They could not be beaten; they prepared for violence with unfathomable weapons that could kill one or twenty, or set fire to a roof, or extinguish a torch. Many men threw themselves at the invaders only to be piled in heaps on the ground. The farming tools raised against these would be conquerors were swiftly broken. A young boy, Jasper, watched his father die. His mother threw herself at his killer. Their bodies lay together in a posture mocking intimacy.
Some men moved to burn their homes and fields, that they not fall into enemy hands. Attempts, easily thwarted by technology and ultimately fruitless. It could not be understood by those that put their hearts and minds into seeds and soil, how the helmeted ones had seized control so quickly.
It was over. The penalty for the Wolins opposition was the removal of the the thumb from the left hand of every male under the age of adulthood and the slaughter of the keepers of the culture: the parents of parents. Jasper stood, flanked by other boys his own age, some younger. Some tried to flee. “Run, Run” corralled parents encourage, but none escaped.
Jasper did not pull away. He did not hide or curl over his fist. Jasper stood and held out his hand. The box device slid on and held at the wrist. He did not flinch, but he could not take a breath. His thumb, visible threw a small window, locked his attention. The receptacle for refuse was clear to him. The eyes of the operator regarded him, and he looked away from where his hand was held. The eyes conveyed a moment of respect, then glanced at the machine. A needle stuck his hand, feeling was lost; something clicked, his thumb fell into the designated container; extreme heat, accompanied by a red glow. This was when the other boys had fallen limp and been carried off. The pressure on his wrist subsided and he pulled his hand away holding it in front of his face. A round white bandage sealed his skin, covering the nub of where his thumb had been. Another of the helmeted strangers placed a hand on his back and guided him to a strange structure that smelled of food but not of fire. A bowl of porridge was placed in front of him. “Eeeat” The helmeted one spoke. He reached for the spoon and his hand slid past. The challenges of his new physicality became evident.
Windy Waters held her fathers hand. As they walked, she rubbed the scarred nub of her fathers knuckle with her own thumb. She loved time with her father, they were headed home while mother finished up at the shop. Like all women of her generation Windy’s mother was educated in the tally machines of the AvanCadre and allowed to conduct commerce. All of Windy's schoolmates, boys and girls, were taught the numbers of the AvanCadre. Father was not, all men of his generation were restricted to physical labor. Some times this made Windy sad; Father could not help her with her school tallies, she had to ask her mother for help.
Once, mother had sought to teach Father tallies, and Windy had sat side by side with Father while Mother checked their equations. It had not lasted. It hurt her when he had thrown the charcoal and papers and hollered at mother. Windy knew It had made mother sad too; she could always see through her mother’s anger. Father could not. Especially when blinded by his own frustrations. From her bed that night she had heard her parents in their bed; Father’s soft apologies and sobs, Mother’s comforting whispers, late in the night the sounds of them joining. It was then that she could close her eyes to sleep knowing her family would be whole in the morning.
When they reached the living assembly Father went straight to the hygiene module. He worked hard as a cultivator and often came home with much of the field on him. Windy would review her classwork until mother arrived home from the shop.
Sometimes mother would repeat rumors she had heard at work during dinner. Father indulged in rumoring a little less often; in the fields, cultivators had little time for socializing, or so he said.
Tonight they were having bazleaf and land bird for dinner. Father was a very good cook; Windy enjoyed his food. She knew Mother did too; she would joke with other commerce women that it was the reason her marriage was happy.
Mother arrived at the living assembly a little later than usual. Seeing Windy doing her classwork, she smiled. Touching her daughters shoulder, Mother proceeded to the preprectory.
“Breeze, you are home!”
“It took a while to finish up the tallies. What can I do to help.” Windy new the silence that proceeded was kissing. There was always more kissing when Mother was late.
Dinner was good. Father seemed happy with it, mother too.
