From Apocalypse to Apocalyptica

From Apocalypse to Apocalyptica

[Between Knightfall and VOID]

One of the problems using inter-universal gateways to scavenge resources is finding the resources.

Never expected to hear that, did you?

So, here’s the deal.  Diogenes opens up small gateways, sticks a long, thin rod through.  A bunch of sensors unfold from the rod.  He looks, he listens, and we get a lot of data on the world.  Is there radio traffic?  AM?  FM?  WiFi?  Is there radiation of the more unpleasant sorts—neutrons, gamma rays, overwhelming ultraviolet, and so on?  How hot or cold is it?  What’s the cloud cover look like?  Is the air even breathable?  Is there pollution, and what sorts?  Is the Sun out?  Can we get a spectrographic analysis of the upper atmosphere by analyzing the light from the Sun?  All that sort of stuff, taken together, can paint a rough picture of the world he’s found.

ome of them are not fun places.  One leaps immediately to mind:  Axis, an alternate timeline of Earth.  From what we’ve managed to piece together, Hitler was successfully assassinated.  At first glance, you’d think this was a good thing.  Trouble is, while he was a charismatic leader, he was a terrible general.  When real military thinkers took over the war, things… went badly for the Allies.  Also, instead of allowing Jewish scientists to escape, they imprisoned and used them, greatly advancing their atomic energy program.  The Axis powers got the first fission weapons.  You can imagine from there, I’m sure.

So, when Diogenes reports he’s found a world with people in it, Mary and I get to scout it.  Uninhabited worlds get an aerial scouting drone.  The objective, as always, is to gain resources, preferably with less effort than having Diogenes dig them up and process them.  In a world where they have solar power, we sell things Diogenes can make cheap and easy, and we buy panels.  In places where they make high-quality steel, ditto.  It’s all a matter of what gives us the best bang for our buck.

As a result, here I am in a post-nuclear-war scenario, trying to find out if there is enough stuff lying around to be worth salvaging.  After all, recycling a thousand tons of aluminum is easier than digging it out of the ground and refining it.  There are indications there are still people around, so, rather than display a lot of high technology, I’m riding a horse, a big, black horse, genetically engineered and cybernetically enhanced, but I’m not telling anyone that, and trying to blend in. Ironically, a horse is actually a good choice in a post-apocalypse scenario.  It may not blend in perfectly, but it makes sense if mechanical transport is less available or not reliable.

Diogenes opened a gateway to a random location. I still haven’t figured out how to let him target specific destinations, and I rode through.  We try to do this sort of thing at night, especially when there’s a risk of radioactivity or witnesses.  Either one is easier to deal with in the dark.

There was nobody around, so I was pleased.  According to the forearm-mounted gadgets Diogenes whipped up for me, the radiation level was fairly high for the long term, but tolerable for a few days.  No doubt it would vary from location to location, but I planned to avoid any glowing craters or heavy fallout zones.

The immediate area was a small town, obviously not close enough to a major city to be in a blast radius.  We emerged from someone’s garage-barn conversion.  When the gate closed, I turned in the saddle and saw a car sitting in the barn.  From the condition of the car and the general styling, my guess was this world corresponded to the 1960’s or thereabouts.  It was certainly no earlier than the 50’s, based on those tailfins, but it was only a rough estimate.  Once you nuke the place, the date becomes less important.

I roamed around the town for a while, checking out the local technology.  We wouldn’t be downloading any ground-breaking new information, obviously. But the cars were refined metal, the hardware store full of nuts and bolts, and copper wire was all over the place.  It was worth sending through a platoon of scavenger robots.  I called Diogenes on the Diogephone and told him so.

The local gas station had free maps.  Well, they were free now.  I took one, found the name of the town—Taylorville, Iowa—and wondered whether to head toward Springfield or Decatur.  Either one might be a valid missile target.  I finally decided on Decatur, but in a roundabout way.  By going southeast through Owaneco and Millersville to Pana, then north through Dunkel, Assumption, Radford, Moweaqua, Macon, and Elwin, I could check out lots of little towns even if Decatur was concave and glowing.

