• Christopher Weston

Ordovicia


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.

“Windy.”

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.”

“Breeze?”

“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.”

After dinner Windy left the table, Mother thanked her for making such a wonderful meal.

“Its so good to have you back.” She hugged her mother, “I’m glad you liked the meal. I look forward to the morning, it will be nice to have someone to get ready with again.”

“In the morning then, we will talk.”

“Goodnight.” Windy said as she finished her embrace with mother, Father rose from his chair and hugged Windy, then made his way towards Breeze.

“Come spend some time on the soft sitter with me”

“Yes Jasper, I want your opinion on something.” She sat beside him and twisted to face him. He ran his tongue over his lips and began to lean towards her, she slipped her hand into his and placed something smooth and cold to the touch, there.

“Crawler shell.” he rolled it in his hand, “Were they good? Did they taste like the ones from the fields?”

“Look closely at the pattern on the shell, Jasper. Is it familiar?”

“Ah, I have wondered about those helmets of theirs, I have never seen Bessook Di Falm or any AvanCadre with out their helmet. I Imagined they must make them, but now it makes sense, they are crawlershells they take from the sea. Strong I’m sure, I have never been able to crush a crawler under foot, they push right down into the soil.” Mothers eyes grew wide with hope and Father drank in their beauty.

“Thank you for the gift my dear it is thoughtful that you brought it to me. I am so glad you are home. Work has been a challenge with my responsibilities at the fields,” he reached out to embrace her, it was a moment before she tighten her hold on him. “A man can only occupy him self so much with work. It doesn’t fill his heart like the one he loves.”

“Jasper, I have missed you so much, it has been trying to be away from you for so long. It might have driven me crazy if I had not returned when I did.”

Mother had made the traditional foods for this visiting day, including Wo-pa’s favorite, fish from the sea. She seemed nervous about something. Windy enjoyed helping, but found some of the old ways of making food laborious and labor intensive.

“Windy, I have something to ask of you.” Mothers anxiety increased “Please don’t tell your Wo-parents that you are going to study sciences with The AvanCadre.”

Windy was floored, “But why mother?” She demanded

“I’m afraid it will upset them.”

“Are you not proud of my accomplishments?” now Windy felt shamed. “Father was proud to know I would be educated in the disciplines of Life”

Mother just gave pleading look. “Please?” she said.

Windy nodded, and looked down to the food she was plating. This would be something she would do for her mother. She wondered if when her own parents were old, if she too would keep things from them. She thought about asking her mother if she would want her to keep things from her, but when she looked up Mother had left the preprectory. She was outside looking down the road. Wo-ma and Wo-pa were coming by mover this year. Wo-ma had sent word that Wo-pa was not up to the walk. Mother had gone out twice already to check for it’s approach.

Wo-ma said Wo-pa had grown so old that his future had become his present. Making the past his dreams. Windy didn’t understand exactly what that meant, but she knew it had something to do with Wo-pa’s last day being near and she did not like that.

“Ah, you’ve finally taught the girl to cook Breeze.” Wo-ma seemed pleased, Mother did not. Windy cleaned her hands and gave her Wo-Ma a big hug. “Bostgar, your Wo-Pa will be impressed, he loves Bostgar.”

“We made all his favorites Mother,” Breeze said “ even fish from the sea.”

“Didn’t make a fire, Did you?”

“No, Mother. I’m able to get fish from the sea because of my trading contracts; They’ve proven to be quite lucrative.”

Wo-ma looked to Windy but spoke to Breeze “It’s a shame how they make the women do so much. Trade really should be men’s work.” Wo-ma looked over the spread of food and at Windy “You’ll make a good wife to a successful man cooking like this.”

Windy glanced at her Mother. “I just helped. Mother did all the preparations.” Telling Wo-ma about studying at the estates was now out of the question.

“Modesty, that’s good, the men like that. We will find you a successful man.”

Suddenly, Windy wondered if it had always been like this. “I’m going to check on Father and Wo-pa.” She quickly made her escape.

