Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fifty-Five: One Step Too Far

You never realize what’s special about a time until it’s almost over. Berry and I spent today getting the last of the rooms ready for the ruinmen from Cansiddi, talking and joking as we worked, and right as we were finishing it sank in that in a few more days it won’t just be the five of us here any more.  It was Berry’s turn to cook, so he went off to the kitchen, and once he was gone I went to the room with the alien-books and sat there for a while, remembering the months we’ve been here and everything that’s happened, and I didn’t leave until Eleen came looking for me to tell me that dinner was ready.

After dinner we all went to the radio room to find out if there was any more news about Berry.  It’s been most of a week now since the Circle elder and the Sisnaddi ruinman added their bit to the talk about the succession, and I’m sure we haven’t been the only ones listening one evening after another to find out if the electors has anything to say.  Until tonight, they didn’t, but tonight the announcer started off the news broadcast saying that Jennel Risher Macallun had made a statement.

That had all of us listening, because Risher’s not just an elector, he’s also as important a jennel as you’ll find in Meriga. His family owns a mother of a lot of land in Inyana, and he’s been with the army since before he inherited the jennelship; when we lost at Durrem, in the war with the coastal allegiancies, it was Jennel Risher who pulled what was left of the Merigan army together and got it back safe across the border in the teeth of everything the Jinyans and Cairlines could throw at him. I never heard anyone name him as a possible candidate for the presdency, so it’s a safe bet that he didn’t want it for himself, but no one was ever going to get it without Jennel Risher having a say in the matter.

The radio crackled and spat, and started talking in the sort of growling voice you get when you’ve spent years downing way too much of the cheap whiskey that soldiers drink. “The electors have been talking about this Sharl sunna Sheren,” the voice said. “Informally, you understand. We were as surprised as everyone else. I won’t say all of us are pleased by some of the details, but the law is what it is, and the college agreed to meet him in Sanloo on the twentieth of Febry to consider his claim.”

The announcer went on to say something else, but I don’t remember a word of it. I was looking at Berry. The rest of us had pulled chairs over to the radio, but he stayed on his feet, and he was still standing there, staring at the radio with an expression on his face that I’ve never seen there before or since, strange and quiet and very far away. Looking at him, I knew down in my belly that he was going to become presden, and I knew that he knew it too; and I had the oddest feeling just then, as though I was in two places at once, there in the cramped little radio room and somewhere else, reading about the scene in the radio room in a history book a long time from now.

I think Tashel Ban felt the same thing. He got up and left the room without saying a word, while the radio chattered on about something else I don’t remember; I heard him rummaging around in his room close by, then the clink and clatter of glasses down in the kitchen, and then came back with a bottle of Genda whiskey and glasses for everyone, and poured us all a good solid drink. Nobody said anything. He raised his glass to Berry; Berry raised his in answer; we all did the same, and then drank it down.

“Some of the details,” Eleen said then, sourly. “I suppose that means that the jennels are grumbling because they have to talk to a tween.”

“Or a ruinman,” I said, grinning. “At least he’s not a lumberman. Can you imagine how they’d carry on if that was how things had turned out?”

That chased the strange look off Berry’s face, and he laughed and aimed a swat at me, which I ducked.  All of us laughed, and for a moment it was just the five of us again, instead of four of us and the next presden of Meriga and a mother of a lot of people reading about it all in some history book that hasn’t even been written yet. Tashel Ban offered everyone another drink, I took him up on it, and so did Berry, and then the announcer finished saying whatever it was that he was saying, and we went off to our rooms and I sat at my desk and thought about jennels.

Most ruinmen never get to meet one, and even though things turned out the way they did, I’m not sorry that I knew Jennel Cobey.  That’s partly because, well, because most ruinmen never get to meet one, but it’s also because Cobey Taggart was one of the most likeable people I’ve ever known. He never forgot for a moment that he came from an old proud Tucki family, but he didn’t go around expecting everyone else to remember that all the time, the way some jennels and cunnels do. When he talked with me, it felt like I had every bit of his attention for that moment, and it didn’t matter that I was a ruinman with dirt on my leathers and he might just become the next presden.

