on the textile team, but for some reason Neo's tired mind refused to give her a name.

"Exactly," he said with a little laugh, nudging Olga's bottom with his toe and giving her a panicked look.

"Leslie," she whispered. Even in the gathering dark and shadow, he could see those dimples flash like fire.

"Exactly, Leslie. I'm just so tired." He raised his hands, pleading for relief. "We're all so tired."

The murmurs began to grow. People who agreed, disagreed, volunteered for leadership, or dismissed said volunteers. For all his effort to gain a little more sleep time, Neo may have just killed it for days. But then the Doc stepped up again, holding up his hands in the air for silence.

"So, what I hear is that we want something to deal with the mundane, but still keep the big decisions for the group?" Mostly, the response was positive, with the few typical dissenters. "But this isn't something we're going to solve tonight, and we do have a couple of things we need to get through tonight. So, here's what I propose." He paused to let a few in the crowd mutter or otherwise demonstrate that they had the freedom of voice, if not speech.

"We have someone here who told me they were a lawyer, in the before." He looked out at the fire lit faces. "Who was it?"

"I was a paralegal," Neo said, adding a self-conscious shrug, and feeling the testicle-tightening panic of the rat-race echo through his body.

The other person on the textile team stood up, bobbing his blonde head somewhat hesitantly. "I... I'm Brett Hahn. I was a junior corporate lawyer. I weave fabric now, though. I mean, I kind of like that better. But, I was once a lawyer."

Doc smiled. That smile did not bode well for the two volunteers. "Great, so, in addition to your regular duties, I task you two with coming up with some form of rudimentary government for our little gathering of refugees, here."

A moment of silence, and then a cloudburst of comments so interwoven that although no words could be distinguished, the fear rang clear as a bell.

Again, Doc held his hands in the air until the crowd mostly silenced. "Bring your proposal to us..." he paused and looked back at Haya, "when is the next time Keidra and Echo are due back?" and then continued without waiting for her to answer. "Bring it the next time Keidra and Echo are here to report. So that we can all discuss your proposal." He raised his voice, to speak over those who shouted out. "We will talk about the proposal only. Not claiming any leaders at that point."

"Setting yourself up as king already, eh, Doc?" Ted barked from the shadows, coming forward and slinging a pig corpse on the ground in front of the fire. "I brought dinner."

"Well, hello, Ted," Doc said. Neo could practically hear the doctor's teeth grinding as he spoke. "So good you could join us." He didn't mention the pig, but a couple from the cook crew scuttled in to get the meat and take it off.

"I guess it's a good thing I did, before you have us all bowing and scraping to you." Ted stepped up so that the fire bronzed his silhouette. "No man is king above our Lord in Heaven." He pointed a quivering finger at Doc. "I won't have you and your heathen crowd blaspheme in my presence, I warn you."

Neo frowned, sitting slowly so that he didn't attract any further attention from the pair. A devout man himself, he felt a churn of worry in his stomach that their resident instigator suddenly took up a religious cue to his ramblings. It did not seem to bode well.

"Let me catch you up with our discussions, so far, Ted," Doc said, completely ignoring the hand of fate pointing at him. "So far, we've agreed to the idea of trying to keep bees; with the caveat that it be far enough from our main settlement, so that the populace is not bothered by the bees."

"More than bothered!" Meadow called, feathers re-ruffled. "Some people have severe reactions to--" she tried to stand to begin her argument anew, but her fellow chicken-wrangler, a heavily bearded man of Russian origin, grabbed her wrist and yanked her back down.

"Which is why we agreed to stipulate that the hives be kept out past the garden plots," Doc agreed with a nod.

"And what part of the discussion were you all in when you declared yourself king, heretic?" Ted asked, crossing his arms over his chest, puffed up to cast a larger shadow that the slight figure of their beleaguered physician.

"And, after that, we determined that as we go on these nightly meetings are not the most efficient use of our time and energy. And we've asked two among us to work with everyone and come up with a provisionary government proposal." Doc gave a smile that wavered, just slightly, if you caught it in the light. "They're going to report the next time we're all together."

"No man here is fit to be held above myself," Ted intoned. "I will not tolerate the yoke being placed around my neck by someone who is no more than my equal."

"Equal. Yes." Doc nodded. "We are going to cover that. And, of course, you'll be here when we discuss the proposal. I imagine there will be a good amount of discussion, prior to any implementation."