Wo-pa was propped up a bit on the soft sitter, he looked a bit ashen. Father was handing him a cup of fermentquid. He turned to see Windy “How are preparations coming for the meal?” Father seemed stressed

“Hello Windy dear,” Wo-pa smiled, “you’ve become quite the little maiden, haven’t you.” He sipped from his cup. “ Your father tells me you’ve both out done yourselves in the kitchen.”

"We have made your favorites: bostgar and fish from the sea."

"I do love fish from the sea. I once traveled to the sea, as a young man."

"You've been to the sea?" Windy asked.

"Oh yes, I've been to the sea, when I was young. What an adventure I had. It was before I met your mother," Wo-pa said in a reminiscent tone.

Fathers eyes took on a look of sadness and worry.

“You mean Wo-ma,” Windy corrected

“Yes, your Wo-ma. She was the most beautiful girl in the parade. I was a young man just back from the mountains, the village was three days into the Festival of Family and-”

“Berly, she wants to hear about the sea.” Father interjected

“Right, The sea. I went to the sea.”

Father and Windy exchanged glances. Windy could understand what was meant by Wo-pa’s past becoming his present.

Wo-pa began again in an absent tone “I met a girl, her parents were river traders,” He smiled looking off into his past “I liked fish and she liked fruit.” he laughed. Father blushed and cleared his throat. Windy pretended to miss the reference.

“We went down the river on her parents boat, at night, her parents would sleep in the cabin and we slept on deck-”

Father cleared his throat, shuffling his position. “Berly, tell her about the sea, not the girl.”

“Yes. We were on the boat taking iron work made by the Mountain People to the villages along the sea.”

“There is more than one?” Windy had only heard of the one mother had been taken to.

“The world is a big place Windy, I’m sure there are many settlements near the sea in different parts of the world.” Father added.

“Yes, your father is right, but there were once more. Now they lay in ruin, some abandoned, some destroyed in the war with the sea,” he sipped fermentquid and sat back in his seat. “We traveled down the river to where it’s waters mix with the sea. Then traveled along the shoreline till we came to the village of the Sea People. We traded hooks, harpoons, and iron weights; taking on dried fish, fresh catch, and a variety of shell creatures in buckets that we would steam and eat along the way. The Sea People’s crafts are made for the deep waters where river boats do not go. We loaded our wears onto the sea vessel to head out into the sea, to a wealthy island where we would make good profits on our trades. You see Windy, an island is limited by it’s size, resources must be transported at a cost. Goods traded to the island are exotic and Val-“

“Berly, lets not make a commerce woman out of her just yet,” Father interrupted “She wants to hear about the sea.”

Wo-pa look to Father and lifted his cup to his lips and drank a gulp of the fermentquid.

“As I was saying” Wo-pa began, “The sea going Vessel was piloted and crewed with Dark men. Tall, strong, able to lift the iron harpoons forged by the mountain people.”

Windy wasn’t sure what a harpoon was but didn’t dare interrupt.

“The sea is full of vicious monsters with tendrils like vines that wrap and cling. Our boat was attacked repeatedly. The dark men fought hard against the monsters of the sea. Once, I saw the eye of a monster, just before a dark man put his harpoon into it. It was as big as a dinner plate and had two holes joined at its center.” Wo-pa held his cup out towards Father and tipped it so he could see it needed refilling. “Jasper, if you would.” Father begrudgingly lifted the bottle from where it sat and filled Wo-pa’s cup.

Mother entered “It is time for the meal.”

Windy would ask Mother about Wo-pa’s stories later. She had been to the sea and said nothing about monster fish.

At dinner Wo-ma continued to compliment Windy on the food and Windy continued to tell her she had just helped. Wo-pa ate his fish hungrily, which pleased mother. Father had stood to announce that Bessook Di Falm was to make him a growmaster. After the meal Father took Wo-pa into the living assembly to sit on the soft sitter.