That was true all through the time I knew him, but it was even more true while we were traveling out here to Star’s Reach. On that trip he wasn’t surrounded by soldiers and servants, the way he usually was.  He had his man Banyon with him, but that was all, and the two of them ate the same food and sat at the same campfire as the rest of us, and kept watch at night over the horses and the camp when their turns came; and we talked about everything and nothing, not just as travelers do but as friends. That’s the way it was, all along the journey from Cansiddi west to here. It was a special time, too, though there again I didn’t recognize that until we were almost to Star’s Reach, where it ended. I wonder to this day if it was a special time for him, or if he had any idea how it was about to end.

That happened after we were past the two fences and in sight of the low blunt concrete shapes of the antenna housings, and found the door half buried in the sand. There were high thin clouds overhead and gray sandy desert all around us, and if we’d gone walking into the antenna housings for another couple of kloms we would have found the door to the living quarters where we’re staying now and spared ourselves some searching, though of course we didn’t know that yet. We got to work right away with shovels and cleared the sand away from the door, and I went to work on it with some of my tools, and finally hauled the thing open despite the shriek of the hinges. .

Inside was darkness, and a smell I more than half expected and recognized at once, the lightning-smell you get when there’s a mother of a lot of electricity flowing very close by. As my eyes got used to the dim light inside, I could see the thin lines of metal crossing the floor, full of current.

“Trapped,” I said.

“Can you turn it off?” Jennel Cobey asked, looking past me into Star’s Reach. 

“If it’s a standard trap, yes.”

“Do it,” he said, in a different voice.  I turned away from the door, startled, and only then saw that he had drawn his gun.  Back behind him, Banyon had another gun out, and moved away from the door to cover everyone else in the group.

“I’m sorry to say there’s been a change of plans,” Jennel Cobey said then, to all of us. “Don’t move or say anything, and there won’t be any trouble.  Otherwise—well, Banyon and I will both start shooting, and the rest of my people will be here in a few minutes once they hear the shots. Yes, there’s been a party following us the whole way.  All of you—”  He motioned to everyone but Banyon and me.  “Get over there, away from the door. Trey, you’ll disarm the trap now.”

“I’ll need my tools,” I told him. My mind was spinning, but I had enough wit to guess that he wouldn’t shoot me dead for saying that.

“Of course.  I’ll follow you.”  He did, too, as I went to the horse that had my gear in its pack, got the things I needed, and went back to the door. I could feel the gun pointed at me the whole way.

While I did that I was trying to think, trying to figure out why he was doing what he was, and what he was going to do next, and a thought I didn’t like at all was settling in somewhere in my belly, cold and heavy as old metal. If he wanted a contract dig, he didn’t need the guns; he didn’t need them if he meant to do anything the laws allowed, and if he planned on doing something else, it was pretty clear what his next step would have to be, once he’d gotten me to open the door to Star’s Reach.

There was a metal panel in the concrete wall next to the door, with some buttons on it and some slots in the metal, mostly choked with dust.  I popped the panel off with the pry bar, found the wiring behind it, and took a good long time figuring out which wires to snip.  “There,” I said.  “That should do it.”

He gave me a long steady look, and motioned toward the door.  “Go in.”

I went to the door and stepped inside, into the darkness and the lightning-scented air.

“Keep going,” Jennel Cobey said.

I shrugged, and started walking.  There was a door at the far end of the room; I could just barely see it in the faint light. I got maybe halfway to it when Cobey called out, “Stop there.” He stepped through the door, considered me, and said, “I’m sorry, Trey,” as he took another step and raised the gun.

His first step had been lucky.  The second one wasn’t.

As his foot touched the floor, the electricity discharged with a crack and a blinding flash.  I hunched down where I stood, hoping I could dodge the bullet, but I needn’t have bothered; the shock threw him forward, and though the gun went off, the bullet didn’t go anywhere near me.  For just a moment as he fell, I could see his face, pale and contorted with an expression I didn’t recognize at first, and then he landed hard, full length on the floor, with something like a dozen of the wires beneath him. The current surged again with a series of flashes and bangs, and his body jerked and twisted and started to smoke.