As a note, cybernetically-enhanced horses are not as fast as Bronze, but the plutonium power pack lets them run about as far.  I do not like them, for two reasons.  The first is they aren’t Bronze.  The second reason is I’m sitting on a plutonium power pack.  You work with what you have, though, and Diogenes whipped these up for me, thinking to replace Bronze.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was not what I needed.  I’m not sure what I need, but a new horse isn’t it.

I didn’t see anyone in Oweneco or Millersville, but Pana had signs of life.  There were fresh tire tracks in the dusty road.  I kept an eye out and spotted a few faint auras in the distance, away from the main road.  I marked off Pana from our list of potential salvage.  No sense in terrifying the locals with the robot legions.  Dunkel was too small for us to care about, really.  Assumption, on the other hand…

The night was starting to wane, which meant I needed to either head back to Apocalyptica or find a spot to hide from the sunrise.  Things were looking pretty profitable here, so I decided to hole up in downtown Assumption and continue my explorations during the day.  I parked the Black—that’s what Diogenes calls his enhanced horses; not imaginative, but an accurate descriptor—out in front of a men’s clothing store, picked the lock with a psychic tendril, and checked for a basement.  No such luck, but I did find a windowless toilet room.  I carry a light-proof body bag of an ultra-thin, super-strong material, but I hate using it.

The toilet didn’t smell too great when I was done with my transformation, but I didn’t plan to use it again, either.  I made my escape from the room, fired off the cleaning spell in my amulet, and sighed in relief.  I also closed the toilet door.  The smell would go away, eventually, but I wasn’t going to stick around.

I started for the front door and paused.  Visible through the store window, the Black was standing there, as usual.  Beside it, a small person was petting it.  The Black stood there and took it.  That’s part of the behavioral programming.  Whoever it was didn’t rate as a threat, so the electronic implants in the horse-brain didn’t trigger a defensive response.

I was mostly interested in the fact someone about ten years old or so was still in town.

Rather than exit the shop and potentially frighten her off—I presumed it was a her; she was wearing a brown, somewhat dirty dress—I whistled a tune, hung my cloak on a hook, and tried on some jackets.  After a few minutes of this, I was certain she knew I was present.  I threw a jacket over my arm, swung my cloak over my shoulders again, and, still whistling, went out the front door of the shop.

She wasn’t surprised.  Good for me.  All she did was nod at me as I came out.  She was a skinny little kid with slightly dusty, light-brown hair.  A smudge covered part of her left cheek.  She had more of a tan than I would have expected, but I tend to think of urban settings, not agricultural ones.  She probably spent more time outdoors than I did.  Her dress was also somewhat dusty, but her clothes were otherwise in good shape.  I noticed she wore the leather equivalent of high-tops, tightly laced.  Ankle boots?  Farm shoes, I suppose.

“Good morning.”

“Morning.”

I folded the jacket and stuffed it in a saddlebag.  I didn’t really want it, but it was my excuse for being in the store.

“Isn’t it a little early for you to be out in town?”

“Mom says I can.”

“Oh?  Shouldn’t you be having breakfast?”

“That’s why I’m out looking for it.”

“Looking for breakfast?”

“There’s not a lot of food left.”

“Ah.  Come to think of it, I haven’t seen much in the way of crops,” I admitted.  “Tough year for farming?”

“Dad said the pumps all stopped when the ’lectricity went off, so it’s hard to get water.  There’s no store-bought fertilizer, neither, or insect stuff, or anything.”

“That’s a problem,” I agreed.

“Who are you?”

“A traveler.  I’m just passing through.”

“I like your horse.”

“Thank you.”  I tried to ignore the pang that went through me at her statement.  The reminder hurt, but I suppose any reminder always will.

“Do you have anything to eat?” she asked, hopefully.

I checked my saddlebags, knowing I did.  I handed her one of Diogenes’ high-power ration bars.  He formulated them, or copied the formula from somewhere, for maximum nutritional value.  They’re like Tolkien’s elvish waybread, but much less tasty.  They remind me of shredded cardboard with a drop of honey and a hint of lemon.  I hate them, but they beat starving.