“What right do they have to tell us who will be a growmaster,” Wo-ma snapped as soon as the men had left the room.

Mother looked as if she had been struck. “Mother, hold your tongue if you can not be happy for Jasper. I will not tolerate your disapproval of him any longer.”

Windy decided that it was time to hear the rest of Wo-pa’s story and hurried off into the other room with the men.

Wo-pa had had to much Fermentquid and was speaking loudly “It’s all we could do not to see them as gods. They put out the fires. They took the thatch from our roofs. They make us live in these jigged up buckets.” He was speaking of the Conversion “They didn’t tear down the walls of the homes. They left them their to deteriorate in the wind and rain, sun and cold; a reminder that where we had come from was gone. Gone! Cut off like so many thumbs,” he waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the estates and roared “Thumb Thieves”

Wo-ma came into the room at the sound of the elevated tones. Mother was close on her heals. There expressions darkened seeing Wo-pa in such an agitated state.

“Gale, Gale. I want to return to the village.”

“Quiet down Beryl, they’ll hear you.” Wo-ma said hurrying to his side. “I’ll do what I can.”

“Please Gale, I will not be discarded, lost in time. See me returned to the village, where I grew from a boy to a man, where I met you. There, where we met, in the village, please Gale.” Wo-pa pleaded as Wo-Ma tried to comfort him.

“I’ll do what I can Beryl, Oh Beryl!” Wo-ma was on the verge of tears. Mother stood motionless. Father rose from where he sat and placed a hand on Mothers shoulder. Windy felt Fathers arm wrap her shoulder but could not take her eyes from her Wo-parents. A deep unsettling sadness took her as she recognized fear in Wo-pa.

Mother had been upset when the news of Wo-pa’s passing came. Windy had felt sad too. Father did his best to lift Mothers mood and after a week she had seemed in better spirits.

Then, Wo-ma had arrived unexpected. It was not Visiting Day and Wo-ma seemed more worried than sad. She had gone into the preprectory with Mother and the two had spoken in low voices. Wo-Ma had originally protested that she; Windy be brought into the kitchen. To which Mother responded, “I will not have her a part of this” in a tone Windy had never heard from mother. “You risk too much. You will not risk my daughter.” The tone was absolutely terrifying. She would not want to hear Mother point that tone at her. Wo-ma had left the same day.

With Father working late at the grow modules, Windy and Mother were left to prepare the meal. In the preprectory, Windy thought on ways to ask Mother about Wo-ma’s visit with out angering her. Windy noticed a new pouch on the spice shelf; “Mother, has Wo-ma brought us some new spices?”

“Don’t touch it!” her mother responded sharply, slamming a hand down on the counter.

Windy recoiled from the shelf as if she had been bitten. “Mother, I ....“

“Don’t touch it! Don’t mention it!”

“Mother?”

“Yes Windy?”

“Wo-pa’s stories of the sea-“

“Windy, I don’t want to speak of Wo-pa. Please,”She let out a deep breath like she had been holding it in all day, deflated she continued, ”lets enjoy making dinner together this evening; it is not long-“ Mother paused and changed her tone. “I want good memories of my daughter when she is away at the estates out of my sight and care.”

The day had arrived. Windy was very excited. She had gone out to look for the mover twice already. Father had said his goodbyes in the morning, before leaving for work. She had risen early to have breakfast with him and to pack the few things she would take with her to the estates.

Mother was a flutter of nervousness and had mentioned everything Windy had already packed. She was surprise when mother didn’t leave to open her shop. Instead, mother had gone to the preprectory and begun preparing food. Windy brought her rollcrate out to the living area and said good by to her room. Looking in on Mother she found her packing food into a chillcrate. “Mother, I’m sure they have food at the estates. The movers bring it from your shop daily.”

“I thought it would be nice if we walked the river path. We could stop and have lunch together, one last time.” her mother said as she sealed the top of the chillcrate.

