New Eden


Scene 4

Stepping carefully between those already seated, Dick wound his way through the crowd to where Marny sat, saving him a spot. He, and mostly everyone else in the crowd, had a drop spindle dangling from his fingers. No idle hands for the devil to use in this crowd; their every waking moment worked toward producing something. Because they needed everything.

He sat, cross-legged on the ground like an elementary student, with a smile and listened to the crowd buzz. It occurred to him, in one of those drive-by random thoughts, that their first nights the jungle made its sounds around them, but after a month they pushed their sounds out into the jungle. Already, man was taking over.

"Is Keidra back yet, do you know?" Dick leaned over and whispered to Marny.

She shook her pretty red head, her mossy green eyes twinkling at him. "No, but Echo is, and she says Keidra's on her way." Her slender fingers wrapped the length of spun string around the bottom of the spindle, and then dropped and started spinning again. "I heard Scott found a way to split the flint finally. We might be able to work up knives and axes."

Her grin made the words take a minute to sink into his brain, but when the meaning sunk in, Dick goggled. "Really? That's huge!"

They'd done really well in the past few weeks, coming up with little life-hacks and figuring out how to create or adapt their needs; but some needs hung over them like the Sword of Damocles. Creating fire without a Bic lighter was a big project; so far their best bet was keeping something lit at all times. And it turned out that having a blacksmith didn't do much good if you didn't have any metal to work. They were left with a couple of pocket knives shared about, while Scott and the scouts tried to figure out a work-around.

"Hey, Doc!" a few people called out as Guy came out of their cave home and up to the bonfire being built by tonight's group of volunteers.

He waved a humble hand, looking through the crowd for his key people. Dick felt a small bubble of pride that he was one of the people who made this man's eyebrow shoot up slightly in greeting. How very different this world was than the one they'd been taken from. He reached out and took Marny's hand in his, gave it a squeeze and got one in return. In the before, that never would have happened.

"So, is everyone here? Are we ready?" Doc squinted in the gathering dark, looking through the crowd. "I see Meadow. Is Ted not here yet?"

The chicken girl bounced up, a few yards over, from her group. "He said he'd be here." She shrugged. In the group's efforts to domesticate food animals, they'd caught a few hens and a big blue rooster of something vaguely chicken like, and built a coop and lean-to that Meadow, who volunteered to care for the flock, got to live in for her labors.

Likewise, further down the road, they'd built a sty and shack for the purple pigs they'd caught; and since Ted the Troublemaker had been a rancher in the before, well, everyone thought it was a great idea to give him that responsibility. That also meant they only had to deal with him on the Sunday Meeting nights, when everyone came in for reports.

"I'm sure he'll show up before long." Guy smiled. "Echo? Keidra?" He squinted into the crowd again.

"Here!" Keidra called, bursting through the verge of trees just outside the circle of golden light from the growing bonfire. "Sorry." She bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath, but smiling. "I tried really hard not to be late." She stood, dragging a rag from her back pocket across her brow. An excited murmur rippled through the crowd with her appearance. She'd missed the last meeting, ranging farther down river than they'd been before. "Where's Echo?"

"Here," called the Maori woman, just to the left of Marny.

"Okay, so, let's get started with our usual reports, so we can get to the scouts' news as quickly as possible." Guy said as the last of the sunlight disappeared into the treeline and the night bugs began their song.

In an effort to avoid being governmental, the group had fallen into a quazi-corporate form. Each of the departments reported what they had going on, what they needed, and the group discussed what--if anything--could be done. Those who still lived in their community cave reported each night, with their evening meal. And once a week the outlying groups, like the farmers and the scouts, made an effort to come in and share their findings. It worked, for now, but Dick felt certain that eventually Guy would have to get over himself and accept the leadership role he already filled by his authority as the doctor. Accept it, or cede it to someone like Ted.

"So, we'll wait on the livestock report until Ted gets in." Guy gave a nod to Meadow. "Let's talk with the kitchen crew. How are the ovens doing?"

A comically scruffy blonde man and a brunette woman in a ponytail and what used to be yoga pants stood. Dick had to take a moment to correct his thoughts; they were all looking on the scruffy side at the moment, without razors or regular stops at the barber. Probably Caleb looked so comical to him now, because of how ultimately groomed the former financial officer had started out.