I handed the bar to her.  She peeled it open, took a bite, and her expression told me she agreed with my assessment.

“It doesn’t taste too good,” I agreed, “but it’s food.”

“It is?” she asked, looking at it suspiciously.

“I promise.”

“You eat a bite.”

“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that,” I admitted, and accepted the bar.  I took a bite, chewed and swallowed.  I made a face and she nodded solemnly.  I handed her the bar again and she dutifully ate it.

“What’s your name?” she asked, around a mouthful.

“Eric.”

“I’m Patricia.”

“Do your friends call you ‘Patty’?”

“No,” she stated, flatly.

“Patricia it is, then,” I agreed.

“Where are you going?”

“North.  I want to see Decatur.”

“It’s gone.”

“Is it?  Then I won’t bother.”

She swallowed another mouthful and took a bite by sheer willpower.

“Do you want to come visit our house?” she asked, grimly chewing.

“Not especially.”  I fished out my map and unfolded it.

“Where are you going now?”

“I’m trying to figure that out.”

“Can I see?”

I sat down on a nearby bench and she sat down next to me, still chomping.

“We’re here,” I pointed out, “and Decatur was there.  I came up this way,” I traced on the map.

“Mom says the Moweaquans are thieving bastards,” Patricia said.  “You don’t want to go there.”

“Good to know.”

“She says Shelbyville has water from the lake, though.  They might have more food.”

“I guess I’ll head that way, then.”

“If they do have more food, can you bring us some?”

“How much food do you have, kid?  At home, I mean.”

She held up the last bite of the nutrition bar.

“That’s it?  You don’t have anything else to eat?”

She shook her head, continuing to chomp the bar.

Mentally, I cursed Oppenheimer, Khrushchev, Werner von Braun, and Foucault for related but dissimilar reasons.

“I look for food every day.  Mom works the old pump to get water and walks the bucket through the field.”

“Your mother is irrigating a farm with a hand-pump and a bucket?”

“Uh-huh,” she agreed, and finished the nutrient bar.  “Nothing wants to grow, anyway.”

“That’s probably the radiation.  It’s not too bad, but…” I trailed off.  I was going to add, but you don’t want to stay here.  Then again, where were they going to go?  Avoid the craters, sure, but fallout is invisible.  Follow the trail of green, living things to avoid radiation zones?  That might work.  But how do you do that when you don’t have any food at all?  Eat grass and leaves?  Hope there’s game and hope the game isn’t contaminated?

“Do you have any water?” Patricia asked.  Not an unreasonable question.  I know those damned ration bars.  They’re dry as a dead politician.

“Yes.”  I found a bottle in my saddlebag and handed it to her.  She gulped it all down and handed me the bottle again.  At least she wouldn’t have to worry about my water being contaminated.  I brought it with me from—

Hmm.

Apocalyptica has some radiation zones, but there’s been a lot of time for the half-life to halve a lot.  The radiation in the vast majority of places is negligible, and Diogenes has robots scooping up and processing the hot spots, one cubic foot at a time.  In another century, most of the leftover toxins should be safely stored.  The bigger problem is the wildlife, not the radiation.  And, believe it or not, even the mutant elephants are technically edible.

Double hmm.

“You know what?  Maybe I do want to visit,” I told her.  “We can give your mom my other ration bar.”

“She’d like that,” Patricia told me, and frowned.  “Kinda.”

“Yeah, they’re not too tasty.  Which way to your house?”

“It’s not far.”

I helped her up on the Black and mounted behind her.  She pointed the way, and she was correct.  It wasn’t too far.  The town was literally surrounded by farms.  Once we left downtown, it was less than a mile to their driveway.

What does it say about a place when a child gets up before dawn because she’s hungry, trudges into town, and starts searching for anything to eat?  Nothing good.