“It won’t be the last time mother. Your being silly. I’m sure we will see each other often. I am not going to the sea.”

“Windy, please, let me see you to your new place at the estates.”

When the mover arrived mother took Windy’s roll crate out, loaded it on and spoke with the pilot. The pilot nodded and the mover slowly backed away and headed off towards the estates.

Windy and her mother took the walking path that brought them through the town square. Many of the women came from their shops to wish Windy well or to congratulate her on going to the estates. Not until they were on the river path alone did she ask “ Mother did you take me this way to show me off to the other commerce women?”

Mother smiled, “Windy I’m very proud of your accomplishments.”

“Thank you mother.” She still seemed a little nervous to Windy.

The river path was cool in the shade of the trees that lined it’s banks. They proceeded at a steady pace but did not hurry. Mother told Windy about Her days as a young woman and meeting her father. Soon they were bordered on their left by a wall that ran broken, the length of the old village. Mother seemed to pay particular attention to it as it’s length stretched along the right side of the path. On their left the river danced with sunlight, it’s flow steady but not turbulent, as it could be at other times of the year. As they rounded the bend they noticed an AvanCadre by the waters edge. As they approached, Windy could see it was Belsur Di Rex. Mother missed a step and scuffed a step in the dirt. He turned to face the women.

“Hello” Windy said

“Windy Waters” his eyes registered recognition “Hello to you. You are traveling to the estates no doubt. And this is your mother?”

“Yes. Belsur Di Rex, my mother: Breeze Waters.”

“Hello to you Breeze Waters, You are known to me for the excellent fish you provide through your commerce arrangements. It’s good to meet one so talented in the ways of commerce.”

“Thank you, you are to kind.” Breeze responded holding the chillcrate a little closer to her body.

“What have you there?” he asked

“Oh, I had planed for a meal with my daughter on our journey to the estate.”

“I have enjoyed many meals along these banks,” he turned and scanned the river for a moment, “ I prefer meals here when there is opportunity, but I must proceed. Enjoy your meal Breeze Waters and Windy Waters.” and with that he proceed down the river path towards the square.

“Good Day Belsur Di Rex” Windy called after him. Mother took her hand and they walked, rather hurriedly Windy felt, till they reached a large opening in the stone wall where the remains of buildings could be seen crumbled and overgrown. Mother looked back over her shoulder, then veered off the path and through the opening pulling Windy in tow.

“ Lets stop for lunch” was the only explanation she gave. They moved along the wall far enough that they couldn’t be seen from the river path and Mother set the chillcrate down and sat next to it. She motioned for Windy to join her. Mother pulled from the chillcrate, the bag that had once resided in the preprectory. The one Windy had been instructed not to touch “Please finish unpacking the chillcrate, there is something I must do.” She held the bag with both hands, one around it’s top and one placed under it’s bottom. She rose into a crouch and with agility disappeared among the ruins. Windy looked off in the direction her mother had gone as she unpacked the chillcrate. Suddenly at some distance there was a puff in the air. It quickly dissipated. Mother soon returned unexpectedly from a direction other than the one she had departed from. She was still crouched and smiling. A strange smile she had not seen mother wear. Windy was confused. Mother plucked a sacabar fruit from where Windy had set them out, bit into the rind, and spit the peace. She sucked at the middle. grinning, juice on her face, she meet Windy’s befuddled look. “Didn’t know your Mother could be that sneaky.” The juice rolled down her hand and mixed with the ash that coated it.

The creature had a shell, striped in the marking of the AvanCadre helmets. It was much more complex than the shellcrawler. It swam and floated, controlled it’s buoyancy and propelled it’s self on jets of water. This one was of a medium size not quit big enough for an adult male AvanCadre by Windy’s estimate.

Were they trying to grow new helmets instead of harvesting them from the sea, like father thought they did. Maybe they sought to alter it the way they changed the fruits and melons; the creature had been brought here to the science modules after all. It would be in their character; they had father growing plants with no soil. Could they alter it to produce stronger lighter shells, or more aesthetically pleasing versions. Faster growth to meet a higher demand.