“If bazleaf is mature, there must be shellcrawlers,” Mother inquired when she returned to the table from clearing the plates. “Don’t you trap them when they come to eat the leaves?” Mother looked forward to broiled shellcrawlers, when the season approached. Father would trap them with fermentquid placed out around the bazleaf stocks. Windy disliked prying the meat from the shells, so he prepare them special for Mother.
“I am sorry to say they have banned the practice. What crawlers we had they’ve taken, and they’ve put out contraptions to keep them from the fields.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear.”
“Maybe one of your trading women can find you some shellcrawlers from the sea.”
“There is trouble with trade from the sea,” Mother leaned in to the table as if to repeat a confidence.” I have heard that many of the sea people have disobeyed the mandates placed upon them, and the AvanCadre have responded sternly,” She shook her head “The fishing villages are in disarray.”
Father glanced at Windy then back to Mother “Will there be no fish for Visiting Day? Wo-pa does look forward to you making it.”
“And Mother looks forward to telling me how.”
They laughed, Windy smiled and wonder if she would someday talk of her mother, the way Mother talked of her own.
Windy looked forward to school. Every day she woke with Mother and readied herself as Mother did, brushing their hair together in the mirror of the hygiene module. They made breakfast on the induction plate, a selection of grains they both enjoyed for porridge and Mother’s roastquid which she said helped her focus on her numbers. Windy had no problems focusing on numbers, it was her favorite part of school. She had even corrected Educator Barna’s mistake one day. Educator Barna had congratulated her on finding it and rewarded her with a token. She had three academic tokens which was more than other children in her assembly. Educator Barna had told her she may some day go to learn from the AvanCadre and become an Educator herself. The thought of being an educator did not excite her as much as learning from the AvanCadre. They were so knowledgeable in so many things. Even Father would say how they saved the crops, when there were diseases, and their ability to change the seeds so they would grow more, bigger, tastier food.
On her walk to school she met up with other children on their way, Snow’s mother was in acquisition; a high position that brought her out to the estates, she had been trained to pilot a mover and used it to bring goods to the storage modules. Snow often talked about movers and wanted to be a mover operator like her mother. She had gone with her mother on Experience Day, riding along on acquisition jobs. She had met several of the AvanCadre her mother supplied. Of all the children at school she was the only one Windy knew who had spoken with an AvanCadre. It was a point of status Snow did not let the other students forget. Windy wanted to meet one herself even if it was just to put Snow in her place. Maybe Father could introduce her to the overseer of the fields.
Wo-ma and Wo-pa always came on Visiting day.
Wo-ma was Mother’s mother, she talked about the AvanCadre in whispers. The things she said weren’t always kind, they made Father uneasy. Wo-pa would say it made his thumb itch, this made Father more uneasy. Wo-pa would talk about life before the AvanCadre and the Wolin ways and how they were disappearing. “Visiting Day,” he said with a scoff. “When I was a boy it was the Festival of Family and it lasted two weeks. The menfolk and the womenfolk would gather separately and there was a Parade of Maidens.” Windy was glad the Parade of Maidens was no longer held. She didn’t like the idea of having to show herself to men or having her marriage made by her parents. To Windy it seemed things were still separate. Wo-ma didn’t like men in the kitchen, which was what she called the preprectory. Father stayed in the living quarters and out of the preprectory when she came to visit. Wo-ma didn’t like the induction plate either and always wanted to make a fire. She would instruct Mother on how to make the food if they had a fire. Strangely, she thought males weren’t suppose to make food or couldn’t do a good job. Windy had tried to tell her how good Father was at cooking Qumpa Squash, but Wo-ma had just stared at her till Mother had told her to go into the living quarters and spend time with Wo-pa and Father.
“Wolin is the greatest culture that ever lived, its fine traditions had sustained it for one thousand generations. Its growmasters known across lands further than a man could travel. It’s women the most loyal and dedicated of wives. Our colorful fruits- used as currency in foreign lands,” he proclaimed between sips off his cup of fermentquid. Father nodded and tried to talk about his work in the fields and grow modules; Wo-pa never listened.