“So am I,” I answered him, though I knew by then that only his ghost could have heard me.

Then I walked the rest of the way across the trapped floor, the way I’d done in the hidden place in the Shanuga ruins, to the switch and the little red light beside the door on the other side of the room.  As I walked, I heard another shot, outside, and then silence. I didn’t let myself think about what that might mean; all that mattered was stepping in the right places and getting to the door and the switch.

I got there and flipped the switch, the light went from red to green, and Cobey’s corpse went limp.  Just then, Thu’s deep voice echoed in the empty room. “Trey?  Are you there?”

“Yes,” I called back. Anyone else, I might have wondered if Banyon had a gun against somebody’s head, but nothing on Mam Gaia’s round belly can make Thu say something he doesn’t want to say.

“Banyon’s dead,” he called out.  “The rest of us are unhurt.”

A wave of panic I hadn’t let myself feel broke and flowed back to wherever fears go when you don’t need them. I crossed the floor, going around what was left of Jennel Cobey, and got to the door.

For a moment, while my eyes got used to the sunlight, I couldn’t see anything.  The very first thing I saw was Banyon; he was sprawled across the ground with his neck at a funny angle and one side of his head caved in. He still had his gun in his hand, but I gathered he hadn’t had time for more than one shot before he died, and that didn’t hit anything but sand.

“When the trap went off,” Thu said, “he was startled, and turned toward the door.  Not a wise thing to do in the presence of enemies.”

“I don’t believe,” said Tashel Ban, “that he thought you could react that quickly, and jump that far, that fast. I certainly didn’t.”

Thu shrugged. “It seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”  Then, to me:  “You will need to get more training for Berry.  A blind man could have told that he was about to rush Banyon.”

I turned to Berry.  “I figured I could distract him so that Thu or Tashel Ban could kill him,” he told me.

“You would have gotten yourself reborn,” I said. 

“It would have been worth it,” Berry said. His face was pale and he was still breathing big ragged breaths, but I didn’t doubt for a moment that he meant it. 

Then I turned toward Eleen. She was pale and trembling; scholars don’t see violence very often, and she hadn’t been a failed scholar long enough for that to change.  She didn’t say a word; she came to me, put her arms around me and stayed there for a good long moment, shaking like a leaf in a wind.  I held her; after a moment, Berry came and put his arms around us both, and I shifted one arm and gave him a squeeze to let him know he was welcome; Thu and Tashel Ban stood close; only Anna remained off by herself, silent as usual, watching us all out of the corners of her eyes.

“We need to get inside,” said Tashel Ban after a little while.  “If he had people following him—”

That was all the reminder any of us needed.  We were all pretty shaky, except for Thu, but we got the packs off the horses and hauled them inside.  Tashel Ban, who’s good with horses, muttered something in their ears and then slapped them across the hindquarters, and they went galloping off eastward, back the way we’d come.

“What should be done with that?”  Thu asked, with a bend of the head toward what was left of Cobey.

“Outside,” Tashel Ban said.  Then:  “Pour some oil over both of them and light them on fire. If Cobey’s people find a sealed door with two smoking corpses outside, they’ll be less likely to try to get in.”

So that’s what we did. Thu and I used shovels to haul what was left of the jennel out into the open air.  Once both of the bodies were burning, I got the door back in working order, locked it, went to the far side of the room and turned the switch so the light went red again.  The others had already found a stair and a room two floors down that could be lived in, and stored our gear and supplies there; I went down and sat with them and waited for what seemed like half of forever, listening for anything that might mean that Cobey’s people had found a way in. We don’t know what happened when they arrived, but when Thu and I went back up the stairs after night closed in, and I turned off the current in the floor so he could slip outside and see what he could, there were two fresh graves in the sand, bootprints and hoofprints all over the place, and nothing else.

Until that happened, though, I sat in a metal chair that didn’t look as though anybody had used it since the old world ended and stared at nothing in particular. The thing that kept coming back to me was the expression on Cobey’s face as he fell, when he understood the trick I played on him, and realized he was about to die. For what felt like a couple of hours, and might well have been, I couldn’t think of what it was that showed in his face, and then all at once I knew that it was plain surprise and disbelief.  I think it never occurred to him that he might lose.