She could see why they wore the shells; this particular creature was beautiful, it’s shell had a striking appearance, sharp jagged stripes with an interesting pattern. Suddenly she giggled, and wondered if they had any hair. To cover baldness, that was the secret of the AvanCadre they were all bald. She stifled a cackle, she would tell Mother the joke when she saw her next.

“Do you know of Grafting Win Di Waters?” Bewan Di Flue always pronounced it as though it were an AvanCadre name. It flattered Windy making her feel as an equal.

“Yes, my father Growmaster Jasper Waters uses it to produce the new varieties of sacabar and melons of huge size.”

“You know of the extractors then too?”

“Yes, and I have been studying the numerics and their relation to the expressions of life codes. I have recognized many useful patterns.” The creature appeared to be looking at her, studying her as she had it. She leaned closer to the tank. Strangely shaped eyes; small black crescents surrounded in iridescent flesh, seem to make eye contact. It moved suddenly, changing it’s position and posture. eight small tendrils spread out from its shell. Was it staring her down? Its body began to cycle in color; an eerie feeling past over her. She stepped back from the tank and the creature jetted off disappearing to the back of the tank.

“It is said that you have a talent for such things.” Bewan Di Flue said as he gracefully glided across the room to a storage rack. “ I have some life codes I want you to examine. They are stored here.” he held out a data cartridge like the one in Mothers tally machine, here at the estates they called them Viewers and they could do a lot more than tally. She went to the machine and sat, Bewan Di Flue came to stand behind her. He was always enthusiastic when observing and respectful. He was not educator Barna standing over her, making sure her tallies got done. No, he waited on her word and would listen for her insights. It gave her the tingle sometimes when he would praise her emphatically for her ability. It was rare to see an AvanCadre emotional and it pleased her to please him.

The first of the life codes were easy to recognize, the marker for pigment was a giveaway for the sea people. The region that controlled height would tell her if the pattern were mountain-folk but before she scrolled to examine those sections she notice two strong markers for hair color. An image of her mother flashed in her mind. “Wolin.” she said and continued to scrutinize the codes. She could feel his excitement at her response and suppressed her own smile. She keyed up the next set on the cartridge, immediately she was perplexed. Old, very old; age had built up in the pattern, non-person, but complex. It could express a lot of forms. She came to the end of the code and paused, she could feel Bewan Di Flue’s eagerness, he felt closer, even if he hadn’t moved. She brought the Viewer back to the beginning of the code, and began to scroll threw it. What was she not seeing? “Bones” she said. She could feel Bewan Di Flue confusion before she could turn and look, before he could say anything. “There are no bones”, she stated, turning her head to glimpse him. She thought she had caught the hint of a smile. He was impressed. She turned back to the viewer, it was still scrolling. Her eye caught a section unfamiliar to her before it scrolled off the screen. She startled. Lost in thought she had almost forgotten about Bewan Di Flue when he spoke.

“Can I bring you some roastquid? To help you concentrate.” His eyes seemed bright and deep, they distracted her from her puzzlement.

Smiling she responded “No thank you.” She could not locate the pigment marker and started her scan from the beginning of the code.

He moved towards the doorway, “of all the things the Wolin have given us, the roastquid is my favorite, I will get my self a cup.”

She followed him with her eyes as he crossed the room, admiring his strong profile as he turned from her. They had such strong shoulders and necks. She admired the musculature of his upper body. “My Mother, she enjoys roastquid too.” she said a little to fast. He stopped. “ She says it helps her with her tallies.” she offered in a more even tone.

He was smiling; no doubt about it; a thin closed curve of the lips. She smiled back.

“I will return in a moment.” he glanced toward the viewer, bringing her attention back to the matters at hand.

She examined the code with new focus. It would tell her. It would reveal it’s secrets.