After dinner, Wo-ma,Wo-pa, and Mother would sing; not something Mother would do on her own. Father would sit on the soft sitter with his arm around Windy and smile and listen. This was the part Father liked best about Visiting Day. After the songs, Wo-pa always asked Father, “Your parents resting past their last day, what wonderful singers they were. Do you remember much of them Jasper? They could sing so well, a shame you never took to it.”
It was Experience Day, Windy was spending the day with her mother at the shop. Mother had put her to work doing inventory, which was tedious and didn’t hold her interest. Forcing her to recount products over again. The previous Experience Day she had gone with Father to the fields. She had seen the work being done in the grow modules, the way the plants could be broken into many and combined into new plants. The Overseer, Bessook Di Falm had shown her the extractors. They could pull the life code from juices and store them in the machine. All Mother’s machine stored were tallies on the different products she sold, prices and trade conversions. Windy did not want to be a shop keeper like her mother. Mother enjoyed talking with the village women that came in. Windy only really took notice if they came with their sons or daughters, but mostly they just came with gossip.
Late in the day, Snow’s Mother, Flurry came in to the shop with a long acquisition list for the estates. Windy was enlisted in the gathering and the crating of many vegetables which required much lifting and shuffling about of containers. Her mother retrieved meats from the coldchest, packing them in chillcrates. Some of the chillcrates were from other villages and needed to be recharged before they could be packed. Before Windy knew it, it was halfOcton and the lights in the shops flickered to life with the approach of dusk. When she had finished packing the last crate she carried it out to Flurry’s mover.
On her way back in she overheard Snow’s mother whispering to her own. “-fish in their helmets,” while picking through the Sacabar fruit father had grown. “She had seen it with her own eyes.” On noticing Windy she spoke in her normal voice, “They only eat the best. I must choose well or risk displeasing them.”
“Flurry, why is your daughter not with you today?” Mother said in that pleasant voice she used when she wanted to change the subject.
“Oh- Snow, she gets sick when she rides the mover, I sent her to the storage modules to sort crates with her father.”
Windy could not wait for school, she would let everyone know what a great mover pilot Snow would make.
Windy could see the lights of the grow modules from the path, lighted movers were bringing new equipment to the fields and she could see the shine of AvanCadre helmets in the lights. The men were walking down the path, away from the field; some carried lunch pails and others did not. All looked tired and in need of the hygiene module. Some of the men stopped to see the structures being brought in on movers and to watch the AvanCadre assemble them.
“What could they be doing,” she asked her mother.
“I don’t know. Change comes quickly with the AvanCadre. Maybe Father will know.” As they continued up the path they were passed by men, many nodded politely some were so invested in their conversations that they didn’t seem to notice. One man seemed angry and Windy thought she heard him say the word “thumb-thieves” to the man next to him. When they came to the bend in the path that took it along the field they saw Father. He was smiling.
“Jasper, what is going on here, and why do you look so pleased?” Mother took his hand and as she spun to head back in the opposite direction, wrapped Father’s arm around her waist. Father pulled her right in and gave her a peck on the cheek. Windy giggled on seeing the smudge of dirt Father had left behind.
They walked down the path along the field. It wasn’t until they were in sight of the newly assembled equipment that Father stopped and spoke. “Those will be vertical grow structures. The AvanCadre have come up with a way to grow plants up into the air instead of just across the field in the dirt. We will grow more food than could ever be imagined by our parents.” Windy studied the structure. Something about knowing its purpose suddenly brought it to life, she could see where the planting would be and how the structure would support its self, how it would be fed water and where it would drain. It suddenly made perfect sense, the way the sun would fall on the structure and how it could be altered to match the sun’s angle.
She broke from her trance and looked to her mother who was still holding on to Father and smiling. “Did you hear what your father said?”
“I, Ah- “
“Your Father is to be put in charge of one of the new vertical grow structures.” Mother made her eyes wide “What do you think of that?”
“It’s Wonderful, I’m proud of you Father.”
