SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS — snippet 41

 

SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 41:

 

 

            "I need to stop that bleeding," he said firmly. "And then we need to get a healer to you. I was foolish and a little shocked. I shouldn't have moved you. It was just seeing all the blood… I panicked a little. Anyway, head injuries can be serious. You need to get it checked. Here. Press your hand to it, gently. Now, I need to find water, boiling and cooled, and clean cloth to staunch this cut."

            "Head wounds bleed," she said. "There's a first aid kit in the cupboard down the passage. Get it for me."

            He looked at her, and went. A little later he came back with a bowl, warm water and her first-aid kit. "I will need to wash it and see. If needs be I must carry you back to the last house we passed."

            He washed and cleaned the area around the wound, and then with care snipped away the hair with scissors from the box. "It appears superficial," he said, his relief obvious. "It should still be looked at by a healer. Shall I walk to the last house?"

            "And get yourself arrested for wandering around without a woman, stupid." Lani frowned at him, and then wishing she hadn't. It pulled at the cut.

            "Stay still," he said firmly. "I am going to put a dressing on it, but I want to clean the wound itself. I have read the instructions on this bottle and it says I should add two drops to the water before cleaning it."

            "You can read?" Men couldn't read. It wasn't permitted.

            "Can't you?" he asked, adding the disinfectant to the water. "Every child learns how to read in New Eden. It is beautiful script you have here. As neat and uniform as the oldest holy writ."

            "Of course I can read!" she said. "It's just men that can't… uh, usually."

            "You mean you have kept them from doing so," he said grimly. "We are all, men and women, made in God's image, and equal in his sight. Hold still! I need to work very carefully here."

            "You need to learn to be careful with your big mouth too," she said, "You're an intolerant bigot talking about our culture like that. It could get you into serious trouble."

            He worked in silence. For someone with big hands he was very precise.

            "I had not thought of it as being intolerant of your culture," he said quietly, as he put a dressing over the wound. "I had just seen it as right to proclaim against you. Forgive me."

            Having just gotten herself angry, Lani felt wrong-footed again. She bit her lip. Pulled herself together and tried to make amends. "You're wrong, but you can't help it, I suppose." She said it sulkily, knowing that she was behaving a bit like a very ungenerous spoiled brat, knowing that she'd made no allowance for his background. He was a man, after all, and from the weaker sex. You had to make allowances. She knew that was part of her problem with them. She kept forgetting you had to.

            He smiled. "Yes. I'm only used to my own culture, lady. Now, I am going to put a bandage around this dressing. Sister Thirsdaughter would be very rude about it, but it will serve. I still do not see that what you people do is right in the eyes of man or God, but I will try to keep my opinion to myself. To keep my mouth shut." He began winding it around her head.

            Lani sighed. "You're going make me old before my time. I suppose you can talk. To me only. When we're alone. I won't beat you, even if I should. Now just let me lie here with my eyes closed for five minutes, and then I'll contact someone to do something about the scoot."

            He nodded and took the bloody water away, and Lani closed her eyes. She now had bruises to show. And a few grazes too. And quite a headache.

            When she next opened her eyes there he was. Sitting, watching her, a worried expression on his big open face. He smiled warily when he saw her eyes open. "How are you feeling now?" he asked.

            She felt her head. "A bit sore, but I'm all right. How long was I asleep for?"

            "Perhaps half an hour."

            "Hell. I'd better do something about reporting that scoot. It's blocking the roadway. The harvesters use the road a lot." she started to sit up, wincing.

            He put up a quelling hand. "Don't worry. I went and fetched it. I carried it back here."

            "On your own?" she demanded.

            He nodded. "It wasn't that heavy."

            She raised her eyes to the ceiling. "Get this into your dumb head. You can't walk around here without a woman to escort you. It's not that I don't appreciate your doing it. It's just that you have to work within the rules here. Our rules, or you'll get both of us into trouble. I'm liable for your actions, you know."

