Stone had voted against Shattered. Stone, a conservationist, an isolationist, a strict adherent to the Prime Amendments, had no desire to return to technologies beyond what his hands could build. He stared intently at the ground for a moment, then backed up, raised his arm, and banged – firm but gently – at the side of an injured bronze axle. Correcting, building and mending wagon parts. This is how he spent the first half, sometimes more, of his third day of every week. Working for the Spring family. His pay, from this one day, would provide for the entire week. But Stone didn’t want to just provide, he wanted to save, and, more importantly, keep moving. Given this, he worked and worked tirelessly doing every job imaginable. Felling trees, fixing outhouses, cleaning outhouses, mending old plumbing, painting walls, building fences, removing fences, fishing, building rafts, mining and even moonlighting twice a month at Park infirmary, cleaning patients’ rooms. He placed all the extra silver he managed to make into the Park regional bank. His common-law wife, known to him as a cipher, had lost all memory of who she had been before the calamity, and arrived at Park six-months after it. Initially, for reasons unknown, she trusted only Stone, and after several years of Stone sleeping on his sofa, she allowed him into his bed with her. The relationship wasn’t sexual, they held each-other every night, when Stone wasn’t working. She spoke very little, refused to take a name, and spent her days in solitude, sitting in their cabin, smoking a little hash; she had vague dreams, shadows, of her life before. Tall buildings, people, soft beds, cool air, the Bay Bridge – it’s faded orange – she recognized it in a photo that Autumn Spring had given to Stone, a gift from Marin. Yes, in the photo: helicopters. Yes, she remembered those, or, at a minimum, a hazy impression with the sensation of upward movement. She flew in that cabin.
“Stone, I’d like to speak with you,” Autumn Spring, coming down the spiral staircase of her family’s large five-storey house; one of the few houses on The Long Road. Most of her neighbors lived in apartments. Her parents had founded the largest cannabis cooperative before the calamity, and they had a special and unique trading relationship with Marin. Alongside major cannabis farms, the Spring family administered wagon repair stores in several settlements of the Park region, a well-water sanitation cooperative, and, most profitably, the Metal & Currency Cooperative Bank. Metal, as it was called, provided the only banking alternative to the Park regional bank. It had several advantages; first, it was allowed to transfer the local currency, silver, into Marin’s cryptocurrencies, the M-coin, the L-coin and the P-coin, although these transfers had to be made on paper and sent to Eureka, where they would in turn be picked up at a special trade zone by electric vehicles, and then taken to Marin. This allowed some permitted Park denizens to travel to Marin or simply earn interest; second, the bank, because of this first measure, could provide interest and loans, depending on the types of deposits made, which varied from low risk to highly volatile; and, finally, it employed over five hundred people throughout Park, paid well and had a six-hour workday. These were exceptional conditions, for one could work at the bank and do no more. Or they could opt to do more and make more. The mandated official six-hour workday instituted in the Park Amendments excluded those unable to work, those over fifty-and-ten, and those stricken by illness. These three groups were guaranteed a basic income, and everyone in Park could freely access the multiple doctors’ offices for basic vaccinations, minor surgeries, and referrals to Marin for healthcare, care that included regenerative, stem-cell and other technologically advanced therapeutics, that couldn’t be provided by the pre-electrical community. Physicians, watching their patients often wait until the last minute for transport to Marin, were the most opposed to the ban on electronic-based technologies, and they voted for either the more liberal members of The Merchants & Traders Cooperative Alliance, or, more recently, The Youth And Freedom of Movement Platform.
“Yes, Autumn Spring, how may I be of service?”
“I noticed…” She moved around the foyer, titling her head slightly to the right, then to the left, her jet-black hair, cut just above her shoulders, moved gently. Stone had been a fan of old films when he was younger, and she reminded him of a spitting image of a young Natalie Wood. Her powerful, dark eyes met his again, after a few moments of penetrating inspection. “Mr Stone, I have called you hear to talk at some length; come, let’s sit in the drawing room.” They entered a large room off the foyer; the room had high ceilings, large windows overlooking the road, several soft, white couches, and bookshelves from floor to ceiling on the inner southern facing, down the slope, and westerly facing, towards the back of the house, walls. The shelves were completely full. Almost everyone in Park read with lesser or greater degrees of alacrity, yet the Spring family had the largest private collection of books. The attic was likewise filled with books. Autumn Spring pulled a book off the shelf. The title, in Mandarin, translated roughly as The Post Carrington Event Social Order In China. “I don’t expect you to know this book, or to have read it; I learnt Mandarin when I was studying in Marin. And my mother knows a bit. Several of the Chinese-Americans who fled San Francisco, especially the older generation, have helped me read this fully. It’s an outline, by the Chinese government, for multiple underground settlements that would house millions, on technologies that make Marin look pre-Neolithic. It also outlines something about time. You’re interested in time, aren’t you, Mr Stone?”