“Thank you Windy, I am pretty happy about it myself,” and he laughed.
The Wolin always noted the approach of the AvanCadre along the river path. Their usual strident pace slowed and their attention turned to the flowing water. The villagers had little use of this route. Fish no longer swam in the river water. It led past the crumbling stone walls of the old village before it climbed a gentle hill to the estates.
Once river traders had camped all along it’s banks, their boats tied to the strong branches and trunks, waiting for fruits and produce to take down river. No one among the Wolin knew the fate of the river traders; most assumed they had fled when the AvanCadre arrived. Some blamed them for the AvanCadre’s arrival, suggesting that they had betrayed the Wolin. Trade done with boats, now was done by mover. The use of the river path was abandoned by the Wolin and ceded to the AvanCadre, who for all their seriousness seemed a bit more at ease when lingering along it’s length.
Whispers traveled faster than feet and the entire village knew before the minister reach the square. He stepped up onto the platform at its center and produced the tone to assemble. An announcement was to be made.
Coming from the shops surrounding the square, the commerce women were the first to gather. The men made their way from the field where overseers had repeated the tone. When everyone had assembled, the minister surveyed the crowd. The sun glinted off the curves of his helmet, and it’s pattern of jagged slashing scarlet flared in the light. He registered faces, pausing to build anticipation. Then, he began. “The AvanCadre have need of the Wolin. Your success here among the AvanCadre has been impressive and brings much joy to us. We want for others, the success the Wolin have had here. Among you there are many we seek for educators, so others may be successful. Those of you will be notified. We will bring a mover to the river tomorrow. Make peace with your families it may be an oonocto before you see them again. We travel to the ocean so the people there can receive the help of the Wolin.”
Life was strange without the commerce women. The shops had been emptied and locked; their resources diverted, the womens’ accounts credited. The mothers and wives were loaded on to movers with supplies and equipment and the mover pilots followed the river to the sea. No men had been called to serve on the mission. Left to keep life going in the absence of their rain, sun, and wives, mothers, and modules, Windy, and sisters, the men of the village came together to see that food from the fields was distributed and needs were met.
Meals were given first thing every morning in the school; some of the village wo-mas came to help with food preparations. The students found it interesting to see a fire kindled but disliked the smoke. On and off throughout the day, some of the students would continue to cough. The AvanCadre arrived with preprectory modules- a gift- and attached them to the school. The wo-mas found this suspicious. One said the AvanCadre had spies among the Wolin, another said they had eyes in the back of their heads. Windy didn’t think you needed eyes in the back of your head to see all the smoke the wo-mas had been making. Educator Barna thanked the wo-mas for their help and reminded them who was in charge of the school. Rumoring was for shops and the shops were closed.
In the mornings, older children were tasked with making sure no child was left behind. Snow was given a bell to ring early in the morning to help the children wake. Windy hated that bell. Snow must be ringing it extra loud and extra fast when she came by her living assembly. In the absence of her mother, Snow no longer spoke of becoming a mover pilot; Windy thought, with all the rumors she spread, Snow was destine to become a shop keeper. She was friends with all of Windy’s classmates- even the boys, and exerted influence over them.
Windy took her morning responsibilities seriously. Her task, rounding up six students and seeing that they made it to the school for breakfast was challenging. With their mothers gone they needed lots encouragement; each one presented a different challenge. The younger children were the most unpredictable, Windy never knew which one would derail her efforts. There was always a delay and it was never the same as the previous day. Windy did not remember being so disorganized when she was young.
The children often asked about their mothers, this made Windy uncomfortable. Sometimes they asked about the sea, she had no answers for them. Children were not like numbers, they did not form predictable patterns, they were variables, unquantifiable, never producing the same results twice. The only thing that seemed consistent was that she would arrive late with her group to the disapproving glances of the wo-mas and exasperated looks from educator Barna.
