New Eden


Scene 12

Her sandals slapped against the dirt path, as sprinkles of light danced through the leafy canopy high above them. A faint breeze stirred the tails of gauzy fabric that she had wrapped about her important bits. Marny smiled, feeling happy and strong in an uncomplicated way, amazed at how little time it took for things to become habit, how easily the human mind adapted to new routine. But today was not routine; today was something special. She smiled, hopeful and a little worried, as she clutched her basket full of thread spindles to her chest and glanced over her shoulder at the Builders trailing behind her, each carrying pieces of wood for the loom and tools to assemble it at their belts.

She'd scheduled this trip carefully, avoiding the morning and afternoon rainstorms so that the wood wouldn't get wet. Also, she hoped, early enough in the day that Ted might be out tending his fields or his pigs, just anything that would get him out of the house. Marny was also on a covert mission to make sure Amber was doing well. Angela said that she couldn't seem to get a visit with the girl without the man looming over them, answering all the questions on Amber's behalf.

That man certainly was a pickle, Marny thought, ducking under a low-hanging leaf the size of her head. Extreme and argumentative to begin with, he seemed to get progressively more... Ted... as time went by. She couldn't decide, in her own mind, if he was just seriously disconnecting mentally; or if the situation was just encouraging tendencies he'd already held secret in his heart.

They came up on the chicken ranch, along the path. Little more than a shack in the standards of before, it was a monument of their current ingenuity. They were pioneers of the homestead, with a single room and a lean-to porch in between two chicken runs and free-range pens. Plus, this lucky couple had that rare thing called privacy; it may be just a shack with wicker screens, but it wasn't 20 people in a cave with wicker shields. There was something to be said about maintaining ignorance of your neighbors bowel habits.

Pavel came forward as they approached. His shaggy blonde hipster look now decidedly shaggier, but his smile was friendly, almost a little desperately lonely. Perhaps the downside to privacy in a homestead, Marny thought. She paused, calling out a greeting. "Hello, Pavel. Where is your lady this morning?"

He rushed up to the fence, grinning wide through his unruly beard. "Oh, she's out looking for new chicks. Tika told us to keep bringing new ones in, so we don't have inbreeding." He shook his head. "That's bad, apparently."

Marny smiled, glancing at the two toting the loom pieces, hoping they wouldn’t mind stopping for a moment. Neo, she knew, wouldn't mind. But she hadn't worked with Quentin much, and he was young. He'd already dropped his pieces to lean against his leg and wiped a rag around his face, staring off into the jungle.

"That sounds like a good idea," she agreed, tucking a strand of wild hair behind her ear. Pavel wasn't the only one looking overgrown these days; and ties just didn’t work as well as rubberbands for containing her big red mop. "Have you many babies, now?"

A flash of sorrow passed through his eyes, but then he laughed it off. "Oh, you mean chicks. Yes, many of our hens are laying. We've even got a couple that were our babies once, and they are laying in a nest. But Tika says they might not actually have eggs there, yet." He reached for the gate post. "Do you want to come in and see the records? Tika has shown us how to keep good records on all of the chicks."

Marny reached out and laid her hand on Pavel's elbow. "We are actually heading up to see Amber, today. We've finally got that loom for her." She looked back at Neo and Quentin, and then gave a little shrug. "That's why I asked after Meadow. To see if she wanted to come learn how to set one up."

"Oh," Pavel wilted, his hand dropping away from the gate. "Of course. Well, I'll let her know, when she comes back."

Marny nodded, and although she kept her smile she felt her brow heavy with worry. He was just so sad and obviously isolated; so different from the sort of snarky hipster he used to be. "Do you want to come learn how to work the loom?" she offered, trying not to hear the eye-rolling groan that came out of Quentin.

"Someone's got to stay and watch the chickens. The dragcats are getting bold, now that they know we have them here, penned up, like." He stepped back from the gate.

"Well, hopefully we'll have some of those domesticated soon, and you'll have some to help guard the chickens."

"Yeah? How is yours doing?" He looked at her, peering around her back, as though looking for the kit.