Her module at the estates was nice. It had a preprectory, living space, and hygiene module all built into one. It was elevated and had a platform, the AvanCadre called a balcony, where she could sit outside and look at the stars at night. She had been examining the life codes again on the viewer in her living space and had needed a break. From her balcony she could see the lights of the living assembles of the Wolin, she had yet to precisely pinpoint the one that was her parents but had a rough Idea. She could see the glow of the fields hidden behind the hills, where her father, a growmaster, might be working under the new lights.

She shifted in her seat to look up at the stars and thoughts of her work crept back into her mind.

It had changed slowly over hundreds of millions of generations. It had changed slowly over hundreds millions of generations. Things had been built up in it, switch on, switched off, truncated. It had been around longer than the code for the Sea People. Which was the oldest of the people codes Windy had come across and the one the AvanCadre had the most samples of. There were fewer samples for other groups like the Mountain People. No samples for River traders who had once inhabited the region. She was sure there were other kinds of people in the world, but she really only knew of the four: Wolin, Sea People, Mountain People, and River Trader. No, that was not correct. She new of another. She would have to ask Bewan Di Flue if there were samples for AvanCadre life codes she could view, it might give her more insights into people codes in general.

Her musings turned back to the old code he had given her. Their were numerous samples in the collection but the difference between them was minimal and offered no insight.

She did not want to ask what the origin of the code was, but she didn’t like being stumped either. Bewan Di Flue was counting on her insights; she would do nothing to disappoint or diminish her standing in his eyes. She would sleep on it.

The next morning she arrived at the science module early. She prepared roastquid the way her mother had done so many mornings. It wasn’t for her, but in anticipation of Bewan Di Flue’s needs. She found her self in front of the tank eating a Sacabar fruit, watching the helmet fish move about. Or maybe tendril fish, she would have to ask Bewan Di Flue what his people called it.

It’s skin changing colors and patterns. Suddenly it mimicked the pattern on the sacabar and held it. She moved closer to the glass and it fanned all it’s tendrils out and looked at Windy with it’s strange little eyes.

“Do I smell Roastquid?”

She was startled by Bewan Di Flue’s entrance into the module. “Yes, can I pour you a cup?”

“Thank you Windy. Any progress with those codes?”

“Some. It would help to know the source, especially of the older one.”

“Older?”

“Changes in the codes pattern build up in the code over time, a life form that has existed a long time shows it in it’s pattern.” She set down her fruit and went to the viewer. She brought up the code and Bewan Di Flue came to stand behind her with his cup of roastquid.

“All of these changes hide the shape and purpose of the life form. Legs, no legs; switched on and off here and here” she pointed to places in the code.” eight appendages or ten, it’s activation all the way back in the earliest parts of the code. Here, some kind of internal structure rendered dormant replaced with some kind of secretion.” She paused, something had just flashed in her head. “It’s a shell. It’s the code for the helmet fish.” She looked back over her shoulder at the tank. “It was right in front of me.”

“You are amazing Win Di Waters. I never thought you to guess the codes origin so quickly.”

She drank in the praise, she knew suddenly she was blushing and turned back to face the viewer. She got up and went to the basket that held the sacabar fruit. Bewan Di Flue followed her with his eyes. She had impressed him.

She held up a piece of fruit, “My father Grows these. He grafted two different cultivars so they grow with out seeds.” she suppressed an urge to tear into it like her mother had that day in the ruins. She too had been feeling accomplished, Windy realized.

“Yes, your accomplishments will far exceed his I’m sure.” he crossed the room and set down his cup. Windy took a bite of the sacabar fruit, it was sweet. “Bewan Di Flue, what do your people call the Helmet fish?”

“Avan.”

“So, your people are named after the creature.” Windy paused and took a deep satisfying bite from the heart of the fruit. Quickly, she wiped juice from her face hoping Bewan Di Flue hadn’t seen the mess. His back was to her. “I was thinking last night, that it may increase my understanding if I could examine life codes for the AvanCadre. Are they available for study?”