In the evenings, Windy held back on voicing her own concerns about mother, not wanting to upset her father. As they made dinner together, they talked about their days. Father talked about the vertical growers, how the men called them sun chasers; they had become favored by the cultivators because harvesting was much easier than the traditional methods. He spoke of Bessook Di Falm’s approval of his work and the added responsibility of many vertical growers. She knew, he talked about his work so he wouldn’t have to talk about Mother. Since Mother had gone to the villages by the sea, he had been working later and coming home tired. It was clear to Windy that he missed her deeply. He slept with one of her unwashed night dresses bunched up next to his pillow. Windy wasn’t as worried about Mother, as she was about Father; he was worried. Mother could take care of her self. Father, like most of the men in the village was becoming anxious and showing signs of stress. Windy did not know how many more seasons could pass without the return of their love ones.
Belsur Di Rex arrived at the school. Many of the students became excited, never before had an AvanCadre visited the classroom. He brought with him Tally machines. A murmur passed around the room, and was quickly destroyed with a fiery look from Educator Barna. The sense of anticipation grew as Educator Barna selected individuals for testing. Then she dismissed the rest of the class. Some were excited for the unexpected free time, others were still curious about what was to happen. Four were chosen. Windy and Snow were the only two girls. Snow glanced in Windy’s direction and smiled a confident smile. Windy looked down at the tally machine placed in front of her. The screen came to light, It read “locked”
Windy glanced up at Belsur Di Rex standing with Educator Barna at the top of the classroom. They looked out upon the four students but offered no further instruction. Windy placed her hand on the side of the device and slid the tiny locking mechanism to the off position. Instructions started to scroll from the bottom of the screen. There was no way to control the speed of the scrolling, it took all of Windys concentration to read the words before they disappeared off the top of the screen.
“She started!” Snow’s voice was indignant, “She started?”
Windy tried hard not to be distracted by the sounds of the other students scrambling to unlock their machines. She could feel a smile creep up the side of her face, but that was all she would allow her self. There were many questions, puzzles, and challenges. The instructions had specified the order in witch the problems were to be solved and the rules of the testing procedure. Windy had noted particularly that the rules had not prohibited working together on solutions or interacting with other students. Snow had not deduced this otherwise she would be yapping away with her friends. She had been quiet since the beginning of the test, nearly two octons, by Windy’s estimate.
Windy was working on a very complex equation when suddenly she realized something, she looked up at the other students taking their tests. She rose from her seat and approached Schist, the young man sitting at the very back of the room. She set her tally machine in front of him and he handed her his. Across the top of his screen it read “don’t speak,” in bright red. When she looked at what was left to be done on his machine she realized the questions were different but not entirely unrelated to the ones she had already answered. When she filled them in the bright red “don’t speak,” disappeared from the top of the screen. She looked over Schist shoulder to see him rapidly solve the visual puzzles she had yet to complete. She showed him the screen of his original unit and he took it back from her.
“Dolo, hand me your tally machine.” Schist said to his friend, seated in front of him.
“ I cannot.”, Dolo responded.
Windy, still standing, looked down at Dolo’s machine. In red it read “do not speak unless spoken to. Do not give this machine...” Windy reached down and took the machine from him. The questions from Schist’s test answered the questions on Dolo’s machine. Upon completion all three screens turned blue and the symbol of success, a spiral, was displayed on them.
“What about Snow?” Windy heard her self say, walking to where she sat. Snow had a panicked and desperate look about her. Windy leaned in to see her screen. It read “Complete your test alone with no assistance.” Windy drew back and looked to the front of the room where Educator Barna stood with Belsur Di Rex.
“Her capacity is remarkable, especially for one so young. But it is her comprehension that is so striking. Educator Barna you have done well to recognize the potential in this young Wolin. I will see that you benefit from the actions you have taken. In eight seasons she will come to the estates and learn from us, we will teach her great things. Things only known to the AvanCadre at this time. Be proud in your work, you have done well, and shown the great potential of your own people.”
Word spread through the village that the movers were returning. It unleashed a fury of activity. The school closed early; the students sent home. The men returned early from their duties in the fields and among the vertical growers.
