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There Will Be Dragons: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Sunday, August 3, 2003 17:41 EDT



    He led Sheida in to the back room of the pub as the conversation exploded behind him. But he could tell from the sound that they were working, not panicking, not spinning their wheels. They were all smart, and experienced and self-starters. All they had needed was a touch of self confidence and a direction to point. With that he could more or less let it run and just make sure it didn’t run out of control.

    “You done good, Edmund,” Sheida’s avatar said.

    “Thanks,” he replied then looked around. “Are you an avatar or a projection?”

    “I’m… I’m an autonomous projection,” Sheida replied.

    “That’s proscribed!” Myron snapped.

    “So is dropping rocks on my home,” the avatar said with a sigh. “I can only handle about fifteen of these but they can give orders and gather real information while I handle things that only I can do, like give code commands to the Net. Right now, both sides are fighting for controls. We discovered that we could lock out programs and sub-programs and we’ve been doing that as fast as we can. Unfortunately, they noticed and now they’re at it. And it requires direct orders of a council-member. So creating full avatars was the only way to get anything else done. Every hour or so I take a break and upload all the data I’ve gained and make any corrections I have to. It’s working. We know that because we’re still alive.”

    “Is it that close?” Edmund asked.

    “Every few minutes I think they’re going to finally kill me,” she answered with a sigh. “And then sometimes I think we’ve finally come up with the one true thing that is going to wipe the floor with them. And it never does.”

    “Bitchin’,” Edmunds said with a snort. “You need to back up. This kind of battle never gets won thinking purely tactical. Back up and take a look around for a deep strike.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Sheida asked.

    “I don’t know. I don’t understand the nature of the battlefield. But winning a war is not about killing your opponent, it’s about making them give up. To do that you place them in a situation where they believe, whether it is true or not, that they’ve already lost. In the best of all possible worlds, your enemy creates those conditions for you. But that takes an idiot on the other side. I take it that Paul hasn’t shown any signs of tactical idiocy. Let’s hope he’s less capable at strategy. And that is what you should be thinking about.” Sheida thought about that for a moment then shook her head. “I don’t see anything off the top of my head. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Later, maybe. But not right now.”

    The room had a table where during the Faire Tarmac would sometimes retreat to play chess. But the rest was filled with barrels. After rummaging for a bit Talbot came up with a cup and poured some out of an unmarked barrel. He took a sip and wrinkled his face but didn’t pour it out.

    “So, talk,” Edmund said.

    “Why didn’t you come here when I asked?” Sheida said. “The answer didn’t make any sense.”

    “You, we, have huge problems,” Edmund said.

    “So far I’m keeping up,” Sheida said dryly. “Maybe you should go slower, though.”

    “Glad to see you’re keeping your sense of humor,” Talbot replied. “But I’m not just talking about the ‘war.’ I’m talking about the famine.”

    “Yessss…” Sheida sighed. “So, any answers?”

    “Why do you think I brought Myron,” Edmund said with another chuckle.

    “Right now our greatest problem is farming,” Myron replied. “Or rather, lack of it and where it does exist it’s of no use. We’re going to have to have food, and soon. We still have some supplies but we’re going to burn through them fast. And other places don’t’ have anything.”

    “We’re getting started on that,” Edmund noted. “We’ll be putting the refugees we get to work.”

    “Well, Edmund, you know farming is an art more than a science, especially at this level,” Myron contradicted with a shake of his head. “Every farm, every patch of soil, is different. And it’s not as if we can run up a soil analysis. Chemistry, conditions, weather. It all comes down to knowing what you’re doing with your farm. Learning that… well… I’ve been studying it a lifetime and there’s still things I don’t know.”

    “So you’re saying that everyone is going to die of starvation,” Sheida said, shaking her head. “Maybe we should just give up.”

    Edmund frowned at her angrily and shook his head. “War… you know, Paul knows, nothing about war. It is said that war is the most evil thing ever invented by man. That statement is fatuous and downright ignorant. Man has created much worse things than war. More people have been killed by totalitarian regimes, during times of peace, than in all the wars in the world combined.”


