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Side Quested
frustrated mother of teenager
rix_scaedu
Here is my 15th tale of the Apocalypse Bingo. It is written to the prompt "Cargo Cult" and came in at 2,727 words.

"These are not the goods of the promise," said the man of the canyon people to Japha and Mereed. He shook his head sadly at them.

 

"We never said they were," replied Mereed politely. Apparently Japha wasn't permitted to speak the canyon man elder, while Mereed was. The canyon people were known to have some strange rules, and in their present position Japha and Mereed had little choice but to follow the rules they had been told applied to them.



"You look like the promised ones Kanaferry said would come," said the elder. "You hold all the signs," he pointed at Mereed's necklace of old charms and Japha's luck pendant.

 

"But these are just old adornments," protested Mereed. "We dig them out of old boxes in people's storage rooms, polish them up, and string them together. Japha's pendant has been in in his family for years."

 

"The years have been long since Kanaferry made the promise to send the goods," the old man told her solemnly. "My grandfather was a small child when Kanaferry drew the signs on the sand to show the elders what they looked like. Kanaferry will send the goods, and all will be well for our people again."

 

"Wait," said Mereed, "if Kanaferry made the promise when your grandfather was a child, then she can't still be alive to send anyone with goods. Why would you think that?"

 

"Kanaferry was one of the wise speakers of the people who became lost, and turned into we canyon people, the far herders on the plain, you flat land crop growers, the unwise Collectors, and the mad ones in the ruins. The stories of the elders tell us that the wise speakers could live for many times the lives of ordinary men. Kanaferry told our ancestors that we should remain here to wait for the goods while she went out among your ancestors who became the flat land crop growers. She would search for the goods and send them to us with couriers carrying the symbols you wear. You are the couriers, but these are not the goods."

 

"These goods," said Mereed, "are not the promise goods. These are our trade goods that we were taking to Lasinger Point to trade for a pregnant milking ewe. Your young men grabbed us off the road and dragged us here without notice. We never said we had the promise goods."

 

"It might be that we made you come here before you received the goods of the promise from Kanaferry," the elder nodded, apparently pleased with the explanation he'd come up with to fit everything together into a whole. "We will show you where the goods must go, and then you will know them when you see them. Both of you come with me."

 

Mereed and Japha followed the elder and were in turn followed by some of the young canyon men who'd seized them on the road to Lasinger Point. It seemed likely that if they hadn't willing followed the elder, then they would have been made to follow him. The elder led them further down into the canyon, past little terraced gardens and knots of chickens or brown sheep tended by old women and children. They were almost at the bottom, an almost dry rock basin only metres below them, when the elder led them into a cave. Less than a minute's walking had them in a smoothly cut tunnel that opened into an equally smoothly cut chamber. In the middle of it, on a slightly raised platform, was a machine.

 

The elder led the two flat landers to the steps leading up onto the platform and, ignoring the workbench and desk sitting beside them, said, "This is what the goods are for."

 

Japha might have broken protocol, or he might have been talking out aloud to himself when he said, "That's a water engine, isn't it?" His eyes narrowed and then he added, "It's not a Collector's water engine though, is it?" He looked turned to face the dust covered desk, then asked, "Would anyone mind if I had a look at this?"

 

"That is the working of Samtheman," the elder told them. "When he knew that he was dying, and this working was not finished, he sent word to Kanaferry. She could not stop the death that took him, but she promised him and us that she would find someone with the goods to finish this working and send them here. You, young man of the flat land crop growers, because you bear one of the symbols, you may look, but if you destroy any of it, you will die."

 

"Fair enough, and thank you," Japha nodded. Then he put two fingers on the edge of a sheet of something on the top of the desk and started to blow gently across it. Dust moved. "This is printed extrusion," he commented. "Fantastic stuff, pity we can't make it any more. On it are working diagrams for construction." He pulled out his handkerchief and started moving aside the heavier deposits on the sheet he was looking at.

 

The young canyon men stepped forward threateningly, but the elder waved them back, and Japha didn't even notice. "It says here that it was designed by Sambhu Takshaka Munshi."

 

"Samtheman," corrected the elder. "Before he became Samtheman."

