Episode Three ♦ Plans

“This is really good. What do you call it again?” Luis asked.

“Well, I don’t call it anything. It’s just baked chicken with roasted new potatoes.” Willem explained. “More than anything, I’m going to miss that market.”

“They have to have something out there: people have to buy food some place.”

Willem took another bite and chewed with leisure. “I’ve got no idea what they have but I expect people grow most of their food.”

“You have done research…” Luis let the statement hang.

“Not really. What’s to know? Saint Louis is the end of the line. Civilization stops at the Mississippi. After that, all you’ve got is the Great North American Wilderness Park until you cross the Cascades or Sierras and then you’re in the Northeastern Pacific Sector of the Industrial Confederation.”

“I understand the geography. That country has been wilderness for hundreds of years. No one has been permitted to live west of the Mississippi since the Great War.”

“Yes. One of the two great results of Carmageddon: massive depopulation and final conversion from a fossil fuel to a geo-cosmic economy. And we’re still here.”

“I have heard stories about savages – people returning to the ways of the ancient inhabitants that lived there before European Americans arrived in the middle of the last millennium. They ride horses, live in leather tents, and hunt the great beast.”

“Cool.”

Luis’ voice dripped with urgency. “They might kill you!”

“And they might not.” Willem continued eating and talking as if he was discussing replacing a Lavandula angustifolia with a Lavandula latifolia. “That’s why I’m going.”

“You want to find savages?”

“No, but if they find me I’ll deal with it.”

“Where will you live?”

“No idea.”

“But…” Luis was stymied.

Willem put his fork down, finished chewing his mouthful of food, and took a sip from his glass of white table wine. He looked his friend in the eye. “I’m going because I want to know what it is like to live; live like our ancestors did. Live with the fear of the weather and the joy of the harvest. Live as every other animal on this planet lives.”

“But you have all that here. Or you could just move to the commune.”

“Don’t you see? Those are only half measures. You still have everything, every conceivable convenience of modern civilization at your fingertips. And you have this thing in your skull.” Willem tapped the place on Luis’ skull where, as a small child, a surgeon implanted the tiny device that would always interface with the communication infrastructure maintained by De Authoriteit.

“You have not!”

“But I will. I already know of someone who will take it out.”

“What are the risks? You don’t know what will happen if you take it out. You could die without it. What if you need help?”

“I won’t die. It’s as easy to remove as it is to install or upgrade. They just want us to think we can’t live without it. Humans existed for tens of thousands of years without an Informateur in their skulls. Remember, primitive devices were carried around in the hand and there were thousands of people who lived without even them.”

Luis was accepting that there was no logical argument to fight the inevitability of Willem’s leaving for the unsettled lands in the middle of the continent. “How will we keep in touch? It’s not like there will be way to contact you.”

“Actually, how do your books get to you?”

“Someone brings them here.”

“Same idea. In the market there is a kiosk – Confederated Express – where you can send a written message for me in care of their Saint Louis office. I’ll leave word in Saint Louis which way I’ve gone. They will forward the message on.”

“So there really are towns west of the river?”

“Luis, you have to stop thinking of this like I’m time traveling back to the Stone Age. Those I’ve talked with say it’s much like we read about when EuroAmericans first started the Great Westward Migration. People find land to farm or graze and where they congregate, villages spring up. The villages are connected to each other and finally to civilization in cities like Saint Louis.”

“But such settlement is illegal. It’s on wilderness preserve. I thought the whole point…”

“The whole point is to have places where natural forces can play out. Humans are as natural a force as any other predator, as is the wind for that matter. However, De Authoriteit does not exercise control over that land. At least, that’s my understanding. It’s wild.”

“I get that. I just cannot imagine how you are going to live out there.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Willem watched as the couple of guys from the cheese stall balanced his mattress on the hand cart. Their trade of some hard, local cheese would travel well. “Are you sure you can make it, just the two of you?” he half offered.

“Oh, we’re used to carting around awkward loads,” one answered. The other added, “I promise, she’ll be most appreciative to have a bed, even used. Thank you again and good luck on your trip!” The first continued the expression of gratitude and soon they headed down the path towards “Marigold Place.”