Father had spent extra time in the hygiene module and had asked Windy how he looked repeatedly. The people of the village were gathering in the square to meet the movers and welcome home their returning loved ones. Nervousness and excitement passed among the crowd. Children moved about with youthful energy; many had missed their mothers greatly in the first weeks after their departure.
The mostly male group of greeters seem to stand extra straight and tall. There was a faint smell of scented soap and anticipation wafting up from them. Windy was excited to see mother, she stood with her father instead of wandering about with the other girls her age. There was a silent appreciation from father that she was with him. She took his hand, like she had when she was younger, not for her own comfort, but his. He smiled. Tonight was going to be for Mother and Father. Windy would be tired and go to bed after dinner.
Their clothes worn and shabby; sun bleached and saltwater softened. They looked a little bedraggled and dirty as they came down off the mover. Mother looked older some how, her face tired and lined. Father was still overjoyed to see her; his first steps were hurried nearly breaking Windy’s grasp on his hand. He enveloped Mother in an embrace that almost made her disappear.
It had been a trying time with Mother gone, but the chance to know Father better and learn some of his cooking techniques was not something she would trade. A small ease of grip was all the warning Windy had before the embrace loosened and encompassed her as well. Her family became one big knot; a single creature just for a moment; before it broke apart again.
Mother would be surprised when she told her she had gotten her first moon-bleed and about the testing at school. There where many things to share. Windy would tell her in the morning, when they were getting ready to start the day; like they had not done together in so very long. It was good to have Mother back.
Windy prepared dinner while Mother and Father sat at the table. Mother was a bit shocked Windy had learned to cook, and joked that Windy could spend next Visiting Day in the preprectory with Wo-Ma while she drank fermenquid with Wo-Pa.
Windy was making the dinner, she hoped to impress Mother with her newly developed talent. Father was looking to impress mother as well. She could hear them talking from the preprectory while she worked on dinner. Father had just finished a lengthy list of his responsibilities at the grow modules and mother was offering some insight into the commerce that had been established by the Wolin delegation.
“It’s curious, they have them catching a small fish- Aioli, it’s oily and has never been eaten in the village. They don’t even make good bait. The men once thought them a nuisance, when found in the nets they would throw them back. Now, they are made to catch as many as possible. The pilots take them off in tanks on the movers. Why would they want such fish? It is very strange.”
“To put in their helmets.” father laughed, “really Breeze, you stirring a rumor?” His voice sounded jovial to Windy, and for a moment she imagined him as a young man. “It is so good that you are home, you have been greatly missed. Tell me more of the Sea people, I have heard little more than your fathers stories and I don’t count his recollections as entirely creditable”
“Their villages are simple, of their own construction. They will not live in modules as we do. The men go out on the water for days, even weeks at a time. The women stay in the village along the shore and busy themselves with the work that is done there.”
“And the AvanCadre?”
“The Ava-” Mother paused; it was odd. “The AvanCadre.”
“The Sea People will not speak their name, they close up like there’s smoke in the air around the AvanCadre.” her voice sank to a whisper, “They watch the Sea People. There is no trust. We were brought to teach them commerce because the AvanCadre can not.” Fathers shocked silence was audible. Windy quickly finished preparing the plates of talbido fruit, and brought them into the dining area breaking the quiet. Father smiled knowing what was about to arrive.
“Windy, this is amazing. Your preparations are beautiful.” They were sliced and arranged in fans and garnished with sacabar blossoms.
“Thank you Mother, I need to attend to the flofalo, enjoy” Father spoke another thank you with his eyes , he was grateful for the private time with Mother.
Mother hummed with enjoyment.
“I have not had talbido in so long. Mostly we ate fish in the village.”
“Do they grow anything by the sea?”
“They harvest Kep from the sea, which you will get a taste of, seeing I have an importing contract for it, along with one for fish.”
“Ah, so you did teach them commerce.”
“It was very hard to gain their trust, but yes. I feared if I did not, I would not have the chance to return.”