"So, we've finished the last of the three beehive ovens," Caleb started. "I'm actually amazed at how well they work." He laughed, looking around the crowd. They laughed back, remembering how hesitant his initial proposal for the ovens had been. "So, with Haya's recommendation, we've designated the hive on the right for ceramics, the one in the middle for breads and beans and such, and the left for meats. Just so everyone knows. That's how we're using them.

"Our biggest problem right now is fuel." He sighed, sticking his hands in the pockets of his nylon shorts. "It's really great that we can clear land by knocking over the trees, 'cause of their thin root system or whatever. But we can't fit a whole tree into the oven. So we're looking at all this wood we can't use, and trying to shave off bark pieces and twigs from it to burn."

Ponytail stepped forward. Dick felt a momentary flush of his cheeks as he realized he couldn't remember the woman's name. He was usually so great with names. "So, we have found a usable grain to grind up into flour for bread." She paused for a flash of toothy smile. "I'm hoping at some point we can figure out how to do grinding stones and windmills, because the mortar and pestle route is hard work. We're still working on ways to capture and culture any wild yeasts in the area, with a limited amount of success. Our bread is still relatively flat, but I don't think you could give someone a concussion with it, anymore."

"And we appreciate that, Yara. We surely do." Guy said as everyone chuckled.

Yara, that was her name, Dick slapped his knee. In the before, she was a chemist.

"In additional news," she added quickly. "Some of you may have noticed the sealed jars in the racks behind the ovens. We're trying--trying, mind you--to ferment some of the leftover fruit juices from breakfasts. We're hoping for something like a mead, but we'll be happy if we can get something that just doesn't kill us."

A hearty cheer went up at that. There'd been much discussion on the lack of imbibables. Some, headed strongly by Ted, felt that their new paradise shouldn't include the evils of drink. A few of the feminists, Meadow the Chicken Girl among them, spoke about drunkeness and its connection to abuse and violence. But most felt that they all worked very hard these days, in the middle of their new tropical paradise, and they'd like to enjoy a drink worthy of a tiny paper umbrella.

"May I speak?" Haya stood, patting Guy's hand and motioning for him to stay seated.

The crowd murmured assent, and quieted down so that all could hear her speak. The kitchen crew seated themselves again.

"Caleb. As you have finished, with such success, the building of the ovens, are you willing to take on a new task?"

Caleb rose, scratching his scrubbly beard. A frequent pastime with most of the men, Dick thought with a laugh while scratching his own chin. "Of course."

"What we need now is a silo, for holding the grain that we collect and grow. It would be somewhat similar to the oven. Made with brick, perhaps?" Haya gave a soft smile. "We must think of ways to store our foodstuffs. To protect it from weather, pests, or other dangers."

The crowd nodded, softly agreeing.

"Talk to others in the group, for their ideas. And then come back to council with your plans." She gave a small bend at the waist, and resumed sitting.

Guy smiled at her, obviously doting but in a distracted way that left Dick wondering when they, and the others, would begin pairing off. That seemed the obvious path. Now that they were organized and working toward building their future here, the next step would be building future generations. They were all young, healthy specimens; almost like that had been planned.

"Excellent. Anything from the horticultural department?" He looked around.

A couple of the diggers, as Dick thought of them, shook their heads. "Nothing new," one of them squeaked. Nothing, either from the pottery group; headed by the very youngest of them, the former skater girl who'd busted up Darryl's nose for him that first night. Jacie, her name was. And Farideh, the former day care worker, noted that they'd found a new, thinner reed for their basket weaving that seemed to be working well. She wished for dyes, to make the baskets prettier; but general consensus held that pretty could wait.

The crowd began to get a little restless. They heard most of these reports every night. What they wanted was news from the scouts. It was like their weekly dose of CNN. Last week, Echo had come with the report of a body she'd found in the forrest. It turned out to be Fiona, of those Applebees, next to a berry bush that they found were poisonous. They buried her in her spot on the wheel, just like they did with Wei after that first night.

Now, with pending excitement such as this, and Keidra back from her two week adventure, who wanted to sit and listen to the pig report? Even knowing that Scott had some amazing tool news, Dick felt a little impatient to get on with things, himself.

Marny had nothing new to add about textiles, other than she was still trying to figure out a bigger loom, and to thank everyone for spinning thread in their spare time. Which, as always, had yet another couple of people step forward and ask for a spindle of their own. It was what all the cool kids were doing, these days.