That’s when I understood something about him, and something about the old world as well, that I never really understood before.  The people in the old world never really thought they could lose, either. They played with the thought now and then, or so Eleen told me once, but they never believed that anything could stop them from doing what they wanted. That’s why they kept on burning fossil fuels and ripping up the ground and all the rest of it, until they took that one step too far, the way Cobey did, and found out what was really going on just that little bit too late to do anything about it. I still wonder now and then how many people when the old world was coming apart had the same expression on their faces as Cobey did, the moment or so before they died.


AlanfromBigEasy said...

Well done !

The fate of Jennel Cobey has been hanging for some time. And the metaphor is fitting & proper.

RPC said...

"Then I walked the rest of the way across the trapped floor, the way I’d done in the hidden place in the Shanuga ruins." Actually, didn't Trey short out the floor with a wad of wire from his pocket? Though I recall an apprentice at Wanridge doing the "charged floor dance" and getting made a mister on the spot for his accomplishment!

RPC said...

A general theme of yours seems to be hubris. Had Jennel Cobey just waited until everyone was set up inside, he and Banyon could have finished off everyone around the supper table. The same theme is strong in your "How It Could Happen" series over at ADR. And you're right - I've lost count of the number of people who drive (just to take an example) as if nothing will ever go wrong.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

(second posting attempt)

Because this story is unfolding in installments, I'm paying more attention than usual to the construction of the novel. In particular, your choices of which incidents to tell in flashbacks, and in what order.

Berry's physical bravery and loyalty are good qualities for a future presden to have.

I'm still curious as to what a scholar needs to do to be judged successful.

Doctor Westchester said...


Just a couple of things:

I noticed that In Chapter22 you talk about the third civil war as happening in 2109. Several characters have stated that there had been three civil wars in the past. You’ve mentioned that the last one happened about a century before the story. Eleen states in this chapter that the year 2109 was about 350 years previous.

I noticed that a number of plot points make much more makes sense once we know that Barry is the Presden’s child. It’s obvious that at least one of the black riders mentioned earlier was likely simply a member of the Presiden’s court charged with keeping track of him. As for Jennel Cobey, it seems likely that Barry might have been as much as a target as Trey, if not more so, since the Jennel knew who he was. What may have forced his hand may have been the knowledge that the Presden’s time was growing short.

Lastly, the CIA has formally acknowledged the existence of Area 51, What has been released fits perfectly with what Eileen talks about and what you have written in your UFO book. No mention of the deepest, darkest, secret of all – what was the actual cover story that was promoted to protect the facility. I’m sure it might be safe for the government to do so; the UFO aficionados would never believe it.

John Michael Greer said...

Alan, thank you!

RPC, nah, he dropped some wire and, as it incandesced, was able to see what was below him and drop onto a mass of fallen concrete, then did the charged floor dance over to the switch. You'll find the details here. As for hubris, exactly -- one of the core themes of this whole novel is that hubris is the past tense of nemesis.

Unknown Deborah, I should have clarified that in an earlier section, shouldn't I? I'll have to see to that in the revisions, before this becomes a book (which is not that far away at this point).

Doctor W., the reference to the third civil war was an error -- the one in 2109 was the second, not the third. Thanks for catching that. A lot of the plot has had Berry's identity as a core element -- I figured out who he had to be very early on, and dropped hints from there. As for the UFO thing, yes, I saw that; did you read the whole report, including the section which admits that the Air Force deliberately lied about U-2 sightings, claiming that they were unidentified objects? I'm feeling more than usually confident about my theory just now...

AlanfromBigEasy said...

One small point.

What oil did they bring with them to ignite the two bodies with ? Perhaps cooking oil, but that seems a waste of something essential for their diet.

Lamp oil, ?but likely not that much, and they may need that as well.

Of course, food for 8 goes further for 6, then 5 people.

Jusr small points.

Doctor Westchester said...

I only read the Reuters article on the NY Times website. Isn't it amusing how that that critical little detail got left out, or at least was reported very obscurely.

Ray Wharton said...