"Oh, I will--"

Doc cut him off. "Excellent. We all look forward to your input." The crowd groaned, audibly and embarrassingly. "Now, I believe that Dr. Littlejohn had some news for us?" And he sat so quickly his knees popped loud enough that Neo and the tool-smiths could hear it across the fire from them.

Tika, a tall and striking Sioux who always reminded Neo of an imposing American Aphrodite, stood while wiping her fingertips along the legs of her trousers. "Well," she said, pausing to swallow the bite of bread Doc had caught her eating. "As some of you may know--" she began.

Ted stood back up almost as soon as his butt hit the ground. His arms raised above his head, he spoke over Tika. "I don't have time for this," he waved at her to sit. "I have some blessed news to share with all of you."

Her face puckered around an annoyed frown, but Tika nonetheless sat down, picking up her bread and bowl of stew.

The crowd muttered, a tired mutter that spoke fondly of falling onto their sleeping mats. But they let him speak. Always, they let him speak. Neo sort of uncharitably wished that Keidra was here. After that first day when she knocked Ted on his ass, he tended to mind his manners around her.

"I call upon you, my fellow man, to share with me in my blessing, and to bear witness to my need." He paused to bow his head, his hands clapped together in front of his chest in attitude of prayer.

Frankly, Neo found Religious Ted even more tedious than Plain Old Jerk Ted. He shifted in his seat, looking across the fire to the textile people, wondering if he could sneak around and start talking with Brett about their upcoming proposal. At least then this extra awake time would have some value.

"I have been blessed, first among all of you. This blessing has brought me around to the light of God and the meaning of His actions in bringing us all here to this New Eden." He dropped his hands down and looked around the dubious crowd with a seraphic expression.

"Now, here," Father Paul said, standing in protest, his legs scrawny and darkly tanned in cut off trousers, but he still wore his clerical collar. "I appreciate your renewed faith, wherever you're getting it from. But I really doubt that you suddenly know God's plan for us. And, frankly, you're laying it on a little heavily."

"Your man of God may doubt, but I know the truth." Ted swept a pointing finger over the crowd, his eyes twinkling. "Am I not the first among you to bring us life?"

Silence ruled the moment, everyone's brow wrinkled, confused. "What?" muttered several mouths at once.

"My woman, from this moment now my wife, is with child." Ted nodded his head repeatedly, glaring across the fire at where Doc sat. "God said go forth and be fruitful! And I am first among you to heed His call." He shook his head like a supermodel in the wind. It did make the firelight sparkle in the strands of gray in his hair.

The murmurs grew, but none so distinct that Neo could hear more than just a few wordless gasps around him.

"Wait," Doc stood up, releasing Haya's hand. "You got Crying Girl pregnant?" He shook his head, looking down at his crowd of medics. "I knew this would happen."

"Amber," Haya called out the poor woman's name.

"Yes, I," Ted slapped his chest like a gorilla, "I am the first to put a child in the belly of my woman. I am first to follow the word of God."

"Seriously, tone it down with the religious stuff," Doc said, rubbing his fingers into his brow. "This is a business meeting, not a church."

"I should build a church," Ted muttered. Between the two opposing scions, a few of the cook staff tiredly dragged a few more logs onto the bonfire. This night's meeting would not end anytime soon, obviously.

"As long as you take care of those pigs, first, I don't care what you do," Tika said, setting her bowl aside. "But if I think for one second that those pigs aren't coming first, you're out of there." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder like a vengeful umpire.

"I knew this was going to happen," Doc muttered, shaking his head. "We'll have to have her move back to the cave, of course. She can't stay out there alone with him. But who can we get to go help with the pigs?"

"That's my wife. She's mine. You gave her to me, and she's not going anywhere."

All around, the group broke out in protest. Marny stood and spoke the loudest of them, her shirt bulging around the kit she held next to her body for warmth. Tika never did get around to sharing the news of their placement; but everyone already knew, anyway. The other had gone to the young potter, Neo thought her name was Jaycie, or something spunky like that.

"We did not give her to you. People are not property." Marny leaned her body forward to yell this, her cheeks flushed. Without an exception, the women around the fire roared their agreement.

Ted gave her a dismissive glower, and then turned to Doc. "We need to add this to your legal counsel: The right of a husband to have dominion over his wife. It will help control these women. And it is the law of God."

"So is a prohibition against eating pork," Father Paul added with a snarky grin to his angular face, nose jutting into the night sky.

Doc shook his head, permanent denial. "If you two, as consenting adults, want to define your relationship in some legal codicil, fine by me. But leave us out of it."