    “This war will be… awful. Worse, I think, than the AI Wars. The lack of industry, transportation methods other than teleportation and the explosives prescriptions mean that we’re going to be forced to a pre-industrial or at least pre-gunpowder lifestyle.”

    “I… hadn’t thought it out that far,” Sheida admitted.”

    “Many people are going to die in the first two years…”

    “Two years?” Sheida asked. “We… I was hoping that… Well wars don’t have to take that long!”

    “Are you winning? Right now? Decisively?” Edmund asked.

    “No, I told you that. If anything, we’re losing.”

    “If you don’t lose in the next three months, and I pray you don’t, then it’s going to be a long war. And until the Council stops sucking up all the power, we’re not going to be able to recover.”

    “What about more plants?” Myron interjected. “I mean… why can’t you just build more? I know it will be a race who can build them the quickest…”

    Sheida sighed in exasperation and shook her head. “More proscriptions. I didn’t realize how many we worked under until this. Power usage peaked shortly after the AI Wars during the regrowth period. Usage eventually got so high that it was effecting the biosphere; the heat from all the energy usage was melting the ice-caps and to prevent flooding Mother was having to divert more energy into various ways of preventing it. So the Council of the time, and it was a very controlling period in council history, when the explosive prohibitions and several others were introduced, placed a cap on construction, requirement for council approval for new construction and roll-back targets. We were well under the roll-back targets, and still had an abundance of power, before the Fall. But now, if we lose a power plant it’s gone. We can’t get it back. And power distribution, under the council…severance proscriptions means having physical control of the plants.”

    “Ugh,” Myron said, shaking his head. “I’m beginning to understand why Edmund hated the whole system.”

    “So am I,” Sheida admitted. “There’s also a fuel problem.”

    “Why? They run off of hydrogen don’t they?” Edmund asked.

    “No, they don’t,” Sheida sighed. “They run off of Helium Three. It’s produced by the sun and drifts out on the solar winds. It collects in various places, notably the lunar regolith and in the upper atmosphere of gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter. Hydrogen produces radioactive byproducts, H3 doesn’t. So they’re more ‘green’ this way. The problem is…”

    “Who controls the fuel?” Edmund asked, warily.

    “Right now, each plant is fueled for several years of maximum output,” Sheida admitted. “But the tanker will return in… five years.”

    “If this isn’t over in five years,” Edmund mused, “there is going to be one hell of a battle for that tanker.”

    “Yes, there will be,” Sheida admitted.

    “Not a problem for right now, though,” Edmund said. “The point is, are you going to see this through? Are you going to fight to the end or give up out of weakness?”

    “I’m not weak, Edmund Talbot,” she snapped. “The question is…”

    “The problem is, you don’t even know how to frame the question,” Talbot cut her off. “Because you don’t understand war.”

    “No, I don’t,” Sheida admitted. “That’s what I have you for.”

    “The question is, is this a just war? Would you admit that?”

    “I… guess,” Sheida said. “But is there such a thing as a just war?”

    “There are two types of war, purely defensive and policy difference,” Edmund said. “Lecture mode time.”

    “Okay,” Sheida smiled. “As long as it’s short.”

    “Purely defensive is ‘you attacked me and I did nothing to cause it.’ In one way, that is the war that you are in. But not really. What we have here is a policy difference. Both sides believe their cause is just. The question is, is it a just war for you to fight?”

    “I don’t know,” Sheida said after a moment. “There will be… have been… so many deaths.”

    “There are pre-conditions worked out over history for a just war,” Edmund explained. “In short, there are seven. Just cause; right authority; right intention; reasonable hope of success; proportionality of good achieved over harm done; efforts made to protect non-combatants; and aim to achieve a justly ordered peace. I’m not going to cover all of them, but let me tell you that when the Fall happened I thought about what you had told me and what Paul said. And this war meets every item. At least on ‘our’ side. Just one: What is your intention?”

    “To return things to the way they were,” Sheida said.

