“Goose, I am afraid I don’t understand. What do you mean by equal rights?” Ianto asked as the two walked up Roberts Street. It was nearly a straight line from City Hall to the NCMP Headquarters, which was a stone’s throw from the parkland the Emergency Committee had zoned for use by the Featherclaw. Goose had to meet with the Featherclaw leader to discuss a new Pact, and he’d asked Ianto if he wanted to come along. Ianto did.
“I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about it,” Goose said. “Seems a pretty simple concept. The end result is that they get the same rights we do.”
“But they’re animals. I will give them that they are not a stupid race, but at the very least a dangerous one,” Ianto argued. “What if they decide to settle arguments with humans by the claw?”
“Then they’ll be arrested,” Goose replied. “Tried, and if found guilty, either exiled to Featherclaw land or, at worst, imprisoned.”
“And if the other Featherclaw decide they do not like this?”
Goose stopped and turned around to face Ianto. “If they decide they don’t like it, then they’ll have the right to appeal. The appeal will be taken seriously, and if it’s still decided that that particular Featherclaw poses a threat, then we will come to an amicable understanding with the Featherclaw Nations.”
Ianto was taken aback. Featherclaw didn’t live in nations. They lived in large tribes scattered among many smaller villages across the Disputed Lands.
“I think the idea is absurd,” Ianto said. “What next? Tyl?”
“Actually,” Goose began. “Last night we apparently made friends with a colony of Tyl at the south of town. We managed to make an arrangement with them. They’re wary of us, but they seem interested in becoming citizens.” He looked over to Ianto out of the corner of his eye. “Admittedly, there’s a communication gap, but this morning a decision was made to put Quick on the payroll.”
“Quick? The little vermin that’s never far from the Seer?”
“She has a name, you know,” Goose replied.
“A name I refuse to say lest she respect her title,” Ianto said. “She was given a great gift by Nadus, a gift that she refuses to acknowledge. She is a Lady of Halen, even if a Lesser Lady. As well as your one and only Lord Major. The rank is not familiar to me, but to have the Lord prefix to it.” He shook his head. “It sounds powerful. Majestic. And yet, he too refuses to bide by the title. I shudder to firmly meet Lord Stills, for fear he might do the same.”
“He would,” Goose explained. “We don’t make distinctions like that here. Lords, Ladies, Commoners. The idea is that no matter what your birth, a person can rise to great heights.”
“That is precisely my point!” Ianto exclaimed excitedly. “They have all reached a great achievement in life, to be named Lords and Lady.” He shook his head. “They have achieved a station that is, I daresay, higher than any station bestowed upon any of the people in this blasted town!”
“Hey now,” Goose said. “This town is my home. It’s all of our homes, and we’re trying to ensure it remains our home. Part of that means holding on to as much of our world as we can.” He pointed to the houses all up and down the street. “You might just see little boxes on the hillside, but there are people in those little boxes. Families. Moms, Dads, sisters, brothers. Grandkids. Inside those homes are nothing but constant reminders of home.” He looked Ianto in the eye and started counting on his fingers. “I’m talking books, movies, magazines, canned ham, video games, electronic devices, soft toilet paper. Music, for Christ’s sake. They’re holding on to that because it’s the only thing that’s allowing them to keep their wits about them. The Pactlands are alien to them, utterly alien. And already, I have single-handedly seen off two dozen people to venture out into those lands, and I can only pray they come back okay. We’re all on edge here, Ianto. I should think that the least of anybody’s worries at this point in time whether or not people should have to refer to us by a title.”
Ianto was momentarily stunned by Goose’s rant. Ianto had long thought himself the type of man who could read others easily, but Goose… not as much. He’d thought he’d pegged him largely for a buffoon, due to his overuse of humor, and his common disrespect of Halish traditions. Every now and then, a sliver of intelligence would shine through.
But now Ianto understood. The idea that these New Canadians came from another world had been bandied about so much that Ianto found himself desensitized from it. His quick judgement of their defense capabilities were based on his own experience. But then, he hadn’t lived on Earth. On Earth, everything was different. On Earth, one didn’t need to worry about defense because there was rarely need for it. On Earth, armies didn’t march upon faraway cities. Murderous bandits didn’t roam the countryside outside of the town. There were no High Magus to direct their laws. It was an entirely different place, with an entirely different people. People who had entirely different values. Values that, to Ianto were naive and reckless. But values that, to these people, had endured a long time.
“I see,” Ianto said. “Yes. Yes, I believe I understand now.”