 

"He's got a Resistance logo here after his name," remarked Japha, "so he was probably hiding out from the Collectors, particularly if this is what I think it is." He wiped some more dust away, then made a long, low, appreciative sound. "Oh, it is."

 

Mereed asked, "Is what?"

 

Japha turned to her and said, "It's an engine for taking water out of the artifical aquifer. It looks like he's managed to get an outlet into the aquifer, and then he designed this engine to draw the water out. There should be a power supply somewhere, and a place for the water to come out of the aquifer."

 

"Are you seriously telling me that you could use this...engine to get water out of the Collectors' precious aquifer?" Mereed looked at him with a mix of emotions. "I mean freeing water would be fantastic, but how long before the Collector's Auditors and Inquisitors turned up here? You can't do that to these people."

 

The elder cleared his throat and everyone in the room looked at him. "Freeing the water is why our ancestors came here with Samtheman. It is why this working is in a cave at the bottom of the canyon. We have spent our lives expecting the Collectors. You have not seen what would happen to unwelcome visitors making their way into our country."

 

Mereed said carefully, "Okay then."

 

The elder poked Japha in his luck pendant and asked, "Does your family still wear this symbol because it has meaning or because you honour your ancestors for whom it had meaning?"

 

"I'm an engineering tech, if that's what you mean," replied Japha calmly. "My family has been ever since the Collectors started the Long Drought. Our job is to make sure we don't forget how to do things like this," he waved generally at the desk, workbench, and the water engine.

 

"Then you could you would be able to tell what goods are needed to fulfil the promise?" The elder looked at him with keenly felt hope.

 

"With the plans, yes," agreed Japha. "May I progress the work until we run out of whatever is on hand?"

 

Mereed couldn't help it. She hissed, "Japha, we're supposed to be going to trade for that ewe. If we're too long getting there, someone else will get it."

 

The elder looked at them both and asked, "Why is getting this ewe so important?"

 

"We're getting married," explained Mereed. "One of the things we're supposed to have before the wedding is a milk ewe. I already have my housewares. Japha has his tools. Our mothers have both hatched out a clutch of chickens for us, but we still need the ewe. Until we can get one everyone will say that we're too unorganised to be married."

 

"Or that we just don't work well enough together to be married to each other," added Japha. "On the other hand, this is a water engine designed to break the Collectors' control of the water. My ancestors fought their way out of the work camps that became the Collectors' cathedrals, so they couldn't be forced to keep helping them. It would be an honour to them to do this work."

 

Mereed looked at him and sighed. "You do know that your mother warned me about this sort of thing, don't you?"

 

He turned to her and smiled. "Good! She was supposed to. I'm sorry if we miss out on this ewe, but she's not the only one there is."

 

"I know, but she is supposed to be from a good bloodline." Mereed couldn't help the disappointment in her voice. "And they were prepared to trade her now."

 

"It is not the season for it," observed the elder. "That may mean there is a flaw they do not wish to disclose. We also milk our sheep. If your young man were to help us find out what the promise goods are supposed to be, then we might be able to find a suitable ewe for you to bargain for from among our people's flocks."

 

"And we all wind up happy," pointed out Japha.

 

"Very well," agreed Mereed, "but if it takes more than a few days, everyone at home will start worrying about us."

 

"How long can it take if Samtheman didn't have everything he needed to finish his work?" asked Japha.

 

About half a season, as it happened. A full moon cycle after she'd hoped to be married to Japha and living in their own little house on their own plot of land, Mereed was housekeeping for the two of them in a spare canyon cave house. It was in a cluster of such houses, not quite big enough to be a hamlet, near the cave with the water engine. They had their pregnant milking ewe, and a hen with a clutch of chickens that the elder's daughter had gathered an egg from each of ten households for. She'd sent word to their families that they were safe, and that Japha was working. If this kept up, and they were staying long term, she was going to send for her housewares and his tools, and then call everything done. Ceremonies only counted for so much, when you got right down to it.

 

She'd written out her morning weather observations and was going out to weed her small patch of quick growing table greens when Japha came trotting back up the path, a huge grin on his face. "I'm done!" he announced. "Do you want to come and see? We're ready to turn it on."