    “Virtual utopia, while I found it personally boring, has got to be better than a world-wide, omni-present, omnisicent dictatorship of the ‘right’ people, wouldn’t you think?” Edmund chuckled.

    “Yes… but…”

    “No buts. Remember what I said about defeating the enemy?” Edmund snapped. “It works in both directions. If you were just going to give in, you shouldn’t have started. But given what Paul did, you have to know that it’s the best thing to do. Paul is well on his way to replicating every totalitarian state in history, with the FULL POWER OF MOTHER behind him. And that we cannot allow! Paul’s way leads to dozens of separate species of specialized insects. Not human beings with free will and the rights of man. We will survive this, and so will the human race. And we will win!”

    “Yes, milord,” Sheida said shaking her head. “I hear and obey.”

    “Something else to remember,” Myron said with a thoughtful smile. “What applies to us, applies to Paul and company. Who is advising them?”



    “Farming is going to be our biggest problem,” Paul said gloomily...



    ...“With that bitch Sheida’s attacks we can’t move food around. And people are going to start starving soon.”

    “Well, I have some ideas on that,” Celine said. “I think we can handle it quite readily. It all comes down to Chansa.”

    “What do you mean by that?” Chansa asked harshly.

    “Well, farming’s not exactly what you call difficult,” Celine said, waving her hand. “People have been doing it since they chipped stone after all. But the people that make up the refugees are weak and don’t know how to work. They’re all lotus eaters, agreed?”

    “One of the greatest problems with the world that was,” Paul said, nodding his head. “They shall learn to strive again, learn to work again and thereby learn true freedom again.”

    Celine glanced at Chansa to see his reaction, but the giant was simply looking at Paul with a furrowed brow. Wondering exactly how much history Paul knew, Celine cleared her throat delicately.

    “Are you perhaps saying something like, oh, ‘work will make you free?’”

    “Why, yes!” Paul said, nodding and smiling as his frown cleared. “That’s it exactly!”

    “Oh, well,” Celine said weakly. “In that case. Uhm, where was I?”

    “Farming’s not difficult.”

    “Ah, do a minor modification to the refugees. Make them more resistant to physical effort, conditions, food quality. Perhaps a bit less… mentally refined; farming can be very boring work. Do a bit of selective memory work so that they are not so depressed by current conditions. Just generally… tweak them to make them more suited to the modern environment.”

    “So what you’re saying is you want to make them dumb?” Chansa asked, with a raised eyebrow. “Is that how you see me?”

    “No, not at all,” Celine replied smoothly. “I just want to make them strong. And… tough. Capable of surviving better than standard humans.”

    “We are trying to escape Change,” Paul pointed out, frowning.

    “Oh, this isn’t really Change,” Celine said. “Just… tweaking.”

    “That will take energy,” Chansa said. “Where are we going to get it?”

    “We can take it from their own bodies,” Celine replied immediately. “There is a program to enhance ATP conversion. It will leave them initially weak, but food and work will help them to recover.”

    “I did not take the course that history set before me to turn the human race into moronic drones,” Paul intoned.

    “No, you didn’t,” Celine hastened to agree. “But this increases their chances of survival and when the war is done we can change them all back.”


    “And loyalty conditioning,” Chansa said. “And touch up their aggression. I need foot soldiers.”

    “Loyalty conditioning?” Paul asked, seeming to be perplexed by the sudden change.

    “For soldiers it’s all you need,” Chansa replied. “And some aggression. Like farming, soldiering does not require much in the way of brains.”

    “And some basic skills,” Celine added, making a note on the paper before her.

    “Soldiering and farming are pretty simple. We’ll give them the base-line skills for each. They’ll all know how to plow and… well other things.”

    “That should work perfectly,” Paul said, looking at his steepled hands.




    “The problem is, Myron, that all these refugees are weak-armed, weak-hearted do-nothing lay-abouts,” Talbot said disgustedly.



    “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Sheida replied. “They’re all in good basic condition, much better than the average farmer in history. Just point out to them that the alternative is to starve. We’re not going to be giving food away, they’re going to have to produce it on their own. They either produce it or they die. And so do we.”