“I can appreciate that you and I are from different worlds, Ianto,” Goose said. “I just need you to keep that in mind. We’re not asking for the world from you, just a bit of patience. We’ve got two different backgrounds, and that’s inevitably going to cause culture clash between us. We noticed it while your soldiers were in town. There were certain things they did that made people uncomfortable. Drunk men armed with swords are not an acceptable sight in this town. Some men just didn’t get it, and we had to get the police involved with them. It definitely set up some tension between some of your men and some of ours. If we’re going to work together, we have to understand each other. And right now, all I need you to understand about us is that we’re Canadian. And that as long as this town stands, we’re going to keep hold of our values and traditions. That includes civil liberties for all.”
He stopped at the crest of the hill and turned back to look town, viewing the town below him. “That being said,” he continued. “I’m not stupid enough to disregard anything you might have to offer. If you believe the Featherclaw might present a danger, you are more than welcome to present your facts at a City Hall meet–” He paused, then corrected himself. “At a meeting of Parliament. But if this is based off of personal bias, all you’re going to do is rile up the Muggles. So use your better judgement.”
Ianto took this in, and understood. Yes, Goose was much smarter and more capable than he had originally led him to believe. It was no wonder the people of the town put their faith in him. Ianto felt a growing respect for the man, and he let a slight smile out.
“I shall,” he said. “I will remain reserved on the Featherclaw. But I will wait until a true danger may present itself. But trust that I shall be keeping eyes on the situation.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Goose said, continuing up the road. They were still four blocks away from the edge of the Holland Creek Trail, where the Featherclaw were camped out. “In fact, I’d appreciate if you would. As I said, your world is still very alien to us. We’re picking things up as they come along. We’re still getting used to Tyl and Featherclaw. And we’re going to have to make contact with the El’Dar at some point in the near future. Right now the New Canadian Territories consist of a handful of villages. We’re gathering a group together to head down and claim Anastae. There’s all sorts of resources still down there. Freemen from all over the Disputed Lands are pouring in every day. We’re now in talks with over sixteen different villages in the region. We’re growing quickly here, Ianto. And with your soldiers gone, we’re probably spreading ourselves too thin. So if by offering the Featherclaw the same rights and freedoms granted to ourselves, with a little help from their Pact with a dead guy who knew we were coming, we get an extra defensive arm, I’m happy with it. We’re not even sure if the food we’ve got is going to last us till Winter. Right now, we need to focus on trade and expansion. Once we achieve that, we might stand a chance on our own.”
“You have a tactical advantage with your guns,” Ianto said. “A great one, at that. You can kill from a great distance.”
“That may well be,” Goose said. “But we’re running low on resources to make ammunition. Not to mention the fact that there’s not one machine shop in town that can make a high-powered rifle. There’s a guy up in Whitepoint who’s started building blunderbusses and flintlocks. Old-school guns from a few hundred years ago. They take time to load and aren’t nearly as effective or precise as anything we brought with us from Earth, but at least they can be mass-produced.”
“Between my son and I,” Ianto said. “We can find you the right traders to get what it is you need.”
Goose nodded. “Yeah, Corpus has been a real saving grace to us. He found us a line on zinc, copper, seed and a few other necessities we’re going to need to keep us going. The zinc’s great, because we can use that to build radios. We’re also getting ready to send out a crew to build a repeater tower in the mountains above Stone’s Mouth. It’ll increase our radio range for miles in every direction. If we can communicate further, we can coordinate faster.”
“That is an excellent strategy. The battles are often won by the Generals with the fastest messengers.”
“That’s kind of what we’re going for. But increased radio range is useless unless the radios have a way to power themselves. Luckily, we’ve got a surplus of wind-up radios in town, so at least they’ll be able to hear us. But we’ve got to be able to hear them, or else the whole plan falls apart. So now the problem lies in making sure all the villages have a way to power their radios. And batteries aren’t a reliable way. So we’ve got to think of something else. We don’t have enough resources to start donating portable generators. They need juice to run, and we’re all out of juice. So now we’re playing with ideas. Brad Renfrew’s got this idea of powering them with wine or something, but that’s a completely different story.”
“I would suggest finding a way that is easily reproducible using resources that one might find outside of the town.”