"Heathen! Blasphemer!" Ted yelled, pointing at Doc's chest with a righteous fire in his voice.

"Stop it! Stop it, both of you!" Marny yelled, cradling her shirt. Behind her, Alison tried to pull her gently back down to be seated.

"Hey, I just think we have more important things to worry about than getting in the business of two grown adults." Doc, clearly running out of patience, pushed Ted's hand away from his face.

Ted, grinning wide and without Keidra there to stop him, took a swing at Doc. "Thou shall not suffer a heathen!" he crowed, his fist plowing into Doc's chin.

"That tears it," Scott muttered. He and his tool-smiths, Neo included, stood to break up the fight. Did they drag their feet just long enough for Doc to get in a couple of gut jabs before they put hands on the men and pulled them apart? Perhaps. Who could say?

The tool-smiths held Ted by arms and middle. The builders had just one hand on Doc's shoulder, but all of them stood ready to jump in if he did more than just shake his sore fist.

"Are you both finished?" Haya asked, standing in between them, pausing to look patiently at each of them in turn. "Guy, this is not something that must be answered tonight. We have time, months even, to calmly discuss what all of us would like addressed as consideration when we, as nature dictates, pair off and have children."

Doc glowered, but she laid a gentle hand as pale as a lotus blossom on his cheek. "We have time," she repeated.

And then she turned calmly to Ted. "Sir, I congratulate you and Amber on the wonderful news. It is indeed a blessing." She gave her best sincere smile, and in his gut Neo felt a kernal of guilt. They had sort of glossed over that particular bit of news with their anger.

"Yeah, man," he clapped Ted on the shoulder, letting go of his arm. "Congratulations, Papi."

Ted jerked his head around, a heavy brow lowered over his eyes, ready to take insult.

"Did you have any kids, in the before?" Neo asked. Slowly, the other tool-smiths let go of Ted.

Ted, a little uncertain, gave a short sharp nod. Her jerked his shoulders to straighten his shirt, but stayed in place.

"Me, too." Neo laughed. "I loved being a dad." His voice carried pure happiness, and a little bit of sorrow and longing.

"Children are always a blessing," Haya said, her voice smooth, and she reached out her other hand to touch Ted's arm. "We will of course see that Amber has all the medical care we can provide."

Doc opened his mouth, but stopped short of speaking. Neo couldn't be sure, but it sort of looked like little Haya stepped on Doc's bare foot, rather hard.

"Unless she would rather come to stay at the cave, I see no reason she can't stay in her home. Where she is most comfortable, in her time." She tilted her head, considering Ted in the firelight. "As long as she stays healthy, and it doesn't look to present any danger to her or the baby. We can agree to this, yes?"

Ted, visibly biting his lower lip, nodded again without word. Perhaps he could see that this slight woman posed him a greater threat than all of the rest of them men in the group; because all the rest of the men in the group would not tolerate any instigations against her. Besides, she was giving him his way; sort of.

Angela, one of the medic staff, stepped up. "I can act as midwife," she offered with a shrug.

"You're a chiropractor," Doc growled, a slightly snotty tone to his voice, wiggling his punched jaw as the swelling started.

She nodded. "With a certificate as a midwife. I've delivered a number of healthy babies, in my before."

"That is wonderful, Angela." Haya beamed. "Ted, you will of course allow Angela to visit your farm as often as she needs, to care for Amber and the baby?"

Again, Ted nodded, but in his eyes was an animal watching a snare close slowly around him.

"Angela, you will report back to Guy. And it would be a good idea to have Rosa with you, as well." Haya gave a smile worthy of the Virgin Mary as she looked at the crowd. "I imagine before long we will have much need for midwives." She shrugged. "It is a new life, here, for all of us. No matter what we lost in the before, let us remember to be happy for this new opportunity. Now, let's go to sleep! I, for one, am exhausted."

The crowd broke up, a few of the builders staying behind a moment, watching to make sure Ted and Doc went off in different directions. Neo stood, thinking, as everyone drifted off to their cubbies or shacks, until just a few of the cook crew remained with him. As they laid blocks of sod over the fire to bank it for the night, Neo danced in the mental trap created by Haya's words.

It was a new life, here. But how did the new life coexist with the old? Could he conscience putting aside old promises in favor of new? How did ending up on another planet sync with ‘til death do us part? Maybe, as a good Catholic boy, he should walk to the fields tomorrow morning, and see if Father Paul was available for a chat.

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