As we rode along, I saw a number of people working the fields.  Most of them were hauling buckets.  I couldn’t imagine the scraggly, ugly weeds counted as crops, but I’m no farmer.  For all I know, they’re supposed to look like that, but I doubt it.  Nobody tried to talk to us, but a number of people did pause to rest and watch us go by.  They all had something of a lean and hungry look to them.

There was a time when a farmer would save a lot of the harvest for himself, living off the farm and selling whatever excess he produced.  Modern farms are more specialized, producing, for the most part, one crop and selling it to buy everything else.  The first sort doesn’t like being cut off from the machinery of civilization, but it carries on.  The second sort, not so much.  It needs a new harvest, and needs it before the people starve to death.

Looking at the people, I wasn’t sure they were going to pull it off.

Patricia showed me to her house.  It was a typical wooden structure with a front porch, a barn in back, and a lot of screens over the windows and doors.  I doubted it had central heat, much less air conditioning.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find a wood range in the kitchen.  In fact, it would be distinctly useful, considering the power was permanently out.

Sure enough, her mother was in a field with a bucket-sized watering can, walking along with the thing cocked to one side, spilling a constant stream on the row beside her.  Patricia waved.  I waved.  Her mother waved and headed for the house.  We met by the rear door and Patricia introduced us.

“Mrs. Ross,” I repeated.  “I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, Mr. Talbot.”

“Can Mom have the food bar, now?” Patricia asked.  I found it in a saddlebag and handed it to her mother.  While she tore it open and sniffed at it, I handed Patricia down and followed.

“What is this?”

“It’s a military ration bar,” I lied.  “It’s got everything you need for a whole day.  Tastes like cardboard, I admit, but it’s like three meals.”

“I had one,” Patricia told her.  “It’s not too yucky.”

Mrs. Ross took a delicate bite and agreed it wasn’t too yucky to eat, but her face was a study in conflict.  Not something she’d choose to eat, but food is food.

While Mom gnawed on the ration bar, Patricia showed me around the farm.  They were out of animals; I saw a pig pen, but no pigs.  I saw a chicken coop, but no chickens.  I didn’t see a milking parlor, so maybe they never had a cow.  They also had a combination storm cellar and root cellar, a cellar door set in the side of a low hill, leading down into an underground space.  There were no jars of preserves or cans of food, either.

Unless the kitchen cabinets were absolutely stuffed, I was prepared to believe they were starving, or right next door to it.

Patricia brought me back to her mother on the back step.

“And this is where we live.”

“I see that.  It’s a very nice house.”

“It is.  Right, Mom?”

“Right you are.  Mr. Talbot?  May I ask what brings you to Assumption?”

“Just passing through when I met your polite and well-mannered little girl.  I’m a traveler.”

“Have you seen anywhere that isn’t… isn’t…” she trailed off, waving a hand out toward the fields.

“A few places, far between, yes.”

“Places where they can grow things?”

“Yes.  It’s a long walk, though, even to the nearest one I know of.”

Mrs. Ross wouldn’t let go of the hope, though.

“I don’t suppose they might take us in?”

“Patricia, why don’t you go fill the bucket for your mother?  If you fill it, I’ll water the plants, and she can rest.”

“Sure!”  She hurried off.  I turned to Mrs. Ross.

“Ma’am, I’m not sure you can get that far.  You won’t be on the road a week before you fall down from hunger, if the thirst doesn’t get you first.  I’m sorry, Mrs. Ross, but that’s how I see it.”

“You made it this far,” she observed.  “Could you bring us enough food to get us there?”

“Go there and come back?  Even on horseback, I’m not sure you’d still be here when I returned.”

“I see,” she said, quietly.  Patricia was headed toward us, lugging the watering-can bucket with both hands.  “Could you take her with you?” she asked, softly.

I didn’t get a chance to answer.  Patricia set the bucket down with a sloshing clunk.

“Full!”

“So I see.  Come on.  Walk with me while I pour.”

“Okay.”

So I watered plants, thinking about how sickly they looked, how thin Mrs. Ross and Patricia looked, and the logistics of food, starvation, and radiation.