“Please, just call me Stone, Autumn? May I call you Autumn?”
“Yes, sit, here.” she motioned to a light-blue armchair. She sat in a large lavender reading chair, crossed her legs; her crisp, white linen dress fell to her ankles. She wore a white button-up, linen shirt, with a thin black tie that came just above her navel. Her family also traded in a great deal of flax, and they administered several textile mills in Eureka, Arcadia, Park and Pine. Stone wore his best outfit, after he’d finished with his work on the wagon’s axle, he’d been called by the foreman to the Spring residence. One hour. He went home, showered outside, put on his cleanest trousers and denim shirt, shaved his face and proceeded to this odd interaction. He’d never been inside the Spring residence. “Stone, why did you run to be a member? What motivates you?” Autumn Spring rested her left elbow on the side of the chair, the other elbow held her her arm up, she tilted right—light reflected from the glass building opposite, casting ambient shadows through the lightly curtained triple Bay windows—her head rested on the palm of her hand. Stone felt uncomfortable in this large room, with its white and blue tile floors, its massive bookcases, its high azure ceiling. Not a man to sweat, his bald forehead produced one, maybe two droplets of salty liquid.
“Well, Autumn, I’d say it is because I’ve been here for so long, I love what we’ve built, and I didn’t like what I saw before the… you call it a calamity, most folks do… But you don’t know what life was like in those times. Technology didn’t free us. It put millions of us out of work. It ruined the atmosphere. It destroyed entire foresta, lands, seas and rivers. Here, in Park, we’ve restored the environment as best we can, and I am not one—I am not one who wishes to go back. I know, I know, I have heard you speak, and you’re an idealist; you think technology—opening ourselves up more to the Marin people, maybe even these more technologically advanced societies in China—will solve our problems. I take an opposite view, I think it will create problems.”
“I am pleased you’ve been frank with me. We are on opposite ends—not opposite—we are of differing opinion, but the motion passed. Shattered is going north. He’s going to need help. Marin is offering a degree of support, but he needs passage beyond Park’s region, and supplies, before he can continue his journey. Marin has an agreement that they cannot use their technology—by sea, air or land—through the Park region. The necessary means of travel, namely the solar flier, the tents, the computers, will all need to be deactivated and loaded onto wagons. I want you to head the project. The foreman where you work, Thomas, has the blueprints. I would also like you to lead the expedition to edge of Park, and slightly beyond.” She pulled out a laminated map from behind her back. “Here, take him to just beyond 42.4390° N, 123.3284° W, there was once a town there, and there is a bridge across the river known as Rogue. As soon as he is across, he can activate the equipment and proceed north in the solar flier with the five Marin scientists, the remaining six of you will then return here. Your wife will be given the best care.”
“It’s not that. She doesn’t like it when I am gone. How long will this take? About a month by the looks of it?”
“About a month, yes. But we must proceed, it’s summer. And autumn is also a fine time to travel. We haven’t had snow here; well, I can’t recall, I suppose since before I was born.”
“Twenty-nine winters ago.”
“Right. So you’ll do it? I need an affirmation of contract, and I will need you to begin to-day.”
“How much does it pay?”
“I thought you’d ask. Enough for you to retire. Perhaps build a bigger cabin, or move into an apartment? Or have both as you and your wife age? Around three million.”
“Yes, is there a problem?”
“None at all, ma’am.”
“Please call me Autumn. Money mustn’t change how we treat each-other. Such a hangover from before. I suppose you are right about many of the problems faced before the Carrington Event. Yet I truly believe we can learn, and… I won’t advocate here. I am always ready to advocate. I get it from my parents. I want the man I hire to do this job properly. Partly, that’s why the pay is so high. Mostly, it’s the reason I hired you.”
Autumn Spring saw Stone out the front door, she stood at the open door, leaned on the side and watched as he walked down The Long Road. “He’ll do it properly. He will…” her thoughts trailed off as she watched clouds slowly change the landscape, the buildings, the outlines, the mountains; it was going to rain. She loved the rain. She went inside to grab an umbrella and rain-boots.