    “Lovely,” the smith snorted into his pewter mug. “It may sound like I’m blithe about this but I’m not. They don’t have any skills and they’re not used to hard day in and day out manual labor. The last time this was tried a quarter of the population died.”

    “When was that?” Myron asked.

    “Pol Pot, Cambodia,” Edmund said. “Just a tad over two thousand years ago. He’d just won a civil war and decided that all the people of the cities were to move into the country and work the land. A quarter of them, three million people, died. Many of them from being beaten or killed by thugs, but most of them from starvation. There was a similar situation in the same area a few decades before, and that one killed even more people. And those groups at least had the concept of work.”

    “And it’s possible that a quarter of this population will die,” Sheida replied sadly. “But if food isn’t produced, all of them will die. And there aren’t any farmers.”

    “Think they can learn it, Myron?” Edmund asked with a jerk of his chin.

    “It’s best if you’re raised to it; that way you don’t consider working day in and day out every day of the year to be hard,” Myron replied with a grim chuckle. “Otherwise…”

    “I guess you’ll just have to do a lot of classes,” Talbot said, taking another sip of beer. That, too, was going to be in short supply soon; they’d have to concentrate on wheat over barley for the time being. “Me too,” he added with a grimace.

    “You need to be running things, not beating out sword-blades,” Sheida corrected.

    “Well, I don’t know how much time I can take training people and also run the farm,” Myron noted. “And if I don’t run the farm nobody will be eating next winter. Not to mention the fact that I can’t be everywhere at once.”

    “What about Charlie and Tom?” Sheida asked.

    “Well, what about them?” Myron replied. “They’re both ready to take over, but they’re also wanting their own farms…”

    “Set one of them to be the instructor?” Edmund asked. “Maybe something like an agricultural agent.

    “Mayhaps. But he could be growing food himself.”

    “I’ve come up with a way to have a sort of… roving instructor,” Sheida said. “A widely roaming one. It would have some problems associated with it, among others not being home much. Ask them if one of them would be interested. Lots of travel.”

    “Okay,” Myron said dubiously. “Honestly, Tom probably would. He likes the theory of farming, but he doesn’t really like the work if you know what I mean.”

    “In the meantime we’ll get the familiarization program going,” Edmund said. “Most of them will end up having to farm. But you need more than farmers. Especially if this lasts as long as it looks like it might.”

    “Something else to put on the list,” Sheida said, making a note. “If it works here, we’ll pass the information around and see what comes of it.”

    “One other thing, Sheida, this is a war. That means that when we start supporting you, Paul will probably find groups to attack us.”

    “Yes, he will,” the council woman replied. “And I’ll help you to the extent that I can. But…”

    “Well, the good news is I may not know shit about fighting a Web War, but if they have a ground force commander that’s my equal, I will be very surprised.”



    “Clothing,” Roberta said. Tom’s partner was the village seamstress and it was one of the first points raised when the three went back to the meeting. Sheida’s avatar had stayed since the other avatars stated that the groups they were monitoring were still mostly spinning their wheels. Raven’s Mill’s plan of setting up an apprenticeship familiarization had been passed through the avatars and was meeting with mixed reactions.

    “We can grow cosilk,” Myron noted. The hybrid cotton that integrated many of the properties of silk was hardy and made excellent cloth, but it was generally considered a hot-weather plant.

    “We can also raise sheep,” Bethan said.

    “You can get more material per square acre out of cosilk,” the farmer pointed out. “Admittedly, wool is a lot better for cold weather; cosilk doesn’t insulate worth a damn. But I’ve only got five sheep; we’ll have cosilk in abundance long before we have much wool.”

    “There’s ferals,” Robert pointed out. “You know what the ridges look like in the summer.” Most of the ferals were from modern sheep stocks which automatically dropped their wool when the weather turned warm. It had originally been a genetic design to eliminate the chore of shearing but with the ferals it meant that for a few weeks in early summer the ridgelines above the valley were dotted with patches of white. Many of the bird’s nests in the area were made of pure wool, finer than the best cashmere.