Willem looked around his home: not much was left of his few belongings and he felt better for it. He knew little of the new couple that planned to move in, but they had enough furniture to fill the two rooms. Opening the door to the bathroom, he entered. Willem opened a wicker basket and placed the wheel of cheese inside with some other foods he planned to take on the trip: a sausage, some sugar, a loaf of bread (in addition to the one he’d started earlier in the day), apples, pears, chocolate bars, and of course, his tin of tea. He removed the basket and his canvas duffel from the bathtub and returned them to his bedroom. All that remained there was a painting he’d done of Avinashika standing in the garden as it approached harvest. He admired how he had captured her long, black hair waving in the late afternoon breeze. At that time it still reached down to her waist.

“Knock, knock,” she called at the front door.

“Come on in,” he returned. Color burst from the background greens invoking the images of flowers, fruits, and herbs. The painting beamed with pride at all they had grown.

The front door squeaked open and he heard her gasp, “Oh my, where did everything go?”

“I’m back here.”

She paused in the doorway, her chestnut brown eyes wide at the shock of the empty rooms. “I didn’t realize you were planning on going quite this soon.”

“Neither did I, to be honest. But this morning in the market I was talking about getting rid of stuff. A couple hours ago people started showing up willing to take this and that. The new people wanted me to leave the pots, pans, plates, and utensils, but otherwise, this is all I’ve got left.” He motioned her into the room, looking at the painting. “I want you to keep this for me, okay?”

She smiled but he could see it was not out of happiness: she was trying to hide her feelings.

“Unless you don’t want it…”

“No, it’s not that. I just thought we’d have a couple more days before you left.” She paused. Recognizing they were both uncomfortable with the maudlin tone of the discussion, she changed the subject, “Are you hungry? I made some Channa and Toor Daal, Pitla, and even cooked up that asparagus you forgot you were going to use today.”

“Indian style?”

“Of course.” Her smile was genuine now.

“How can I pass on a meal like that? No idea when I’ll eat well again. So, you want the painting, right?”

“Please.”

He took the five foot wide canvas off the nail where it hung and carried it for her. “Get the lights behind us. Here,” he fished a key out of his pocket, “probably better lock it tonight just to be safe.”

♦ ♦ ♦

They sat on her stoop spooning food from pots onto rice and then eating it with their fingers in a more traditional manner. “Would you like a little more beer?” Avinashika offered.

“Yes, thanks. I’m going to miss this EHSFA Brewers’ Pilsner. Don’t ask me why, but I know I’ll miss it.” Willem looked up at the sky and watched the Hale and Hearty Comet as it moved from Cassiopeia into Perseus. 

“It’s easy to drink. I’ll give you that. So, what’s the plan for tomorrow then?”

“No plan really. Just going to head into the city and catch a train north. I’ve got to stop in Appledorf to see a guy named Ugo. Not sure how long I’ll be there. After that, I’ll take whatever train comes next. That’s the joy of having a fourteen-day railpass.”

“And no plans where you’ll enter the park?”

“Nah. None. Might go by way of Norleans and then head up the Mississippi. Or might head straight for Memphis or Saint Louis. Don’t really plan on heading as far north as Twin City, but who knows.”

“I could try and read your fortune…”

“Nah. I’ll go where I go. I’ll try to get you word someday where I settle, but it’s hard to say when that’ll be.”

“And if.”

“And if,” he agreed. Having had his fill, he leaned back against the railing and took a slug of his beer. “Might just try and take up with one of those bands of nomads riding horses and hunting the bison across the plains.”

“How’d Luis take the news?”

“Well, if his arguments were any suggestion, I’m guessing he was pretty upset with the whole idea. But of course he’d never say as much.”

“You’ve always said you were more than just good friends, right?”

“Well yeah. It’s just I’ve never been quite sure if he wasn’t hoping that maybe some day… But you know me, the last thing I want to do is settle down with anyone. I’m only thirty. It’s too soon to be tied down.”

“Do you love him?”

“Not in the way you mean. Never have anyone best I can tell.”

“So I won’t make it hard for you to leave if I offer to let you spend the night? It’s not like you have anywhere to sleep tonight.”

“I’ve got a sleeping bag. I was thinking of just sleeping under the stars.”

“How about one last night in a nice, comfortable bed?”

Looking up at the sky, he watched as the comet disappeared into the west behind a bunch of trees. He thought for a moment about Avinashika’s offer. Willem was never one to say no to an attractive woman who offered her bed.

♦ ♦ ♦