I read this chapter right after the most recent Archdruid report and a conversation I had with a friend on temporality in story telling. He asserted that in his studies from college there was a tendency for Northern European stories to be told in the order of events, for Southern European stories to "Spiral in" on the main points, and for East Asian stories to have a 'zig-zag' structure.

This isn't the place to go into the details of his assurtions, not that I feel like I could give a very good second hand account, even what's about is more of a 'pointing gesture' than anything else; the point is that I have been thinking about temporality alot recently, and specifically the temporality of this Novel.

It starts at the point that a bulk of it is building up to, and plays out from the perspective on that build up of the unfolding from the perspective of the unfolding. As the build up reaches the end of his time at Star's Reach the sense of how he got there starts to take shape.

Interesting narrative structure, proud and gifted individuals aren't destroyed by Gods here, but by their own hubris.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

My fan fiction "Stars Reach Scandinavia" is structured in a linear fashion, but I am writing it in a hap hazard fashion - filling in holes here, making major points there.

Just know am I setting up ANY plot conflict - and it is a conflict between mass "hysteria"/emotions and reasoning. It is going to be hard to write this conflict.

But I am an amateur.

Philip Steiner said...

Hi John,

Apologies if you've discussed this already in past comments - I've been thinking about the electrical energy source(s) that power the floor grids in places like Star's Reach and the basement Trey discovered early on in the story. Now, I am not an engineer or scientist, but AFAIK there is no technology presently employed, or envisioned within the next few years, that can generate or store an electrical charge for centuries, certainly not one that is automated enough to remain viable for that length of time.

Granted, the collapse preceding the events of Star's Reach may be several decades into our future - so there is room for as-yet-undeveloped advances in batteries, fusion (cold or otherwise), capacitors, or some other source of electricity - I still wonder if you based the power system on anything "currently" available (pun intended) or projected, or is it just a convenient plot device?

And I must wonder, in the context of the story, if a technology that could provide electrical power unattended for decades was available to Trey's ancestors, was its use lost, or banned? Was it too little, too late for general use in bridging or replacing our current power generation technologies?

Apart from that, I've been following along avidly as always, enjoying each installment and wishing it could continue forever... it's hard keeping all the plot threads straight with weeks-long gaps between installments, so I am looking forward to ordering the eventual book and settling in for a marathon read!

John Michael Greer said...

Alan, it was cooking oil -- since there were two fewer mouths to feed, the expenditure seemed reasonable. I'll weave that in when it's time for revisions.

Doctor W., no doubt! The Air Force might need the same old wheeze to provide security for some future aerospace project.

Ray, I was influenced in choosing a structure for this story by Edgar Pangborn's Davy, one of the best postcollapse fictions I know, which uses a similar two-track telling of the main character's story. As for hubris, well, yes!

Alan, the best advice I ever got in handling plot conflicts is to pay attention to the people. What makes a conflict meaningful is that it stirs emotions in the characters -- not just in you or a prospective reader. Your characters should feel torn -- do they keep on doing the reasonable thing, or do they panic? That'll require you to make the panic plausible, which makes for better writing.

Philip, the power cores were discussed early on. They're big heavily shielded cylinders containing a modest amount of high-level nuclear waste, and a thermoelectric generator -- the same sort that's been used on satellites. The temperature differential between the nuclear waste and the ambient air drives the generator, which trickle-charges very large capacitors, and the capacitors are connected to the metal strips.

The same technology powers Star's Reach, and also provides some electricity for the core cities -- Sisnaddi, Nashul, and Pisba. It doesn't produce huge amounts of power, and that and the dangers of manufacture limited the production of power cores in the last decade or so of the old world to urgent government and military needs. The priestesses don't like the cores much, but there's not much anybody can do about them, since the cores can't be destroyed without releasing the nuclear waste, and the electricity has to go somewhere.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

Your thermoelectric nuclear generators sound a bit like my modified Slowpokes (a real Canadian design) that are used for domestic heat at high latitudes.

