Soil 1.4

My smile grew a little wider as the sound of horseshoes on concrete resounded in my ears and the grand city walls covered most of my vision.  At this point, the job was over.  We all could relax now, and as soon as the wagon entered the city limits, most of the mercs would say our goodbyes and go our separate ways.  We’d meet up tomorrow to get our pay from the city officials, then go to wherever we did next.  Tonight, Amy and Roger would store their gear, give their reports, see their family, and probably start looking for their next job.

Funny, now that I thought about it, that even when Amy mentioned her sister, she didn’t mention her mother.  I reminded myself to tuck that away for later.

If you asked anybody to describe New Brockton, they’d probably say it was the greatest city on this Earth.  On a few Earths, actually; it had a few stable portals to the main occupied worlds, and spread out over them.  Sure, some Earths had better materials or larger buildings.  Some had more Tinker-built goodies all over the place.  I knew for a fact that at least one had a better education system.  Some had better jobs, others had better health care, that sort of thing.  But New Brockton was effectively the gold standard.

The outer walls were reinforced concrete over a foot thick, with an outer layer to make them look like a castle wall, built with defense in mind.  The entry gates themselves were impressively large and regal.  Sometimes, it’s the little things that made an impression.  There were two more sets of walls within, staged strategically, even able to cut off access from the port — a lesson they’d learned the hard way.

The standard of living here was high, and it was a major hub of commerce between the various Earths.  Many people here were polylingual, and nobody could graduate high school unless they knew at least one other language.  (I wasn’t sure how many graduated, though.  Rumor had it that the graduate rate was less than 50% due to teens getting jobs.)  Electricity was available for everyone, though there were currently strict limits on how much a single building was allowed.

The government wasn’t bad, mostly a democracy, though everybody knew who had the real power in the city.  Despite that, her efforts were focused on making the city better, eliminating threats, and improving the interglobal quality of life.

Once before, the population had gotten big enough that they had to split off — I’d never been there, but I heard that New York Gimmel had set up a hydroelectric plant and was scavenging what it could from the Bet to build power lines to the various communities in the area.  I also heard that it wasn’t anywhere near as powerful as the one in Bet had been.  But the folks that had split from New Brockton had set up there, managing everything in exchange for help, supplies, and an influx of money from NY-G.

For a city with this population, it was absolutely massive.  When the portal to Bet had first been made, they hadn’t built with the same compact spacing that Brockton Bay had.  After Scion, the construction had continued in much the same manner, though it had other reasons to do so; the ‘bad’ or ‘heavy’ triggers that popped up on occasion were easier to manage if each building had plenty of space around it.

That all meant that the views were delightfully impressive.

Most shops put the mandatory space to good use, creating pleasing displays to attract customers.  Almost every restaurant had an outdoor area for eating.  Folks with the most money had beautiful sculptures, flowerbeds, and patios.  A few even had pools.  Even apartment complexes had nice sitting areas.

Yeah, I wouldn’t mind living here some day.

I forced my mind to the task at hand, realizing that I’d already missed out on a chunk of conversation with the gate guard.

“-to you?” the dumpy guard asked.

Roger let loose a deep sigh.  “Another attack, this time from one of our so-called guards.”  He jerked a thumb towards John and Beth, our two captives.  “Pyroknetic woman and shaker male, but they’ve been passive this entire time.  The woman shouldn’t be a problem, just keep her away from any fuel source.  Can you take ’em off our hands?”

The guard sighed softly before waving over to another one.  “We’ll have someone there to collect a statement when you report the completion of your contact,” he said in the bland, bored tone of someone who said it far too often.  “The rest of you will meet with a member of the guard when you collect your pay.”

Roger looked back at us.  “And don’t forget, by the rules of your contract if you are given a subpoena, you must be available for trial or be fined a third of your pay.”

“God damn it,” Roy whined.  Had he honestly forgotten that?  After the last two times he’d had to testify?  I was…  impressed wasn’t the right word, but I was having trouble assigning what I felt to an actual word.

“We’ll be there,” Manuel said firmly as he and Karen dragged our two prisoners out.  Sarah and I were quick with our handcuff keys — handcuffs were common enough, but they weren’t that common to be cheap.  We wanted them back, dang it.  We’d learned that the cops tended to “forget” that they belonged to someone else here the hard way.