“What did you do before?” Patricia asked.

“Before?”

“Before the big bombs.”

“Oh.  I was a magician of sorts.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I don’t think there’s any magic left,” she told me.

“There isn’t?”

“No.  The bombs burned it up.  They burned everything up.”

Something within me rebelled at her tone.  This is a ten-year-old girl who doesn’t believe in magic.  Why?  Because somebody pushed a Big Red Button ™ and destroyed it all. I have a streak of contrariness in me.  I know it.  I admit it.  Doesn’t mean I can do anything about it.

“Hmm.  Interesting.  Throw a dirt clod, please.”

“Huh?”

“Pick up a clod of dirt and toss it into the air.”

She did so, lofting it as high as she could.  I focused on it and drew it back to me, floating it over my outstretched palm.  Patricia’s eyes went round.

“If you look hard enough,” I told her, “you can find magic in anything.”

“How are you doing that?”

“Magic.”

“But there isn’t any!”

“I know where to look.”  I didn’t try to explain the differences between psychic energy and magical energy.  It’s technical, like the difference between electricity and magnetism.  They’re related, but not the same thing.  For most people, one is like the other and the difference is negligible.

“Can I do that?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “It took me a long time to learn.”

“Can you teach me?”

“It depends.  If you had one wish, what would you wish for?  A root cellar full of food?  A place to live where things grow?  Or a magic trick like this one?”

Patricia almost answered, checked herself, and considered it.  That was surprising, at least to me.  Most children don’t pause to think it over, they just snap out the first answer.

I tossed aside the dirt clod as we finished our bucket of water and went back to the pump.  She worked the handle while thinking.  I took the full bucket and we went back out to water more of the row.

“If I wished for a cellar full of food, we could share it with the neighbors.”

“That’s true.”

“If I wished for a better place to live, could they come, too?”

Damn it.  Kind, generous, and thoughtful children will be the death of me.

“I suppose so,” I allowed, grudgingly.

“I’d really like to move stuff by looking at it,” she admitted.

“It’s really hard to do,” I warned her.

“I think I’d have to pick a nicer place,” she decided, wistfully.  “I’d really like to make things move by magic, too.”

“If you look for it, I’m sure you’ll find it,” I assured her.  “Here, go fill this again.  I need to talk to your mother.”

“Okay.”

I went back to the house.  Mrs. Ross was still sitting on the step, watching us.

“Well?” she asked.

“Well, what?”

“Will you take her someplace that isn’t dying?”

“Only if you and Mr. Ross are willing to come with her.”

“Hubert’s been dead these past ten days.  Some men came through to take whatever they could.  We didn’t have anything to give ’em, so they shot him.  We buried him yonder, under the swingin’ tree.”

“Ah.  I see.  Well, would you have any objection to packing a suitcase and going on a trip?”

“If it’ll feed Patricia.”

“I believe I can promise that.”

“When do we go?”

“Give me a week.  I’ll be back.”

She looked pained.

“I’m not sure we’ll still be here in a week.  Sometimes she finds something in town, but it’s been pretty picked over.”

“I see.  All right.  Do you mind if I sleep in your barn tonight?  I’ll set off tomorrow.”

“In the barn?  You can have a real bed, Mister Talbot.”

“No, no.  I don’t want to get used to one.”

“Well… I guess.  If that’s what you want.  I’ll fix you a blanket and such.”

“You’re a dear woman, Mrs. Ross.”

Patricia was pleased to have me as a playmate for the day.  I helped pump water for washing and sent her to bed.  Later, Mrs. Ross left me alone in the barn, along with her puzzled looks.

I unfolded a portable gate.  It’s nothing fancy, just a big loop of wire with a power crystal.  I hesitated, considering.  If I used the portable gate, it would stay behind.  I could scribble a gate spell around the barn door, though, and use the power crystal in the portable gate… On the other hand, could I brute-force the portable gate?  If I made it appear in Apocalyptica, could I step through, and then close it in such a way it remained in Apocalyptica?  I might be able to bring it with me, but the power cost would be prohibitive.