"Oh, she's back at the looms with Dick, right now." Marny laughed. "She's doing well. A little stubborn. Right now, we're working on leash-training and bathroom habits."

"Okay, well, I'll let Meadow know. I'm sure Amber will show her how to use it." He stepped back from the fence, backing away from them with a wave.

"Don't forget to come to the next council meeting," Marny called after him. "You and Meadow can take turns, you know?"

He raised his hand and turned his back to them, retreating into the shadows of his shack.

Quentin snorted. "What's wrong with him?"

Marny frowned, and turned back to the path. "He's lonely." And there really wasn't any way for her to fix that. So many things she couldn’t fix, she thought as she tucked a curl behind her ear again, including the absence of rubberbands for her hair. Some ways, this world wasn't much different from the before.

"I just don't see why all the drama. He's got a woman with him." Quentin scoffed.

Neo stopped and turned on the boy. "You don't see, because you only look through your own eyes. You went from your parents' house, to living in a place with three other guys; one of them is your brother. And now you're here, where you bunk with either a cave full of people, or in with the forge with a handful of people you work with. You've never been alone."

Quentin pulled his chin back, his eyes pouty. "Sorry, dude. I didn't mean it so harsh, or anything."

Neo frowned, but Marny turned and kept walking, so he left one last shot. "And you have a beer, not a woman. One is an object, and the other is a human. Learn some respect, boy. Or all you'll ever have is your hand."

Marny pressed her lips together and tried very, very hard not to giggle. Apparently, that was how a man schooled a boy. She felt a little privileged to bear witness, even as her cheeks ached with the strain of not grinning from ear to ear.

Around the edge of the chicken coups, the narrow path through the blue trees didn't do much to hide the smell of the pigs. Marny paused a step to blink and adjust to the overwhelming rich scent of manure that just threw her into sensory overload. Poor Crying Girl, Marny thought, before scolding herself not to use that name. She could only imagine the hurt if Amber knew about their nickname for her.

After a quick shallow breath, and throwing a smile over her shoulder to the two men, she went on down the path. "We'd better hurry, if we're going to miss getting drenched in the afternoon showers."

They picked up their pace for a few yards, but then found themselves slowing again as they approached the gate.

"Do you think he's home?" Quentin asked under his breath. "That guy gives me a serious case of the creeps, with all his God talk."

Neo's face puckered around a frown. "God talk?" he asked, a high color touching his cheekbones.

"Ya, like he thinks he is God, or at least that the Chief Dude is talking to him directly or something."

A bark of honest laughter shot out of Neo, whose posture relaxed with the burst of humor. "Chief Dude. I like that. I'll have to share that with Father Paul."

Quentin rolled his eyes, but watched as several larger pigs ventured out to investigate them. The two in the lead had some pretty impressive curled teeth coming out from their jaws.

"So," Marny said, watching the bulky, knee-high creatures make a protective formation around the gate. "Anyone know anything about pigs? Like, are they dangerous?" Something about their beady little eyes and scaly legs and hooves just really creeped her out; worse than Ted, really.

"Let's just call," Neo said, stepping forward to bang a wooden loom arm against the gate. "Hello, the house?" he called. "Amber?"

The pigs came closer, shoulder to shoulder, low warning grunts came from them, spreading back through the sounder into panicked warning calls among the piglets hiding in the sty.

And then a very round Amber appeared, blinking and rubbing her eyes on the porch, her hair stood straight up from her forehead. She looked like a large, round child in an old-style flannel nightgown.

Marny frowned, that poor girl must be baking in that get-up! She stepped forward, intent on helping, when Neo's hand on her arm stopped her. She blinked, and looked down into the angry, blinking eyes of the biggest pig of the lot, right at the gate, just waiting for her to come through.

"Amber!" Marny called out, her voice a little wobbly as she smiled gratitude at Neo. "Amber? It's Marny. We have that loom for you! Will you come let us in?"