“Well, there is another option. It’s something being considered at this point because we really don’t have the resources to make it happen, but we can safely extend the power network to support three times the usage we have now. If we extend the power to Stone’s Mouth, that’ll do two things. First, it will vastly improve mining efficiency. No more mining by torchlight. Better safety standards for the miners means less accidents and higher productivity. Stone’s Mouth loves us right now. The miners are being paid more than fairly, and they’ve constantly got work. But here’s the thing, we’re also getting a surplus of coal. And with a surplus, and hopefully some luck, we might be able to get another power plant up and running, elsewhere. From there, it’s just a matter of getting some factories running, and then that’s that.” Goose said. “The Pactlands enters the Industrial Revolution. The only difference is that we remember the mistakes we made the first time around, and we don’t have to do that again.”
Ianto remained silent for a moment. “And where does Halen figure into this?”
Goose smiled. “Ianto, you scratch our backs now, and Hillbreaker or not, we’ll scratch yours.”
“I shall hold you to that when the time comes. Because the time may come when Halen requires the help of the New Canadian Territories.”
“What do you mean?”
Ianto shook his head. “There is time yet for that discussion,” Ianto said. “Queen Arquina has things in hand for now, but there are envious eyes upon Halen. Just know that the time may come.”
Goose only looked back at him. “All right,” he said. “I will.”
Finally, before them lay the entrance to what Goose had called the Holland Creek Trail. Ianto was surprised to see a sign at the entrance to a path proclaiming just that. Goose walked into the trail while Ianto followed close behind. It was strange how sudden of a change it was. Save for the path, which comprised of naught but millions of tiny stones packed down into a hard surface, he could have been deep in the forest. Only moments ago he stood on one of the paved roads of Dunsmith, not far from a great building made of glass and stone which the lawkeepers of Dunsmith called home. Now, the sun cast fingers of light through the trees. The air was noticeably colder, and the birds sang high above.
The shift was so sudden that Ianto only barely took note of the flash of red cutting across the trail up ahead. On either side of the trail, overlooking a deep ravine creek on one side, and a tall wooden fence on the other, several dozen Featherclaw had settled.
And settled was the word for it. He’d understood that one of the Featherclaw tribes, the Quicktooth, had remained in the town for nearly two weeks, since the battle that claimed the lives of a thousand Halish men. In that time, they’d set up several huts, three fire pits complete with roasting spits, and a number of other Featherclaw structures and necessities. It was strange for Ianto. He could only imagine what it was like for Goose.
“You there,” one of the Featherclaw called out to he and Goose. He looked over to see an older, purple-skinned Featherclaw with long feathers. The age was evident on the beast, but also its mastery of the common tongue. No doubt this was Greatfeather, Speaker of the Featherclaw. “Are you Goose, or another jogger?”
Goose laughed. “Joggers still come through here with you guys around?”
“Yes,” Greatfeather confirmed. “It is very annoying. Are you Goose?”
“That’s me,” he said. He lowered himself down to his haunches and met Greatfeather on an eye level.
Ianto noticed that it had an effect on Greatfeather, who ruffled his feathers for a moment, then puffed them out in a show of pride.
“You show me respect, sir. For that, your delay is forgiven,” Greatfeather said, bowing his head. “But now the time is upon us. We must speak. Arrangements must be made. The Pact must be rewritten. Are you prepared for this?”
Ianto begrudged his growing respect for the man. Animals though they may be, stories of the Featherclaw’s cunning ruthlessness in battle had carried on through the ages.
Goose nodded. “Today, we discuss the terms of this alliance with the Featherclaw,” he said. “Tomorrow, I will present the agreement to Parliament, and we’ll decide on a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Greatfeather cocked his head to one side. “You are not their leader?”
“I am,” Goose said. “Temporarily, at least. At the moment, I’m pretty much the go-to guy for anything concerning my people. But I still have people to answer to, and those are my Members of Parliament.”
“A queer way of governance,” Greatfeather commented. “No matter. Then, we shall start with our demands.”
“As I understand it, the old Pact said that we would respect your borders, and not hunt in your land.”
“Yes. All the hunting to be done within our land is to remain ours. In the thousand years since we settled the three tribes, we have come to an understanding with nature. We understand the hierarchy of beasts and green in a way humans do not. Unlike humans, we do not over-hunt, which can cause the deaths of the green. Our numbers remain steady. We do not have too many young, but we do not have too few. There is enough food for us in our lands to last us until the sky falls. We alone must have the right to hunting. We have seen man’s propensity for displacing the game. A new village is settled, and before long they hunt all the animals in their region. They are without balance. We have, and will continue to kill humans who poach in our lands, with or without the Pact.”
Goose nodded. “Right,” he said. “Gotcha. Well, how about this: Featherclaw land remains Featherclaw land. We will not hunt on your land, period. We will protect your land by law, ensuring no humans from the New Canadian Territories hunt on your land under punishment of imprisonment and fine.”