I decided on a gate spell on the barn door.  I scribbled and scratched for a bit, charging it from the power crystal.  Once it was ready, I flipped open my Diogephone and took a walk around the barn, scanning it.  Really, it was just a video feed to Diogenes.  He did the actual work of measuring everything, not the phone.

When Diogenes informed me he had a suitable three-dee rendering of the barn, I transferred the connection from the built-in micro-gate to the temporary gate spell, and Diogenes transferred the connection on his end to the main gate in our Niagara facility.  I stepped through, closed it, and put a lot of things in motion.

I went back once to leave a few things.  For one, I left Patricia and her mother a note, explaining I would be back in a week.  I also left a lot of ration bars and bottled water in the root cellar, packing the shelves full of supplies.  They wouldn’t starve, that much was certain.

While they waited, Diogenes re-tasked a whole lot of construct-o-bots, surveyed a few hundred locations, diverted a sizable percentage of his reconstruction budget, and built a village.  He cleared land and built defensive pylons around it, mostly as a fence against the migration routes for those damned elephants, but we scattered others elsewhere as monitoring outposts.  The whole place took shape remarkably quickly.  School, town hall, housing, all of it.  Most of the stuff went up quickly because I didn’t care if it was anachronistic.  Extruded plastic?  Plasticrete?  Ceramic foam?  So what?  It was never leaving Apocalyptica.

One of the barns was as exact a duplicate as we could manage of the one I scanned.  This is important if you’re going to build an interuniversal shift point, even if it’s just a one-shot spell and not a permanent enchantment.

When I went back to Patricia’s world, I targeted the gateway personally.  Diogenes can’t aim for a specific point; his best targeting only gets the correct universe.  I think it has something to do with his inability to actually work the spell.  He only plugs in pre-enchanted ideograms, kind of like dialing a telephone.  I have a real consciousness and can picture a specific doorway, like the one I scratched on their barn.

I opened it, checked the time—daytime here, daytime there, no sudden and unpleasant transformations—and stepped through.  I turned around, dismissed the gate, and opened the barn door.

Yep.  Daytime.  At least I got that right. The house was quite lively.  I heard a dozen voices, at least.  It sounded like a party.  That suited me fine since I had things to do to the barn.  I brought a lot of prepared spells from Apocalyptica, but it still took time to tie everything together into the structure of the barn.  Shift-booth technology—thaumology?  Magical technology?—has come a long way in my years of tinkering with it, but I’ve only been tinkering, not hammering on it with serious, full-time research.  Someday, I’ll get motivated, maybe.  My martial arts teacher says I have great talent, but I’m a poor student due to my lack of motivation and focus.  He may be right.

With the barn prepped and ready, I circled around to the front.  There was one tractor with a flatbed trailer, as well as several bicycles and a couple of home-made scooters—presumably, the best forms of transportation still available.

I knocked.  The house went quiet. That wasn’t creepy at all. Mrs. Ross opened the door.  She her dress was clean, her hair brushed, and she smiled at me.  Patricia crowded past her mother and hugged me.

“I told you!  I told you!” she repeated.  I patted her head and her back.

“Mister Talbot,” Mrs. Ross greeted me.  “We’re so glad to see you.  Won’t you please come in?”

I guided Patricia into the house since it was either that or trip over her.  Over twenty people were present, most of them still looking somewhat like the second reheat of fast-food French fries—thin, dry, and barely warm.  I wondered how many were only alive because the Ross family shared their good fortune.  Patricia tried to drag me over to the room with the kids—another fifteen or so people, I decided—but I instead went to one knee and let her sit on the other.

“I’m guessing this is a going-away party?” I asked.

“I’d say so,” answered the largest of the men.  “I’m Roger Dalton, and I’m pleased to see you, sir, very pleased.”  He held a glass in one hand and extended the other.  I shook it.  “We’ve heard much of you from Patricia, yes, sir, we have.”

“I’m glad to be of help.  Are all of you wanting to go?”