My modified Slowpokes are both beryllium and heavy water moderated reactors that are loaded with used fuel rods and lots of thorium. They self breed used fuel from today into U233 from the thorium, and in the process burn up the plutonium, U 235 and U238. This often requires almost a century of exposure to split 90+% in the 20th and 21st Century fuel rods. Used thorium fuel rods are more benign (no plutonium, although 72 year half life U232 is produced as a trace byproduct).

Most Slowpokes are designed to operate to 150 C (by increased pressure). If the water boils at 152 C, the chain reaction stops.

The primary use of Slowpokes is domestic heat. Heat exchangers extract heat from the reactors heavy water and then circulate it. The heat can also be used to boil alcohol mixtures, which drive steam turbines.

At least 110 years after a fuel rod has been pulled out (long enough for the fission byproducts to largely decay to stable isotopes, and 1.5 half lives for U232) it is dissolved in an acid that dissolves everything but gold and platinum group metals, which precipitate out.

The acid mix is then treated with a base to make a "salt" which is stored in a salt mine awaiting further processing, and further decay of U232, to extract other elements.

The gold & platinum group powder is then dated and stored in lead boxes as reserves. Some powder has been processed to extract the gold for coins for foreign trade (the longest half life of a gold isotope is only a half year).

Iridium 192 (half life 271 years and a strong gamma emitter) has to be removed from the platinum group metals before they can be used. Platinum has a 50 year half life isotope, all other 6 years or less.

Humanity has difficulty keeping it's hands off precious metals that are close at hand.

By the time of the story, no more Slowpokes can be built, but some are still operating.

Dwig said...

Belated praise for your previous chapter -- as others have said, it's wonderfully drawn and narrated. (It occurred to me a few days ago that this chapter emphatically makes clear the ex-spiration of the old world. Sorry, couldn't resist...)

I must admit a bit of disappointment about the conclusion of Jennel Cobey's part of the story (although it's well told; it was only after reading it that I began to get uneasy). We've known for quite some time that there was a conflict of some sort between him and Trey, and that Trey got the better of it. It's also been pretty clear that Cobey was ambitious, and was likely to want to use Star's Reach to further his ambitions.

I was already bothered a bit by the scene on the journey to Star's Reach, where Cobey had only one assistant with him. It doesn't seem likely that a jennel would "stick his neck out" so far without having backup close by (or that someone who would, would live to become a jennel). In particular, Cobey probably knew what he was dealing with in the person of Thu. And of course, I'd expect that at least Thu and Tashel Ban, if nobody else on the team, would be thinking along these lines, and further, knowing the politics and military of the time far better than we've learned. It's unlikely that they would have taken Cobey at face value.

Thus, the way Cobey played it at the end just didn't ring true to me. Why confront a ruinman on his "home turf"? Why destroy the main source of knowledge of how to properly explore a ruin with unknown capabilities and dangers? Even if you take the team hostage at this point, why not wait outside until your backup party arrives to give you a decisive advantage?

I can see that this part of the story presents a sticky problem: you need to get your team to Star's Reach, and there's no plausible way to do that without having Jennel Cobey as part of the group. And you need the jennel out of the way when the team learns the secrets of Star's Reach, and decides what to do about them. How can you get rid of him (and his troops) without a deus ex machina (such as a battle with a conveniently located battalion of Meycan troops along the way, with only the right group able to sneak away)? And of course, you want the extra credit for having him become the victim of his own hubris. (BTW, I love your hubris/nemesis conjugation.) Maybe have him live long enough to take control of the exploration, learn about the Cetans, and become drunk with the possibilities (and overconfident of his control over the team).

There's one other point that bothers me: the general shape of the story leading up to the demise of Jennel Cobey has been pretty well laid out already (reminds me a bit of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"). Thus, to defer it to this point implies either that it's going to contain a serious surprise or plot twist, or that it's a central part of the overall story in some way. To me at least, the story doesn't do either. There are many more valuable things going on in this novel than a pretty straightforward tale of an ambitious jennel failing in his mission through his own character flaws. Offhand, I'd say (for example) that the story wouldn't lose much by having Cobey be a minor character who helps Trey get started, then loses faith in him and disappears from the narrative (or maybe his attention is distracted by a conflict with another jennel, and maybe he loses that conflict).

RPC said...