As we watched the cops dragged off our pet fugitives for a long moment, the silence heavy in the air.

“So that’s it, then?” Roy asked.

“That’s it.  You’re free to go.  We’ll report in, and your pay should be ready by noon.”

It didn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Roy turned and walked away without another word.  Karen was more polite in her goodbyes, at least.  I moved to grab the waste bin and scoop, but Manuel’s hand on my arm stopped me.  “I’ve got this one,” he said quietly.

I wanted more time with my friends.  Just… a little bit more.  Escort them back to their stables, help put the horses away, then coincidentally head in the same direction as them.  Just to squeeze a little more time before we had to say goodbye.

Amy had mentioned a sister, but no brother.  Roger was in his forties, maybe fifties or sixties.  And no son.  I’d heard that folks could have issues with that.  Some people just wanted a boy and never got one.  There was always adoption, more than enough kids at the Orphanage, but…  I’d never understood why more people who wanted kids, or a specific gender, didn’t just adopt.  And Roger had hugged Manuel just as strongly as he’d been hugged.

It hurt to give Manuel that smile, to put a hand on his shoulder, and to speak warmly.  “You take care, man, alright?”

“You too, Jordan.”

I turned, and Karen was right in my face.  I raised a hand to shake, but she pushed it out of the way to give me a hug.  “I never thought that the most hardcore motherfucker I’d meet would be the nicest.”

I lazily gave her a hug back, pulling away enough to look down at her.  “Hey, someone’s gotta make up for the hardcore jerks out there.”  I ruffled her hair a little.  Hell, she was probably older than Sis and I, but emotionally…  Well.  “You keep at it, and hopefully there’ll be two of us to turn the tide.”

I moved around the wagon and hopped onto the side, pulling myself up.  Warmly, I reached out a hand across Amy to Roger.  “Bossman, it’s been a great run.”

He held my hand as his eyes bored into mine.  “I was serious, kid.  I want you back with us.”

I chuckled a little, pushing aside the hurt.  We smile during goodbyes not for ourselves, but for the other person.  I wondered if it ever really evened out.  What would it be like if everybody was honest when they said goodbye?  Depressing, most likely.

“It’ll depend on Sis and if she can get us another contract lined up.  But, yeah.  I like riding with the two of you, and I’d like to do it again.  The agent has all of our contact information, so if we’re not here, feel free and get in touch.”

Almost the moment he let go, Amy was latched onto me.  Well, crap.  “You’re not an employee anymore, doof.”

Oh, right.  My smile didn’t change as I hugged her back, just as fiercely as she was.  “Gonna miss you.”

“Ditto.”  She pulled away a little, tears in her eyes.  “Come by before you go?”

I straightened a little.  “I will do my best!”

“You’d better.”  She paused.  “If not…  We’ll keep in touch, okay?”

“Of course,” I lied.  Moments like these lead to people growing apart.  Keeping in touch meant a message or two every month, then one every six months, then never again.  It’s just how life went, and I’d been burned more than enough times to keep up hope.  It was better to accept it, lie, and move on.

“Good.”  She paused a moment, then gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.  As she pulled away, I returned the favor, but went for the forehead instead.

I hopped down and moved off to the side.  We were blocking the road, after all.  I gave Sarah some privacy as she said her goodbyes to the two, just content to watch.  Two quick hugs, pleasant goodbyes, promises that would go unfulfilled.  And yet, I didn’t really feel much of anything over this.  No bitterness, no sadness, just…  nothing.  Like all the emotion had just drained into a hole inside of me.  I was used to that, though.  Probably a survival mechanism to keep me from getting hurt or something.

But then Sarah was beside me, pulling me out of my contemplation of emptiness.  Amy offered me a wave with watery eyes, and I lifted my hand in return, making sure that my smile was a sad one.  I might drop by later, I wasn’t sure.

As Amy drove the wagon off, Sarah subtly poked me in the side.  “That was new.”

My face twisted into a wicked expression.  I kept my eyes on the wagon.  “She had a crush on me.”

“What?!  But…  She and-”

“Father,” I interrupted, smirking a little.  “Might be older than the three of us put together, but I didn’t ask.  His powers make him age real slow.”

She mulled it over briefly.  “That… actually makes a lot of sense, I guess.  So, you gonna do her?”