“Yes.  We’re all dying here, and wherever you got all the food, it’s got it to spare.”

“I suppose that’s a fair assessment.  Just to be clear, though, we can’t bring a whole lot.  I don’t think the tractor and trailer will both make it.”

“I just drove it here to pull the wagon,” piped up another man.  “Got to get everyone here, you know.”

“Oh.  Is everyone expecting to leave right now?” I asked, surprised.  Everyone traded glances and nods.

“Looks like,” Roger told me.  “Maggie told us you said something about one suitcase.  Is there not much room on the bus, or something?”

Maggie?  Oh, right.  Margaret Ross, Patricia’s mother.  I patted Patricia’s back and sent her over to her mom.

“Well, no, not exactly,” I replied, rising.  “It’s more a case of radioactive contamination.  I’m concerned about any dust we bring with us into a clean area.”

Heads bobbed up and down.  They grasped the idea immediately.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  They’ve lived in this environment.

“So, when do we get going?”

“Now, if you like.”

“We like?” Roger asked, looking around the room.  Everyone nodded.  Mrs. Ross—Maggie—opened a door to another room and revealed quite a lot of luggage.  People started collecting their things.  I noted a few guns.  I didn’t say anything about them.  Apocalyptica is mostly wilderness and the critters are not tame.

“Maybe not,” I replied.  “You haven’t seen the travel arrangements.”

This drew a great deal of attention.

“What sort of arrangements do you have?” Mrs. Ross asked.

“Out in the barn.  This way, please, if you would.  Bring the transportation, please.  Who drives the tractor?  You, sir?  Please unhitch the trailer and drive it into the barn, would you?  Everyone, please bring all the things—everything we can.”

There was a little in the way of puzzled looks, but the man who feeds you when you’re starving gets a lot of leeway, it seems.  They milled about a bit, but people and things migrated to the barn.  They opened both doors to let the tractor in and left them open as they slowly filled in around it.  Once we were inside, I climbed up on a hay bale.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?  Is everyone here?  No children left behind?  Good.  Got everything?  Suitcases, guns, everything you mean to bring?  Yes?  You’re sure?  Everything?  Because once we go, we’re not coming back.  It’s not easy to make this sort of trip, so popping back and forth is a no-no.  Got it?  Okay, good.”  I pointed at the people closest to the doors.  “Would you please close the barn doors for a moment?  Thank you.”

We all waited for a few seconds while the doors were closed.  I triggered the shift.

The walls of the barn changed color.  At least, that’s what it looked like.  Various implements and tools hanging on pegs in the walls shifted and rattled a bit as everything in the barn changed places with the empty barn Diogenes built.  The straw on the floor, the hay bale I stood on, the people, the tractor—everything.  We moved without moving, between blinks, and were no longer in their world.

“The transportation arrangements are now complete.  Open the doors again, please.”

They did so to the tune of much wondering and “Ooo”-ing and “Ahh”-ing.

I wanted to slip out the back while they were distracted, but no, there were things still needing my personal touch.  They needed to be introduced to Diogenes and run through the local clinic—chronic radiation poisoning, possible fallout contamination, radiation-induced cancers, other mundane diseases, malnutrition, even the presence of harmful recessive genes would be a problem in a gene pool this small.  Then they had to sort out what they wanted to do, individually.  Most would have to farm, of course, and they would need to share the tractor… damn it, Diogenes would need to provide fuel for it.  And the kids—a school!  It needed a curriculum…

So many details, so much to do.  I resolved to let them sort it out as much as possible. Diogenes and I would arrange for robots to salvage whatever they could from the refugee world, but we probably wouldn’t gain enough to offset the cost of building and maintaining a village.  Still, salvage from their world would help.

I guess, overall, it was a good thing to do.  If I have a karma balance, I suppose I earned some credit.

It’s not easy being the nicest monster I know.

 

2 Comments

  1. Dan Gumm

    A nice addition to the books!

    Reply
  2. Shilo

    Interesting premise … (you had me at Talbot !) Love the gotcha statement at the end.

    Reply

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