Some floobydust...
Power cores: I could see them working the way you describe for the purpose of grid energizing, though I would put the cold junction in contact with a large heat sink (building structure?) rather than relying on the ambient air. However, you'd need a mother of a lot of them to actually provide useful power, as each one would only be providing a trickle. (Hmm, do we have a double meaning now for "core cities"?)

RPC said...

Floobydust part two...
I have to admit I share some of Dwig's skepticism. For instance, I would think Jennel Cobey would either have travelled light (just Banyon) and secret or have brought a whole patrol. Having the patrol following would be the worst of both worlds, and now Trey has to contend with the news of Cobey's death getting back to Meriga (and why wasn't that in the news?).
Hmm, maybe have Trey shut off the floor, Cobey walk in and THEN raise the gun and utter his last words, only to have Trey flip the switch back? Or do you want Cobey's death to be entirely due to his own hamartia?

. josé . said...


From the very beginning, your style of transforming place names seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite remember why. Then again, I read Pangborn when I was still in high school... in the '60's.

Thank you for this wonderful storytelling, and looking forward to the concluding chapters.

AlanfromBigEasy said...


The news of Jennel Cobey's demise (perhaps without details) could have been broadcast. But the group at Star's Reach was not hen listening to the radio.

However, the story leaked out, if not broadcast, and that is why there were so many ruinmen waiting in that dusty backwater for the signal to come West.

On my Slowpoke reactors. When I was an undergraduate, the ratio of fission products was secret. That has changed today, with detailed information available today.

No gold is produced from nuclear fission but a lot (~5% of all elements produced from fission) of silver, palladium, rhodium and ruthenium are produced.

A small amount of the silver produced by fission is metastable radioactive with a half-life of 417 years. (metastable means the nucleus rearranges itself and emits a gamma ray but no particles). Too long to wait out and too short to ignore. The other metals can be used after a century of waiting.

Palladium-ruthenium alloys are extremely wear resistant. Titanium with 0.1% ruthenium is extremely corrosion resistant.

AlanfromBigEasy said...


I would recommend using lamp oil to burn the bodies with. Since the lights worked, there would not be much need for lamp oil (save some just in case).

Beans, bread, etc. require a certain ratio of dietary fat, often from cooking oil for both health and palatability.

The group would have beans for 8 people and cooking oil for 6. It could work, but not ideal.

Fat also has more calories per gram (9) than anything else. Weight is an issue with a caravan.
Just thoughts.

Calamity Jean said...

I was wondering what had happened to the horses. I had thought maybe they had been butchered and eaten. If they were alive at Star's Reach surely Trey would have mentioned tending them.

RPC: It's possible that the bodies were burned enough by the time the jennel's reinforcements arrived that they were unrecognizable. The troops could then easily assume that they were the two ruinmen, and that the jennel was firmly in control of the rest of the party.

AlanfromBigEasy said...

I have mentioned "Star's Reach" and "Star's Reach Scandinavia" on one of the closing posts of The Oil Drum

Just FYI

AlanfromBigEasy said...


I suspect that the Jennel was a mess, but perhaps some unique buttons or a very rare zipper (a prestige item !) would have identified him.

The servant would likely have been somewhat recognizable. Boots, frame and perhasp half a face.

In any case, after calling out and looking around (looking, not searching too far, this was obviously a very dangerous place) this VERY spooky place in the middle of nowhere, their collective courage failed them - and they could see no further action to take. No Jennel, except perhaps the body in front of them.

The fate of the rest of the party did not concern them very much.

Rylin Mariel said...

Hubris is the past tense of nemesis.
Yep, I think that'll do very nicely as an epitaph for the corporate regime that's currently riding our civilisation down in its slow motion descent.

Renaissance Man said...

I think we may have an idea of how the ruinmen's detectors might work:
Apparently, if you grind up silver & gold into nanoparticles and embed them in glass, not only does the colour of the glass change depending on which way the light hits it, but if the light passes through different liquids and the glass, it changes colour as well.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Does that Roman goblet tell a ruler whether what's in it is wine, or something that merely looks and smells like wine, but is poison? There are old tales about glasses that recognize poison.