My head snapped to look at her, but her grin was absolutely Cheshire.  “N-no!  I…  It wouldn’t be right!  I’m not a…  one-time kind of guy.”  I puffed out my chest defensively.  “Besides, I said had, not has.  We’re just friends.”

“Uh-huh.”  She fixed a flat stare at me.  “That didn’t seem like a ‘just friends’ goodbye to me.”

My eyes turned back to the wagon.  Manuel was trailing behind it, the wastebin and scoop in his hands.  The city had paved roads, which was great.  Unfortunately, that came with a city-wide ordinance that your animals had to be cleaned up after — no horse apples on the street.  If the cops caught you, it was a fine.  Manuel was…

Manure?  No, that wouldn’t solve any of my problems.  My mind started flicking through ideas, thoughts, old science lessons as it desperately searched for something…  and found it.

“Believe what you will.”  I looked at Sis with a slight smile.  “Why don’t you get a room?  I’ll drop by the bookstore, then call Chris, and I’ll meet up with you for dinner.”

She rolled her eyes, giving me a playful shove.  “Bah, off with you.  Jade Pool?”

I was already in motion.  “Yeah, works great for me!  See you there!”  Yeah, I had a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.

“Hey Jordie.”

I seethed inwardly for the briefest of moments.  It was enough to make a ripple of anger run up my spine.  I hated it when people called me that.  But I kept my smile up, and quickly that anger fell into the void.  “Hey, Gordon.”  Without looking, I placed my book on the counter, walking further into the bookstore.

“I swear, you don’t buy these so much as rent them,” he said with a grin.  I was already past him when he called out to me.  “Hey, we got another book by, uh…”  He paused to look at a note.  “That James Burke guy you’re always asking about.  The Day the Universe Changed.”

Dang it.  That was going to cut into my talking time.  “Right, thanks.”  I didn’t have that one, and his other books were ones that I read for the sheer joy of discovery.  This bookstore wasn’t the largest, and didn’t have the best selection, but it did have cheap prices and staff who almost learned my name.

It didn’t take me long, though.  I’d found three books that I needed, and the one he’d mentioned.  Two on chemistry and one on geology.  The geology one was just a skimmer, but I didn’t have the time here to memorize the information that I needed.  The other two would make for some quick heavy reading.

“Going back to school?” Gordon asked as I set them in front of him.

“Never stopped,” I said with a grin.  “School of life, class in session, all that rot.”

“Uh-huh.  And what are these going to teach you about life?”

“Dunno!  I can’t wait to find out, though!”

I pulled out my coin ring and started counting.  New Brockton had switched to a coin-based currency a long time ago, with a hole in the center so that you could carry your money more easily.  Most towns accepted their currency, and quite a few were switching to it.  It made banking…  interesting to say the least, but quite a few were switching to it until we could get power and computers back into commonplace.  As an added bonus, getting coins wet wasn’t as big of a concern as paper money.

I still found myself frowning as I did the math and estimations.

Gordon noticed.  “Are you coming in or going out?”

I looked up at him.  “In.  I get paid tomorrow, but…  I kinda need these today.”

Gordon frowned for a moment before pulling out a small book.  “You’re regular enough, so just this once.  I’ll charge you an extra coin a piece, but you’ve got to pay me back in two days or else you’re banned.”

Translation:  He probably wasn’t going to sell these any time soon anyway, and he could squeeze a little more out of them that way.  My eyes still lit up.  “Thanks, man.  I owe you one.”

I quickly signed my name next to his notation, forced the books into my pack, and was out the door, halberd in hand.  I still had a lot to do.

I waited patiently as the receptionist spoke with some girl.  New Brockton had a lot of mercenary work — technically, they were listed as “independently contracted police forces,” but at the end of the day, they were just mercenaries like me.  All city-contracted transport routes required at least one member of the city guard on-hand, but since there simply wasn’t the numbers for that, they contracted that out a lot.  Crews that scavenged from Bet were composed almost entirely of mercenaries, too.  And for good reason; wildlings were heaviest in Bet.

Mercenary work was good, but not perfect.  You got paid on par with the police, typically a little bit better, especially if you saw combat.  But you also had to outfit yourself with your supplies, had to pay for your health care, and didn’t get any of the perks that came with their job.  On the other hand, you got to decide for yourself what jobs you did, you frequently got to travel the worlds, you learned things that you wouldn’t with almost any other job, you had proven combat experience, and there was a sense of camaraderie that you got whenever you met up with another merc.  Well, so long as the both of you had worked to keep your reputations up.

