Monday, October 10, 2011

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

I thought about it for a minute and then said, “Look I’m not talking about getting my feelings hurt but … if we do this and you decide that it isn’t what you thought it would be and you want out, I don’t want to just get kicked out. You have to give me time to get a home base set up and I want you to teach me to do the things that will help me to survive the Wastelands.”

“Done. But you’re right … this is too emotionally draining to do more than once; if you say yes I’ll make it work.”

Shaking my head I told him, “I didn’t say emotionally draining, I said too much trouble.”

“OK, fine … however you want to see it. But I still don’t mean to mess this up and make you feel like you want to leave.”

I sighed. “I didn’t say you were going to mess up.”

A little stubbornly he said, “Well, I don’t intend on letting it happen.”

I rolled my eyes and told him, “Fine.”

Almost angrily he fired back, “Fine.”

Then my lips twitched. He had a look on his face that reminded me of DJ’s little sister.

Defensively he asked, “What?”

“Nothing,” I answered refusing to say what I was thinking.

“It wasn’t nothin’ but I won’t try and make you tell me if you don’t want to.”

I nodded and still smiling said, “OK, good to know.”

He relaxed all of a sudden and then his lips twitched. “I’m having a hard time imagining what people are going to say.”

That wasn’t funny at all. “I … hadn’t thought …” My emotions, never real accessible even when I expected them to be on the best of days, wanted to crawl off into the hole they lived in most of the time. Asa saw my face.

“What?”

“They’ll know all the things to say to make you change your mind.”

He shook his head. “If you say yes they won’t change my mind.”

Looking at him I reminded him, “I’m not what you would call a catch and I’m new around here. They aren’t going to like it. And if they know you are a Fertile they aren’t going to like you going outside the … er … gene pool so to speak.”

“Maybe not but it’s my life and it’s time I started to live it. I’m … sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating around here. Rob is nice … too nice. You think I’m a do gooder that will try and arrange your life, he would make you run screaming into the night. Gill is Gill but sometimes he has a habit of wanting to micromanage everything. Carmine … Carmine is the opposite. He’ll stand there and watch you do something that he knows is stupid then when you’re down he’ll kick you in the butt and tell you he isn’t your nursemaid, to get up and get back in the saddle.”

Wondering I asked, “How old is Carmine, it’s hard to tell.”

He shrugged, “Don’t know. Thirty, something like that. I know he is youngr than Rob by about a decade. He was in the military with Gill and followed him out here. It was after some battle; by the time either one was in any shape to go back to their unit things had changed – something about being listed DIA – and they decided to stay out here and start a new life. There’s more to it than that but I’m not sure what it is. They used to be real close but lately … Gill wants to change things faster and expand faster and Carmine thinks it is a bad idea; he wants a closed settlement and Gill wants to turn his town into a model one based solely on the Constitution. Carmine is a Constitutionalist, same as Gill, but thinks Gill is giving people too much credit.”

Trying to condense the description into one word I asked, “So Carmine is an isolationist?”

“No … no if … hmmm … more of a … a protectionist I guess. Gill wants free trade and open borders through the whole Wastelands and then spread that to the Outlands and then beyond as a Constitutional movement takes hold. Carmine sees the Wastelands as individual countries rather than the states they used to be, therefore thinks things should operate with the community’s best interests as the primary concern and not try and recreate the way things used to be.” He squinched his face. “Or something like that. I usually tune them out when they start debating.”

Amazed I asked, “Why? I would think that would be real important and interesting. It is about freedom.”

He shrugged, “Because Gill always wins. No matter how much they talk and debate Gill is still the boss so it is his way or the highway.”

Shaking my head, “Now that’s just hypocritical. You can’t have a free and open society, with free trade and all that other stuff and still expect to run things like a monarchy or dictatorship.”

Asa shrugged, “That’s Gill for you. He’s got an idea on how things should be run and that’s the way they are going to be run. He’s always been right, and the settlement has thrived, so no one calls him on the rest of it. Lately it seems that he and Carmine have disagreed more and more on things. Kinda glad we’ll be … I mean … er … Have you said yes yet?”

I thought about it before putting it in concrete. “I … OK, yes. I’m saying yes. But … but do you have to tell the others? I mean, can’t we just leave and … I don’t know … tell them later?”