Greatfeather ruffled his feathers. “How is that better than killing them?”
“Because we don’t kill unless we’re forced to,” he replied. “It’s our way.”
Greatfeather cocked his head. “How do you expect to enforce this? Featherclaw lands are far from Dunsmith,” he explained. “Too far to make the trek with prisoners.”
“Oh, of that I’m aware. And if you’ll allow me, I think I have an idea that might benefit both the New Canadian Territories, and the Featherclaw Nations.”
Terra rummaged through her DVD collection, tossing movies around on the floor behind her. She’d been sitting at a desk all day playing Solitaire on the computer because there was no internet.
God, she missed the internet. At least the way it used to be. The cool thing was that a bunch of geeks in the town had banded together to create a town-wide intranet. It was very rudimentary at the moment, but there was a working e-mail system, and a simple web site that indexed the other sites that were popping up. There was a Wikipedia clone that was currently filling up with all sorts of information about the Pactlands and entries from Earth encyclopedias. It was still very sparse, but it was quickly being filled up with photographs, and a lot of the time, rumors and hearsay. The moderator of the site wasn’t someone Terra was sure she knew personally, but whoever it was was quick to limit Terra’s edits, admonishing her edits because she didn’t have citations. It was silly. How do you cite personal experiences on a wiki?
However, she also noticed an unfavorable amount of edits that were strongly anti-Pactlands. It was a growing point of contention within the town, and Terra wasn’t sure she blamed them for feeling the way they did about being ripped from their old lives, being left away from their jobs, their friends, their families. There were people driving up the highway through town when the Blacklight had struck, big rig drivers and people commuting to and from work.
They were afraid of the unknown, and as much as Terra hated to admit it, after having seen the Pactlands first-hand, she was probably more than a little afraid as well. But still, there was a difference between feeding that fear and having the courage to understand it, and that was a lesson her mother had instilled in her from a young age, and she disagreed with a lot of what the dissenters were saying, and the extremes that they threatened to go to.
There was even a kooky conspiracy theory involving Reptilians, government experiments, Goose, and the Emperor of Vector. Terra was fairly certain Goose himself had found the page himself at some point during the day. She heard hysterical laughter and only a few minutes later, Goose’s picture on the site had been replaced by a poorly photoshopped professional bodybuilder wearing his face.
During the day, Quick had been absent. He’d been hired by the government to help make contact with surrounding Tyl colonies, and Terra thought it was a great idea. Quick could earn some money, and maybe buy his own food. Tam wasn’t much of a bother because he didn’t eat. He didn’t sleep either, but he was always quietly reading at night, or watching a movie. He kept the volume low. He also didn’t talk much, except to ask the occasional question. He never messed up the kitchen, he never even set foot in the bathroom. He liked to walk around the town at night from time to time. Terra honestly felt bad for him, despite the fact that he regained his human form. She just saw a sadness in Tam that she knew all too well. The sadness of grief.
But Tam wasn’t there at the moment. He was downtown with Lily, checking out a new designer clothing store that had opened up downtown. It was a joint effort between one of the displaced truck driver and the woman who had taken him in. Not long after the Blacklight, it was declared that anything any of the drivers of the twelve big-rigs were hauling at the time of the Blacklight became their legal property. As it turned out, the driver was hauling fabric. Lots and lots of fabric. The shop, Mary Celeste, was then born. Earthborn fashion for the Pactlands. Needless to say, the opening caused a fair bit of noise throughout the town.
Zara had also been all-business during the day. To be honest, she didn’t mind Zara so much. She was surprisingly funny when they were by themselves, and they seemed to share more than a few interests. Terra had tried to introduce her to video games the night before, but she couldn’t quite grasp the concept. She still wasn’t used to movies, but she was pretty fascinated by them. Only, Terra noticed that she didn’t always concentrate on the movie. She was easily distracted. The building they lived in was old, and sometimes the pipes would make noise. The fridge would start to hum. Her neighbors would walk down the hallway outside her apartment. Every time, Zara’s head would snap to the source of the offending noise, tense for a moment, and then relax once she realized there was nothing to be done about it.
It annoyed Terra, but it was something that she’d have to get used to. For the time being, anyway. There was no way Terra was going to allow the constant guard to be permanent. But she was worse while at work. She stood guard dutifully with the other two while Ianto usually stood around in Goose’s office. The two did a lot of talking. Some slightly muffled yells, but nothing Terra could really make out.