 

"Turn it on?" Mereed was dumbfounded. "But aren't you supposed to be working out what it is that's needed to finish the engine?"

 

"I know," agreed Japha, "but everything I needed to finish it was there. We've cleared the discharge culverts and brought the solar daisies on line, so it's ready to trial."

 

"Of course, I'll come and watch," replied Mereed. "Should I be wearing something fancier than this?" The only fancier garment she had in her possession that she wasn't wearing at the moment was a striped woollen shawl, and the local women knew that was all Mereed had, but sometimes the effort was what was important.

 

"I don't think so," said Japha. "I mean, there are a few other people who heard that we were getting close and wandered in to see what was going on, or were helping me clear the culvert, but they're all wearing work clothes."

 

"I'll come as I am then," said Mereed.

 

When she got to the working 's cave Mereed was pleased that she hadn't tried to look fancy. There were five elders there, including the local one who'd first brought them into the cave, but they were all wearing work clothes, and one had a chicken tucked under his arm. Mereed joined him in standing well back from the focus of the room's attention. Mereed thought that less of the machine's inner workings were on show now, and she could see that there were rows of small lights showing through its metal skin.

 

In other places with other people, this could have been an occasion for long speeches, but Japha simply flicked a switch, satisfied himself that everything was working properly, and then ushered everyone outside to see the water coming out of the culverts. There was no water at first and Mereed, for one, was disappointed not to see water coming out of the ground in great quantities. Japha took her hand, and said reassuringly, "It'll take a bit, that's all."

 

It did take a few minutes, then water was arcing across the stone basin at the bottom of the canyon and filling it up. "This is all well and good," said a female elder, "but aren't we about to be invaded by the Collectors?"

 

"How will they know?" The elder who had first spoken to the young couple. "The water that gets out of the basin still has to make it down the canyon before it's in the open. It won't be heading for Collector territory when it does leave the canyon either."

 

"They might monitor the water level in the aquifer," offered Japha, "but I don't see how they could tell if water was leaving it at a place that wasn't theirs. Even if they could tell that more water was being extracted than they expected their wells to take, they would still have to check that nothing was going on with those before they started looking for another outflow."

 

"If enough water came out of the aquifer over here, then the increased evaporation in the area might lead to increased cloud cover and, potentially, rain," added Mereed. "On the other hand, the prevailing weather patterns move from them to us. Even if the weather here changes a little, it's not going to affect them. Depending on how fast this water joins the weather cycle, it could be years before they notice, let alone work out to come here." She closed her eyes for s moment to help herself visualise a map. "They're more likely to go to Old Brothers and the coastal ruins first - that's where the rainfall would increase first."

 

The female elder who'd mentioned the likelihood of invasion looked at Mereed and asked, "Who are you to think that?"

 

Mereed made the slight bow that was polite for her to make to a canyon elder. "I am Mereed Vane, a weather watcher."

 

The elder bowed slightly in return. "I am Seruss Dyer, a fabric maker and worker. As elder for my people, I will consider your advice, weather watcher."

 

Mereed politely bowed again.

 

"I am strongly suspecting," said the elder with a chicken under his arm, "that when Kanaferry and Samtheman spoke of 'someone with the goods' they were using a private code for a person with the skills to finish the workings. It much reminds me of my children and grandchildren trying to be cleverer than everyone around them."

 

"So, we've spent longer than we needed to waiting for 'the goods' because we thought they were actual things," another female elder said drily. "If anyone's got any other little tasks out there, perhaps we should check what we're actually supposed to be doing?"

 

The elder with the chicken replied, not actually looking at anyone, "I am sure that we will all be making enquiries." The elders exchanged what Mereed could only call meaningful looks.

 

The canyon elders organised a man with a cart pulled by a pair of draft goats to take Japha, Mereed, and their animals home. A copy of Samtheman's plans and workings were promised to Japha for when the canyon scribes finished making it.

 

The man with the cart dropped them off the next day at Mereed's family home, then continued on his own, slightly deviated, journey to Red Hill. After they waved him goodbye, Mereed asked, "Should we tell my family that a war is coming?"

 

"I think we should tell everyone, very quietly, that a war is coming," answered Japha. "Let's see the Collectors break."

 

 





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