            She sighed. "Look. I know you didn't mean any harm. But the next time you end up in front of a Judge here, it might not be one with more lust on her mind than justice. Or you might get old Garanet again. She'll throw the book at you next time. And it wouldn't just be at you, it would be at me too. You're my responsibility." She sighed again. "I wish I knew what went wrong with the scoot. There are a couple of women who've started doing repairs. They don't know much about it, but apparently they know how to charge…"

            "This." He held out a metal shaft. "This is half of the rear axle. As you can see it is badly worn along here. It fractured, with the extra weight, as you went over the bump. I'm sorry. I should have run behind."

            She sniffed and dabbed the corner of her eye, irritably. Crying like a man! "I need it for my job. I'm afraid it'll have to be fixed, no matter what they decide to charge me."

            "I think I could fix it if I can find a suitable shaft," he said diffidently. "Fixing mechanical things is permitted here?"

            "Oh, by Susan, yes. Can you imagine if it wasn't!?"

            "It isn't encouraged in New Eden," he admitted. "But I'm a fair artificer."

            She scowled. "I thought about going in that direction myself. There is money in it. But the trouble is, according to my history teacher, everything worked beautifully in Diana… for the first seventy-five years. By the time that things started breaking down, we'd lost a generation's worth of minds that were used to dealing with technical repairs. Anyway, they were used to being part of a technical society, that had robots and factories. We were cut off from those. Now we're even losing an increasing number of maintenance robots, and no-one has the sort of skill required to fix those. The matriarch set up a rota for training, but we're short on experience."

            "I will happily try and fix your vehicle. It would work better if I could talk to Brother Kretz," said Howard hopefully. "He is a very good engineer. That woman would not tell me what she'd done with him. He's alone and scared."

            He had a way of putting obligations on her. "Oh, hell. He be treated all right, Howard. We're not barbarians. Look, I'll call a few people and ask."

            "Thank you," he said, humbly. "I promised the council I would look after him. So far I have done a poor job. I will try to fix this 'scoot'. The bearings appear to still be sealed."

            Bearings? "Is that good or bad?"

            "Good," said Howard. "They failed in the corn-grinder at home. Getting it work at all after that was difficult. But I contrived."

            It sounded promising. "You've fixed things lots of things before?"

            Howard nodded guiltily. "I enjoy it," he admitted. "I like to understand things. They're easier than people."

            She had to have that scoot. Without it, she would be on desk-duties, at best. "If there is a part number on it I can order it from stores. It'll cost, but if you think you could put it in it'll be a lot cheaper than getting it fixed by someone else.”

            He looked at the piece of metal. "There is a number on it. But explain how this works, please, woman? There is a store of such parts, prepared like the granaries Joseph had made in Egypt?"

            "Yeah… well there is a store of them," she said, amused. "I've never heard of the Joseph and Egypt part. And call me Lani, not woman." She thought a bit. "Look, I should be able to access the onscreen manual… Just don't ever tell anyone I let you look at it. I'm not supposed to let a man learn to read, but you already know how to read. You've read all sorts of things in this New Eden place I suppose."

            He shook his head. "Only the Holy Book. The Elder has some others, and the healers have some too. But I have never even heard of a book called 'Onscreen Manual'."

            "Book… like a thing made of paper and printed on? Like court papers?"

            Howard nodded. "Yes. Written, with ink, and bound."

            Lani shook her head. "I've seen one in the museum. An original Susan Sontag! Anyway, let me show you the screen. Most things can be accessed by vox, but reading is a lot faster. I'm lucky, in a way, being out here. The Matriarch ordered all the town computers still in working order to be put into the computer room, and you get access by time allocation. But out here… Well, no one wants to live out of town, so there are some perks for a lousy social life."

About Eric Flint

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Comments

2 Responses to SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS — snippet 41

  1. af says:

    Hmm… a decaying hi-tech society… overly decadent and sinking into the morass of spiralling loss

  2. Ori says:

    Also, bad foresight on the first generation. They should have realized things will eventually break down, and it’s necessary to train engineers and technicians. They had the ability to do MTBF (mean time between failures) calculations on their stuff, even if later generations did not.

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