"Oh! Hello!" Amber grabbed a hunk of fabric off the rickety rocking chair on the porch and tied it around herself, and then hurried down through the pigs, shoeing them back and away from the gate. "Ambrose, you back off you," she warned the biggest pig, giving him a swat to the snout with the tail end of her wrap. "Back, you big dumb old pig!"

"Ambrose, eh?" Marny asked, a nervous giggle on her lips. "Are you sure it's safe?" she asked as Amber held the gate open.

"Oh, yeah, he's fine. Just a bit of a bully. That's why Ted named him after a banker he knew, back in the before." She snorted a laugh that echoed through the sties in an eerie sort of way.

Marny rubbed her hands down her arms, trying to brush down the gooseflesh. "Is he out, right now? Ted, I mean."

Amber's mouth drew into a tight little frown. "He is. He's looking for more piglets. To improve our genetics. That's what Tika said to do."

Marny tried very hard not to look at Neo, who she knew had caught the similarities. More problems that just were not hers to fix. "Well, it won't take us long to set up the loom and show you how to use it. Where would you like us to put it?"

"Oh, the loom is ready?" She grinned, a simple girlish gesture that, coupled with the baggy gown, made her look about twelve. "I guess over in the corner of the porch? The roof will protect it from the rains, but I'll be able to get some of the breeze." She paused to wipe her brow. "This humidity is so rough," she whined. "Will it be over soon, do you think?"

They walked up toward the porch, keeping a careful eye on the pigs keeping a careful eye on them. The guys moved a flimsy chair and table out of the corner, and set to putting the loom together.

"Well, Haya thinks this is actually the beginning of a monsoon season. But, it's hard to tell how long the season will last, because we don't really know what a year is, here." Marny shrugged. "We are keeping careful records, of course, so that we can plan for things in the time to come. Planting, and building, and such. But, for right now, we're all just taking it day by day."

Amber sighed, rubbing her belly. "I sure will like it when it's not so hot and sweaty. I must be drinking a gallon of water a day!"

"Well, that's good!" Marny said, holding the woman's arm and leading her to the rocking chair. She looked puffy. Perhaps it was just that Marny hadn't seen her in a few weeks, perhaps it was just part of normal pregnancy. Still, something here that she could do, and she'd be chatting with the midwife just as soon as they got back to the caves. Marny took the other chair and positioned it so that she could see Amber and watch as the men assembled the loom.

"But, how are you feeling, other than warm? Perhaps we could alter your clothing a little? Just until it cools off some?" Marny suggested with a smile, adjusting the drape of her own knotted fabric. Knotting it was just so much easier than sewing it.

"Oh, no." Amber shook her head furiously, leaning back in the rocking chair and rubbing her very round belly. "Ted is very strict about that. I'm a married woman, and shouldn't be running around with all my body parts showing." She blushed suddenly, looking at Marny. "I mean, it looks good on you. With your long legs and firm stomach--"

"Oh, well," Marny fought a sudden urge to cover herself, as both men looked up and looked her over. She now knew what it felt like to be a meat counter. Funny how a few shaming words could do that; just moments ago she'd felt comfortable in her flesh.

"You look like a Greek goddess, or something, I mean," Amber, also blushing, tugged her wrap over her chest and shoulders more firmly, as sweat rolled down the side of her face.

"Leave it to women," Quentin muttered. "Even on another planet, they're worried about fashion."

They all laughed; part humor, part letting some of the steam out of the moment. "Boy, you really are going to be stuck alone, if you don't learn better," Neo said, chucking the kid on the arm.

As the men went back to assembling the loom, Marny reached out and took Amber's hand. "Are you sure you wouldn't be cooler and more comfortable, back at the caves?"

"Oh, no, Ted would never allow--"

"Why are you always trying to take my woman away?" Ted asked, strutting onto the porch from within the shack. He still had on the jeans he'd arrived in, although cut off just at the knee, with a simple T-tunic made of their homespun fabric. It looked like Amber had even tried to decorate the neck and sleeves with embroidery of some sort.