He gave me a suspicious look. “Are you … ashamed or something.”

That caused me to roll my eyes. “Hardly. I don’t know if I know how to be ashamed. No, I’m … just … I don’t like the idea that people are going to start meddling right off the bat. I don’t want to start with hard feelings. I sure don’t want to get Gill’s attention if it turns out he’s against it.”

“Hmmm … maybe. Look, but I should tell someone. Carmine won’t meddle. I already told you what he’s like. And with him being sec boss it might not be a bad idea. If I ask him not to say anything to Gill or Rob and explain why he won’t, so long as it isn’t a danger to the settlement and I can’t see how it could be.”

There wasn’t much more to be said. Well except to be surprised when Asa asked if he could kiss me. Wasn’t bad. I suppose I could get into the habit of it once I got used to having someone in my personal space and quite that close. He sure thought it was a big deal from the look on his face.

It was too late to start out. Instead we were going to get going at first light. “If we don’t they’ll keep finding things they want me to fix or have projects for me to work on,” Asa grumped. “It’s like that every year.”

I refused to sleep in the settlement proper. I didn’t want anyone to get suspicious. Asa eventually realized I wasn’t going to budge on that so he showed me a place that he sometimes used and the said he’d meet me there a little after first light. He’d gone and it was getting dark when there was a noise in the brush. I had my sling shot up and aimed when Carmine’s voice said, “Do not hit me with that pea shooter. I don’t feel like picking bits of rock out of my skin.”

I shrugged and lowered my weapons slightly but not completely. “Then don’t come sneaking up on people. What do you want?”

“Asa told me. Want to make sure I understand it.”

Carmine came out into the open and sat by my fire without being invited. Looking at the fire he asked, “Didja eat yet?”

“No. And what business is it of yours?”

“About you eating or about you and Asa?”

After a brief pause I said, “Both.”

“Probably isn’t but … maybe is.” He handed me a piece of material and when I gingerly opened it there was a slice of cornbread and a thermos of bean stew. As I ate it Carmine started talking. “Gill thinks of Asa as a … settlement asset I guess you’d say. Asa can fix anything from tech to mech. And if he doesn’t know how to start with by the time he’s finished he does and usually has made it better in some way. You called it right that if you want to get away clean not to say anything to Gill or Rob. But if I’m gonna keep my silence I need to know you aren’t … aren’t gonna be a bad influence on Asa.”

It took me a moment to work through that. “You … you think I’m … stealing him away or something?”

He shook his head. “I don’t. But Gill might. I think it’s past time that Asa get on his own more. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s traveled over the Wastelands almost as much as Gill and I have. He can be tough, can kill, can do the things it takes to survive. But he always got pulled back in by Rob and Gill. They never saw him as independent of the settlement but that they were lending him out.”

I sighed. “This is going to cause trouble isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily, not if it is handled right. Gill and Rob both need to get over the idea that people are going to come just because they call. If Asa is tired of being their puppy this might not be a bad opportunity for them to learn that people aren’t pieces on a chest board.”

I looked at him and said, “Sounds like Asa isn’t the only one tired of coming when called.”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I owe Gill more than I can ever repay. And besides, we ain’t talking about me we’re talking about Asa … and you. The problem is Gill and Rob may not see that they’re the ones with the problem but look for a reason to rationalize it, look for what’s causing the problem for them. You’d be that problem.”

“Great,” I said sarcastically. “I didn’t come out here to be a problem and get noticed. I just wanted to live my life and be free.”

Carmine twisted his lips cynically. “See, now that’s where you went wrong. You needed to decide whose definition of free you were going to use before youyou’re your sights on it.”

“Gee, just full of wisdom aren’t you Confucius?”

He shrugged, “Used to think so. Now …” He shook his head. “This crap Gill wants won’t work in the long run. He’s trying to pull together too many settlements that are too different and he’s trying to do it too fast. Human nature will trip him up eventually, should have already except that we’ve got too many natural resources and talent within the settlement and too much fire power to hold onto it with. We fought in the past but now folks are … they are getting too comfortable. They spend too much time working towards their personal happiness and what will keep them there rather than thinking about how other people are going to try and take it from them. Enjoy what you’ve got I say, but don’t take your eye off the other guy who wants it.”

“In other words, watch your back.”

He grinned at me like I was prize pupil. “Yeah. You see it.”