Karl and Daryl from the lumber yard reported a healthy stock of felled trees, as usual. They proposed holding off clearing more land until they had somewhere to put the trees. This brought another mini-lecture of clear-cutting cautions from Meadow, as usual. And, as usual, Karl cut her off by sharing that their seedling plans were going very well. There would be controlled replanting.

"This is exciting," Dick leaned over to whisper in Marny's ear. "I wonder what Keidra found? She's practically wiggling in her spot."

Marny squeezed his hand, and then giggled when he dropped his spindle. She helped him sort it out and untangle the thread as Scott stood and explained that he'd been working with the flint that Echo and Keidra had found on their first scouting trip.

"So," Scott said, standing in front of the fire and clearly enjoying his moment of victory. "We all know that prehistoric tribes used flint weapons and tools, before they learned how to work with metal. And we haven't found metal, but we've found all that flint. But we couldn't figure out how to turn the stone into a cutting implement. And then I met this guy."

This guy stood up, dark hair shaggy under a weathered yarmulke, shyly grinning and sort of bobbing a bow. Dick had seen him before, obviously noticed the only guy with a yarmulke in the crowd, but didn't know anything about him.

"This is Isaac. He's shy, so you probably don't know him. He was working over with the diggers in the garden. In the before, though, he was a jeweler. He knows about rocks. So we got to talking, because flint is a rock, you see. And so now Isaac is working with me over in the blacksmith hall. Because we came up with this."

He walked back to his spot, pulled out a log and and an axe with a stone head. And chopped the log in half. And then in half again. Everyone jumped to their feet, clapping, patting Scott and Isaac on the back. For the moment, they were rockstars. They were miracle workers. They just figured out how to turn trees, which they had, into wood, which they needed.

"There's more!" Scott laughed, going back to his spot, and pulling up two lengths of fairly straight and round wood, smoothed and stripped, about four feet long. Each had a nasty sharp looking head fastened to the top, adding another foot. Shaped like a leaf, coming to a wicked point, the spears looked like serious business.

He brought them to Guy, handing them over with a shy laugh, both of them gilded by firelight. "I thought the scouts could use them." And then he turned back to his adoring crowd. "These are just the first. We can figure out how to do knives, hand axes, maybe even arrows." "Good," Ted barked from the darkness. "We're going to need them." His usual dour voice carried slightly more doom and gloom. And his boots had a pungent odor of pigshit. He hadn't even bothered to wash before coming to council, obviously.

Guy spoke with a flat tone. "Hi, Ted. Thought you weren't going to make it, maybe."

"You wish," Ted snaped, stomping carelessly through the crowd with his stinky boots. "You all need to give me one of those spears. Now, Doc." He threw a dead body, a bit larger than his usual pig corpse offering, next to the fire.

"Well, now, Ted, we've talked about demand versus request before," said one of the women from what Dick liked to call the Inner Circle. Leslie, a terribly competent woman who gravitated naturally to the power group, who had taken over dealing with Ted as much as possible.

"Oh, don't pawn your woman forces off on me, Doc," Ted snapped, staring wildly at Guy. Something about him seemed more than his usual ill-tempered rant, a crazy wide grin that seemed stretched a little tight.

Darryl and a couple of the other lumber crew, big guys all, stood and came a few steps forward. "Oh, now, here, Ted..." Darryl started, hands pushing out in a conciliatory gesture.

"Don't start with me, Mister too proud to work on a pig farm," Ted snapped, jerking his head around almost like he intended to bite the men approaching him. He pointed down at the corpse he'd thrown. "I found our first predator, here. And I need protection."

Gasps and murmurs ran through the crowd like a stunned virus. Torches were lit from the bonfire and a closer inspection of the creature began. Shock and worry grew: Ted had been right about something, instead of just blowing hot air; and their safe and idyllic little paradise just became a scary place.

Although curious about the predator, Dick was not surprised. They'd already found two prey species, the sort-of chickens and the purple pigs, both of which had already had babies since they'd caught them. Anything that bred that quickly had to have some sort of predation to keep the population under control. If an animal had a lot of babies really quickly, it was because a lot of them would get eaten. Frankly, he was surprised it had taken this long to find out what ate them.