He was silent, his back to her. She turned her attention from her fruit.

His back still to her he spoke,” You have see them? Part of them?”

Windy was sure she had not.

“I was not prepared to reveal such delicate information at this time but there is something you must understand. ” The muscles in his neck twitched. Windy wanted him to turn but he did not. Slowly the pale flesh of his neck, where it was not darkened by the sun, expanded. His helmet rose. Moisture trickled down his back. Small appendages appeared, wriggling on the white surface of his skin. The lip of the helmet continued to climb until a pair of eyes looked out from under it’s edge. Father had been wrong. Oh, Father had been wrong; she had been wrong. She was wrong. She was going to be sick.

Colors and patterns flashed across the iridescent skin of the Avan. It jolted her back into the moment but held her gaze. The skin pulsed with colors. The pulsing had a shape in her mind, it calmed her and panic melted.

The shell slid back down, the avan’s tendrils retreating as it returned to it’s original position. Bewan Di Flue regained his original posture, turned, and spoke, “The Avan are a diverse and ancient race. War has destroyed their cities. Their civilization has fallen. Their existence is threatened. ” There was a desperation about him.“We were originally grafted to wage war against an enemy that walked on land. To take a form that allowed us to take the fight to our adversary.” Windy had never seen an AvanCadre or anyone express so much emotion. His eyes became wild. “The mighty rulers of the sea now hide amongst rocks and flee from fish.” The calm that had subdued her evaporated. She eyed the doorway. Windy rushed for the door.

Pulsing flashes of color stopped her in front of the tank. It was strange the effect the Avan could have on a person; the immediacy that had propelled her flight washed away. She no longer felt like escaping.

“Iva is Female. Rare among the Avan. Avan females die soon after the hatching of their young. Iva has put off her own reproduction. Joined, your mind would be very powerful.” His reflection in the tank grew as he came to stand behind her. “In the joining of brains we become more. Your natural talents augmented. Your abilities with the life codes enhanced. Strong enough to overcome our greatest challenge.”

Something in his words was desperate, pleading.

“Why are you doing this?” She could feel the effects of the calming pulse wearing off.

“We are seedless fruit, grafted as we are. You Windy Waters- Wind Di Iva can join the two halves in the life code allowing the AvanCadre reproduction.”

The AvanCadre have no children. It seemed so obvious to her now.

“You will be the savior of the AvanCadre.”

“What of the Wolin people? What will become of them?”

“The Wolin people prosper. They have the greatest potential of all land dwellers. We will continue to elevate them with our technology and science as long as they use it wisely. They have a unique capacity for understanding; some day they will rise to stand beside us as equals. If we still stand when that day comes.”

A confluence of patterns danced across the skin of Iva.

Bewan Di Flue looked to her. She must be communicating with him. “You are not alone in your apprehension. She has witnessed your fear. I must speak with her.”

“If I fail?” Windy found herself shocked at her own words, “What becomes of the Wolin then?”

“What becomes of any of us?” He said stepping to the tanks edge. “Go to your module. Think on this mater. The AvanCadre will not force you to be joined. It is for you to decide.”

In the morning she woke on the balcony, she had spent the night staring at the stars and the lights of the village off in the distance. Her thoughts had been troubled, burdened, but her dreams had been clear. In sleep she had visited her family, knowing each in their strengths she now new what course she would take. She rose from her seat and looking out on the new day. With her fathers determination and Wo-pa’s sense of adventure fresh in her mind she went down to meet Bewan Di Flue and give him her answer.

Wind Di Iuva stepped from her module where it was nestled among the ruins of the old village. She ran her hands along the old stones as she proceeded to the master opening where the ruins meet the river path. It afforded her a view of the water which calmed her at her very center. As the breeze picked up, it carried the sounds of children from down stream, playing along the banks. She could hear shouts, screams, laughter, and the calls of their Wolin caretakers. She would head up stream to the fish pens and satisfy her hunger before she went to watch the children play.


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