Irritated I said, “Of course I do. I’m a street rat remember. My whole life is about watching my back because there are too many things out there that want to eat me. But I still don’t see what this has to do with Asa … or me.”

He sighed. “Look. They’ll give him plenty of rope. They’ll tell themselves he’s young, needs to sow some wild oats, needs to get out and be his own man … for a while. As much as I love Gill and his brother I still see ‘em for who they are. Gill especially. They’re going to test him, test his loyalty. They figure that Asa owes them and they want to make sure he still remembers it.”

Getting suspicious I asked, “I’ll come back to what you mean by this testing business but what I want to know right now is why are you being so helpful?”

He chuckled, “God, you’re about the only thing that might save Asa from himself all right. The kid moved faster than I thought he would. Maybe he’s got a chance after all. Look, Gill isn’t the only one with an eye to the future. And you can stop trying to be polite, I know what people think of me and they’re right. This politicking crap isn’t my bag. I’ve always hated political correctness and diplomacy; left that up to Gill for the most part. If it were possible for me to go off and live on my own and not have to mess with people ever again I’d do it in a heartbeat … but since I live in the real world I know it’s not. I’m willing to work with it … up to a point. But Gill … he’s just too hard headed. He thinks he can move people around like chess pieces and make things work out. I know it can work, but not the way he wants it to … but maybe it’s too late to do it my way, maybe I waited too long to have a say, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a say even if I had spoken up sooner. Don’t know, just gotta deal with the way things are now.” He shook his head. “Gill … he wants to get all of these people that are so different, different goals, different reasons for having those goals, and even if their goals are the same they have different ways to reach ‘em … Gill wants to bring all these people together like a … like a melting pot, like the country was supposed to be but never really was if you study history for any length of time. And get that smart look off your face, I can read and do. What worked was when immigrants came to our country but left all that crap from their old country behind … they became Americans not some hyphenated half breed of an American like it eventually turned into and once it had gone that far the immigrants to this country didn’t even try to change to become Americans, they wanted to change America to what they had left behind except with the economic advantages they’d come here for. Same thing is going to happen here with the way Gill has things running.”

“And your idea is?”

“Change things … or influence them rather … before they get to the settlement. Plant seeds. Move our own people out past the boundaries of the settlement territory so that it is us influencing and changing the Wastelands rather than the Wastelands influencing and changing us. We are getting too many people around here to support the same ol’ way … they need to go outside their comfort zone and start their own ranches, farms, and small settlements and then create trade that way.”

Nodding, “Sure, that sounds like something that makes more sense than becoming dependent on another settlement you aren’t sure won’t take advantage of you. But it will take time and you make it sound like Gill has some kind of … I don’t know … schedule that he is on, that he wants to move faster so to compensate he’s using existing settlements rather than building new ones of his own.”

“I knew you were smart. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. He wants to be a force to be reckoned with out here and he wants things to be Constitutional, and at the individual level he let’s ‘em alone to make a fool out of themselves or not but he wants to direct the big picture and sometimes the two comes in conflict. Everything we did used to be vetted by the Constitution. Last two years it seems things are vetted on the interpretation of the Constitution that best suits the plans.”

Still trying to understand I said, “OK, good to know and be warned about. I still don’t get if you’re so loyal to Gill why you are helping if we are going to make Gill upset and I still don’t see this testing business or how it would be to anyone’s advantage. I hate it when people try and make me do something to prove their point.”

He snorted, “I got that as soon as you stood up to the girls. No one around here will which is why those two in particular are getting spoiled and self-important; they play the victim card too much. They’ve watched their uncle and father order people’s lives around and they want some of that power for themselves. They have no … no concept of the kind of danger they’re in or how through no fault of their own they have no choice but to be a commodity. They can’t deal with it, they can’t change it … and they don’t like it.”

“And?”

“Gill is making mistakes but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a powerful man. When he calls … and I figure it will be about mid to late summer … you get Asa to come. But you be prepared to get out too before winter locks you in. Don’t let the two of you get caught here over the winter, if you do it might be the last time that Asa makes a push for independence. If he thinks there is no escape – that Gill will just keep after him – he might just give up this time. You know his history?”

“He’s told me.”