He waited his turn in the crowd, and then peeked over shoulders as Tika, their veterinarian, inspected the creature. Like a lot of things they'd found here, it had both scales and fur. There didn't seem to be a clear separation between reptile, bird, and mammal. Also like most things here, there was a strong bluish-purple color to it.

"Look at these fangs," Tika said, pulling the gums back to expose almost feline teeth, sharp and plentiful.

"Its head looks like a cat," said a male from behind Dick.

"But the body looks like a big lizard. Like an alligator." Said a young woman, probably one of the diggers.

"More like a komodo dragon. Look at those legs. I bet that thing can run."

"Look at the claws!" gasped a woman. "Do you think it can climb trees?"

"It can sure dig!" Ted said, arms crossed over his chest. "That's how it got in to my piglets." He shook his head. "I may need help catching some more sows."

The crowd murmured approval, and Ted basked in it, stepping back up on a familiar soap box. "I keep telling you, all this focus on clothes and baskets. Furniture. What we need are weapons. We've got to defend ourselves! This may just be a baby!"

"Well," Tika said, standing up and wiping her hands off on the seat of her pants. "I can't say for certain. But I think it's grown, and I think it's male. I found what appear to be testicles. It also looks like the stomach is fairly empty." She turned a raised eyebrow to Ted, her long braid flopping off her shoulder. "How many pigs did you say it got?"

"Well, you know, none of them. Actually. I got there that quick." His chin tucked in as he rushed to defend himself from a few snickers. "I was heading out to come to council when I heard a rucus out in the sows' sty. We just had another litter of piglets, and I was worried the sows was fighting over them again. That's when I caught this feller by the scruff of his neck. It put up a powerful fight, I can tell you. If there had been any others, I might not of come out ahead of the game."

Tika nodded her head, considering his tale. "Were there others? It would help to know if they're solitary or pack animals."

"I'm not sure," Ted dropped his head to admit. "It was getting dusk, I've got forrest all around my stys." He shrugged, helpless. "I'm not sure."

The snickers got a little louder.

"Enough of that," Guy snapped, his eyes squinted as his brain kicked into analytical mode. "We need a volunteer or two to step up and help out with guarding and tending the pigs. And we need someone to go with one of the scouts, see if we can't track down and find out more about these predators."

"And I need one of those spears," Ted shouted, grabbing for a spear.

Guy yanked it back, chin out. "No," he said.

"No? Who are you to say me no?" Ted's hands balled into fists, his face looked red and angry in the firelight.

"The man who made these, made them for the scouts. These spears are for the scouts, and you can't claim them without permission." Guy tossed one over to Echo, who caught it sharply, her face grim with the dark marks all across her chin sharpening the expression. He looked for Keidra, but she'd already stepped up next to Ted.

He jumped back from her, fists raised, ready.

She laughed, a flash of white teeth and amusement. "Don't make me knock you on your ass again. I'd like it too much." And then she turned to Guy, keeping Ted in her peripheral vision. "He can have the spear, Doc. I'm good with my sling. And we need the pigs."

Approval wafted on hushed voices through the crowd. Whatever Keidra might have been in the before, now she was beloved. Dick wondered if Guy should worry about her taking over. He didn't really know how he felt about that. He knew he didn't want to live in a world that Ted would make, but the thought of living in Keidra's potential Amazonian world seemed a little scary, and a little titillating.

Scott, grinning, clapped Keidra on the shoulder, almost a warrior's salute. "I'll make you another spear. Maybe stop by the hall, and we'll talk about javelins, bow and arrows, other options."

"Make a lot of spears," Guy said, throwing the spear at Ted's feet. "We'll want everyone to have access to protection. If these are out there, who knows what else is."

"I do," Keidra said with a deep laugh.

Ted bent, grabbing the spear, and went off into the night, muttering. This, much like everything about Ted, worried Dick. He just wasn't sure how to solve the Ted equation to an end that didn't turn him into a virus. Maybe having a volunteer or two out there with him was a good thing. Help keep an eye on him. Give him something to focus his complaints on and with. Or maybe it would make things worse. Who knew?

"So?" Guy said, his voice eager as he turned back to Keidra. "What's out there?"

"I found an ocean," she said, her voice full of crashing waves and seagulls and the faint tint of salt in the air. "About seven, eight days from here, down the river."

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