She was suspiciously absent during the mornings. Almost as soon as Terra awake, Zara would leave, with one of the other two guards standing around outside her door to escort Terra to work. Whatever she was doing, it must have been important, because Zara seemed very eager to leave. She imagined she was meeting with Ianto to give him a situation report. And Terra wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
So since she’d gotten home, she’d been fairly short with Zara. She only wanted to relax and watch a movie.
The only problem was… she’d seen all these movies. Zara hadn’t, of course, but she was a little tired of her overreactions to the last movie they’d seen together.
“What troubles you?” Zara asked from the couch. She was sitting down, tinkering with her crossbow.
“I’m bored,” she said. “I’m always bored. There’s nothing to do.”
“There’s lots to do,” Zara replied. “Much moreso here than at home. You Canadians seem to build your lives around entertainment. There is one of your televisions in every home. I could see them through windows as we walked here.” She motioned to the bookshelf at the far end of the living room. It wasn’t a large collection, but it certainly wasn’t small. “You have many books. You have music, movies and games at your very beck and call. You have a living, vibrant city here with taverns and theaters and festivals.” She put her crossbow aside and folded her hands in her lap. “So much to do, and you find yourself bored by the sheer amount of it all?”
Terra shrugged. “Sure. I’ve seen it all though. There’s nothing new.”
“I had a favorite book as a child,” Zara explained. “My sister would read it to me. It was silly, really. Just a collection of tales about Becca Marthryn. She was one of the great heroes that helped unite the five tribes and forge the original Pact. Some of the stories are entirely fictional, written hundreds of years after the Pact, but when I learned to read on my own, I read it every day. And when I was finished, I would read it again, and again. I read that book so often that the spine wore out, so I kept a collection of the unbound pages in a box. Still, every now and then, I’d steal a page to read to myself. To this day, I will love that book. And I would read it again if given the chance.”
“Why not just get another copy?”
Zara laughed. “If only. No,” she said. “The book was not printed. It was written by hand. A gift from my Mother, who had paid a man to put the stories to page so that I would aspire to something worthwhile in my life.” She shook her head. “My point is that I was able to love one book to the point that where boredom struck me, I could retreat back into it. If you don’t mind my saying, Terra, I would venture that your society, your culture is addicted to amusement. It comes in forms that fit in these flat little boxes.” She picked up a DVD case to show as an example. “You can purchase amusement from a shop. You have forgotten what it means to entertain yourself.”
Terra shook her head. “No, I’m usually perfectly capable of entertaining myself.”
“Then why are you not?”
“To be perfectly honest? I’m depressed. Coffee isn’t the only thing we’re lacking in this town. We’re running low on sugar! You know how much of my diet consists of sugar? We’re out of coffee, milk and beef prices are through the roof. There’s quite literally nothing on TV anymore, and I haven’t smoked a joint in a week.”
“A joint?” Zara asked.
“Just… nevermind. You wouldn’t get it.”
“Smoked it? You’re talking about sweetflower, aren’t you? My sister told me that you smoked it.”
“Yeah, sweetflo– wait. Your sister told you? Who’s your sister?”
Zara suddenly stiffened up.
“Hey now, that’s a hell of a bomb to drop. You can’t just clam up now. There’s only two or three women I’ve met in Halen that know I smoke Sweetflower. That’s Nalya, Astara and…” She paused for a moment and looked over Zara’s features. “Holy shit, you’re the Queen’s sister, aren’t you?”
Zara sighed. “Yes. My father is the Prince Varren Hillier of Naden, the same as Arquina.”
“Naden… That’s one of the western provinces of Halen, right?”
“Yes,” Zara confirmed. “The westernmost. We hold the border with Rasza.”
“Wait, you’re a Princess, but you joined the Kingsguard?”
“I did it to be closer to my sister,” Zara explained. “And because I knew I could. My father is a… distant man. There is no love lost between us. I did not turn out as he expected and he dislikes me for it. Joining the Kingsguard was a way I could spite him while proving myself in a manner he can’t meddle with… and to be close to my sister.”
“Jesus,” she said.
“Nonetheless, if it’s sweetflower you’re truly missing, I have some.”
“What?” Terra asked. “Where?”
“Here,” she said, tapping on a pouch at her side. “I’m never far away from it.”
“What?” Terra exclaimed. “You’ve had that the whole time?”
“Yes,” she said. “Three different kinds.”
Terra’s jaw almost hit the floor. “How much do you have?”
“More than enough to share, if you’d like,” Zara said. “I use it for… when I feel ill.”
Terra smiled at her. “You know what, Zara. I think we’re going to be good friends after all.” She stood up. “Let me get my grinder and we’ll do this.”