“Well then you’ll understand that if he feels betrayed … it took him a long time to come back from that other and I honestly didn’t know if he would, he was a mess.” He shook his head. “Rob thinks that he’s the only one that knows how bad it was for Asa but anybody with any sense could see what was happening; and anyone with a brain can imagine the kind of issues it’s left him with.”

I didn’t disagree with him but I wasn’t going to let him know that. “Then why come at all?”

“Because Asa isn’t like me … or you for that matter. He needs people. And more the pity, he likes ‘em too; you would have thought his experience would have cured him of that. And his business requires him to deal with people. He won’t give that up. He may play at it for a few months because he’ll have … er … other things to keep him occupied but after that I don’t seem him being content to stay out at his place. And yeah, I followed him. It’s a nice set up. Don’t look at me like that Gurl. Asa would just go off when he’d get one of those starts of his … don’t have ‘em the way he used to … and just disappear for weeks. Rob had taken that tag out of him by then so I knew it wasn’t the harvesters getting him but I needed to know that he wasn’t half cracked and giving away settlement information that was no one else’s business. And if … well, if he was a danger to himself or others I was going to handle it however way it needed handling and people would still remember Asa kindly.”

I had another headache. “So you’re saying that Asa needs to keep in contact with the settlement to be happy and to keep Gill happy but I have to make sure that Gill … that Asa … you know, this sucks.”

He chuckled tiredly, “Welcome to my world Gurl. I think once Gill understands that Asa having his independence isn’t a threat then he’ll let go for the most part. Gill is happy. Asa is happy. Win-win for both of us.”

“Fine. I’ll keep it in mind. But why tell me this? Why not explain it to Asa? Let him choose.”

Instead of answering me he said, “I didn’t see you hooking up so soon. I knew the men would be after you but I never thought it would be this soon. Young women are like honey to bears out here.”

I rolled my eyes at his way of putting it. “I wasn’t looking for it either. Asa is the one who approached me. I don’t know. He gave some good reasons why being on my own out here in the Wastelands is a bad idea. Once he understood that he couldn’t buy me, bribe me – not that he tried to do either – and made his case, it just seems like the logical thing to do.”

“Logic? Are you serious? I’ve never known a woman to be logical, especially when it comes to hooking up. They want love and romance and all the fixin’s that go with it.”

Not quite sure whether I had been insulted I said, “Well I don’t know what all of that is. I’ve seen romance on the TeeVid but it looks sloppy and silly. The fixings? What more is there than food, shelter, and water. Love? I don’t even …” I stopped because I realized how it made me sound.

“Don’t even what?” Carmine asked curiously.

I sighed. “Don’t even remember that. I know from what little I do remember of my parents that they must have loved me but I don’t remember how it feels. I’m not sure I want to remember.”

Curiously he asked, “Does Asa know that?”

“What? You mean does he think I have a crush or something like that on him?”

He nodded, “Close enough. Or him on you.”

I chucked and shook my head. “Asa is lonely. He knows to accomplish his goals he needs a partner. He and I have had very similar experiences … mine with SEPH and his with the harvesters. There’s common ground. He’s not lonely anymore and I learn how to survive out here in the Wastelands so I’ll never have to go back.”

Cynically Carmine asked, “That simple for you was it?”

I surprised him. “No … no not simple. I have a feeling that Asa … he’s gonna … he’s gonna find … I don’t know how to explain it. He needs me right now. And I need something right now too. I’m willing to let it be what it is. I’m not sure yet if Asa will. Either way I’m done, once is enough and why the heck am I telling you all this?”

Carmine grinned and in the dark it seemed a little wicked. “Maybe I’m better than you think I am. You know how many stories people tell me every week? They say I’m easy to talk to.”

“You are something all right but I think it has more to do with the fact that I’ve made the mistake in trusting you than anything you are doing on purpose. I’m done. Go away.”

He chuckled but did get up and I handed him the thermos and fabric napkin but he waved at me to keep them. He started walking away then stopped and turned back around with a serious look on his face. “I’m going to tell you something and you can believe it not. You can trust me. And I hope – for both your sakes – that this scheme of Asa’s works. You just remember what I said and keep it in mind.”

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like to me that this Gill fella thinks he OWNS folks....humph, I don't think so!

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  2. Looks like Carmine was late making his move to lol. Sweet is what I say for this other chapter today :).

    ReplyDelete