Marny shuddered, sighed, and then perked up her shoulders. "We're not trying to take her away, Ted. We're just all worried about the childbirth; with her way out here and the medical staff back at the caves."

He stopped, standing way too close to her. "What God has joined together, let no man tear assunder."

"No one's tearing anyone anything, Ted." Marny shook her head, looking up at him. "It's a matter of health, is all. And her comfort."

"It's okay, Ted. I told them no. I don't want to go," Amber said, her voice soft and pleading.

"Well, you could always have that little midwife come stay out here, with us. Since you’re all so worried." He hiked his belt buckle, and Marny had that meat-counter feeling again. "There's always room for more women, here. God did say go forth and multiply. And we have a whole planet to populate."

"Hey, be respectful!" Neo called, pointing at him with his wooden mallet.

"Are you threatening me? In my own home?" Ted snapped, a dangerous look in his eyes, an eager gleam.

"It's fine, Neo," Marny stood quickly, between the two of them. Which put her close enough to Ted to smell him. It made her flesh crawl, and her mouth go cotton dry. "It's okay. Just let's get that loom together."

"I thought you were out," Amber whimpered, struggling to stand between her man, and the woman he leered at. "Are you hungry? I could fix you some supper."

"Maybe you ought to take that loom back to the cave. It looks like you all have a shortage of fabric, there." Ted ran his fingers quickly down Marny's bare shoulder and arm.

She jerked away. "That's not appropriate, Ted." She crossed her arms over her chest. "And not welcome. So stop it." She turned to Amber. "I think I'll come back another time, to show you how to set it up. You look a little tired right now. How about some water and rest, for now?"

"Oh, I feel fine--"

"If she wants to come back, let her come back. She must like spending time with us." Ted pulled his lips back in a wolfish smile. "Let's let the menfolk finish up. Don't want to keep them."

Marny gave a deep sigh, biting on the inside of her cheek. This guy just got worse and worse. It wasn't going to end well, nothing she could do about that; but she didn't want to be part of the bad ending. So she kept her mouth shut. "Are we about ready, Neo?"

Neo, and Quentin, who stood apart from the loom, flexing and protective, gave a soft nod, and quickly went back to assembling the pieces. Luckily, it was a simple construction. The time-consuming part was setting up the weft threads; and Marny would definitely cover that at a time when Ted was not at the house. With a furious burst of pounding, the basic frame was assembled, and the trio heading out the gate in silence.

"Hey, red?" Ted followed them out the gate, reaching out to grab Marny's arm. Neo stepped in the way, but Ted just stood on tip-toe and looked over him. "You decide you want a baby, too; you just come and see me."

Marny gasped, repulsed, and hurried out the gate.

"You wouldn't be the first to come to me. I'm a proven breeder!" Ted shouted down the road.

Marny took off the long way, down the path that lead to the Builder's Hall, rather than back to the caves. Mostly because that path would close the view of the pig farm from them the quickest. When they were out of sight, Marny stopped, moving to the side of the path. She dropped to her knees and just shook for a minute, letting the fear and repulsion wash through and out of her.

Quentin opened his mouth to say something, but Neo shushed him, and they waited patiently.

With one last shiver of disgust, Marny looked up with a damp smile. "Sorry, guys. I kind of forgot how creepy walking down the wrong street could be."

"Why would you let that guy talk to you that way?" Quentin said, his nose and lip curled with the disgust that she'd just shrugged off.

She raised her eyebrows. "Free speech? Gotta let jerks be jerks?" She gave a bitter laugh, as Neo reached out to help her back to her feet.

"Just you don't do that, okay?" Neo said softly. "That's no way to be respectful. See it, and don't do it, and don't let young men in your responsibility do it."

Marny gave Neo's hand an appreciative squeeze. "Now, let's get you guys back home."

"Are you going to talk to Guy?" Neo asked.

Marny shrugged. "About what? About his crazy God talk? They all know. What can be done?" She shrugged, thinking how good she'd been feeling about herself, until the shaming. "But I am going to talk with Angelica. That's going to be our first baby; I don't want it to come out roasted!"

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