    “You have some?” Edmund asked. “Cosilk that is.”

    “Aye, I’ve never grown it but I know how.”

    “Cosilk has more uses than clothes,” Robert said. “We’re going to need it for bow-strings, rope…”

    “Better hemp for the rope. We can get at least one crop of silk in this year. Carding and spinning though…very manpower intensive. I don’t suppose there’s much chance of some powered carding and spinning plants by the time the crop’s in?”

    “When?” Edmund asked.

    “By September, say?”

    “Maybe, there’s so many draws on the few artisans we have. Put it on the list. What’s the growing season?”

    “Off the top of my head I don’t recall. After the ground is good and warm and longer here than down south; it grows better in hot climes, but, then, many things do.”

    “Tea,” Edmund grumped. “I’m nearly out.”

    “No caffeinating materials at all,” Myron agreed. “I’ve a few hot-house tea plants but not enough to make more than a cup or two a year. No coffee, tea…”

    “I can’t believe you guys poison yourselves that way,” Sheida said disparagingly. “Caffeine is horrible for your body.

    “…No chocolate,” Myron continued.


    “It’s got caffeine in it,” Edmund said with a grin.

    “Well, trace elements,” Sheida replied with a sniff. “But no CHOCOLATE?”

    “Requires several products that are only grown in the tropics,” Myron said dolefully. “No chocolate. Not until some sort of trade is established.”

    “Well that is going to get a priority then!”

    “Citrus,” Edmund said, shaking his head. “I’m going to miss citrus. And it’s a good scurvy preventer.”

    “That you can grow in Festiva,” Myron replied. “If the weather settles out.”

    It had started within a day of the Fall, the weather had closed in and stayed that way. Wind, rain, sleet, rivers flooding. It seemed as if it would never stop storming as all the pent up fury of weather long leashed was released upon the land.

    “It’s going to,” Sheida replied with a shake of her head. “Did you hear what happened?”

    “No?” Myron replied but everyone looked interested.

    “The program that did weather control was an AI, that I knew, but what I didn’t know was that it was one of the really old ones, it actually predated weather control and was a weather forecasting AI.”

    “Damn, that is old,” Myron said as the wind tore at the roof of the pub.

    “And that means it can predict this stuff?”

    “Sort of, maybe. So the Fall happens and the Council starts fighting and suddenly it’s got no power to do weather control. It’s back to forecasting. Talk about pissed.”


    “Her name is Lystra, and I do mean she. Anyway, it’s not ‘hiding’ like a lot of the AI’s but it has declared itself strictly neutral. It doesn’t care who wins just that they get the power systems back on line so it can get back to controlling the weather! She’s really, really pissed.”


    “Yeah, one humorous spot in an otherwise crappy situation. Lystra says about a month and a half.”

    “We might be able to get one crop in the ground in time. It’ll have to dry some before we can plant. And a few more plows wouldn’t hurt.”

    “I’m on it,” Edmund replied. “I’m glad Angus brought in that load of sheet stock. We need to send someone up to him to get some more material. And he’ll need food as well. We’ll have to see what we can spare.”

    Myron took another sip of beer and his face worked. “So, have you heard anything about Rachel?”

    “No,” Edmund said quietly as another blast shook the building.

    “They’re not at home, one of me went there already but they’d gone,” Sheida said quietly. “Mother’s privacy protocols are intact, damnit, and I can’t simply order a location search without a super-majority of the Council. I’d have to do a full sweep to find them and… I just can’t spare the power. I’ve set out, well, guides, to find travelers. Hopefully one of them will find them and direct them to Raven’s Mill.”

    “What kind of guides?” Edmund asked.

    “There are… semi-autonomous beings, like homunculi and hobs, that manage some of the ecological programs. I found a low-power update conduit that let me reprogram them. They now have the path to ‘safe’ areas mapped for each of their areas and if they find lost travelers they’ll direct them. It’s all I can do right now. Maybe later something more can be done.

    “For most of the refugees, there’s not going to be a ‘later,’” Edmund said.

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