The girl took a clipboard and a pen to fill out her paperwork, letting me next in line.  “I’d like to speak to Mr. Munteanu, please.”

“Name?” the redhead woman asked in a bored tone.



“I don’t claim one until I make my own.”  I paused for a moment, realizing how dorky that must sound to someone who hadn’t gotten to know me yet.  “Uh…  Just Jordan.”

She didn’t seem to respond to that at all, instead picking up her phone and hitting some buttons.  “There’s a Jordan here to see you.  No, just Jordan.  Yeah.  Alright.”  She looked up to me.  “He says you have five minutes.”

“Thank you.”  With that, I virtually sprinted down the hall, mindful of my halberd.  I was licensed to carry them almost anywhere, but most people didn’t bother with a license.  The weird nature of New Brockton strikes again.  I peeked my head into his office, smiling a little.  “Mr. Munteanu?”

The man’s skin was darker than mine, far darker, and I’d never seen someone with that depth of skin color rock a dark suit quite that well before.  “Jordan.  I’m not supposed to see you until tomorrow.  We haven’t received the report from your employers yet.”

I frowned a little, stepping inside.  “No, sir.  It isn’t about that.”  Oh, God.  This had been so much easier in my head.  Now that I was here, though, panic was gripping my chest.  I gripped my spear nervously, my heart hammering in my chest and my blood rushing in my ears.  “I was hoping that I could, um, ask you for a favor?”  Why did I make that sound like a question?  Dang it, I was already messing this up.

His face settled into a frown.  “You know I can’t pay-”

“No, no,” I said quickly, holding up one hand.  “No, it’s not like that, sir.  I, uh…  I was wondering if you could help me meet someone in the department of city development?  Someone with a direct line to Ms. Wilbourn?”

He raised a slow eyebrow.

“I’ve, uh…  I’ve got an idea that I’d like to pitch, and, um…  I know that it’ll take months for me to track down someone to talk to on my own.  And I know that you go to all those meetings and dinners and everything, and are pretty dang awesome at networking, and so I was hoping that you could help me…  Speed up the process?  A little?”  I felt five freaking years old.

Mr. Munteanu was silent for a long moment.  Unlike me, he was very professionally dressed.  Business suit, blazer unbuttoned, tasteful (if loud) tie…  Professional.  “You know that your contract is ending.”

“They let us know, yes.  Sir.”

“And you have an idea?”

“One that might help me get further contracts in the future, yes.”

“Hm.”  One of his fingers tapped on his desk as he mulled that one over.  I never did understand why he kept a claw hammer on his desk all the time.  “City development?”

I brightened a little.  “Yes, sir.  Public works, infrastructure, that sort of thing.”  I took a breath.  “I value our working relationship, and anything to further that relationship and offer a more long-term working environment between us and the city, especially one that would allow us to synergize our respective resources, will only benefit us both in the end.”

That got the corner of his lips to twitch up a little bit.  “You’re getting verbose.”

I smiled a little.  “I’m breathing again.”


“Getting this meeting is the hard part.  When I get there, there’s only two outcomes: they accept, or they deny me.”

He nodded a little.  Funny, people weren’t usually used to that sort of logic.  “And if I say no?”

“Then I go through the arduous process of finding out what the proper channels are, going through those channels, fighting the system since I don’t have any established reputation in that area of expertise, and then finally getting my meeting.  This would just be saving everybody a lot of paperwork and effort.”

Mr. Munteanu nodded again, apparently satisfied with my answer.  “I might know someone who would probably see it your way as well.  I’ll give her a call and let you know tomorrow.”

My face split into a wide grin.  “Thank you, sir.  I won’t forget this.”

He nodded once, then reached for his phone.  That was enough of a dismissal for me.  There was still so much to do…

Renting an alcove at the radio hub was expensive.  I’d stopped on my way there to pick up some paper and a new pen.  One thing from pre-Scion life that hadn’t died out was the ballpoint pen.  Funny how quickly we all had decided that we needed it.

For most communities, the radio hub was something that they were willing to splurge on.  A couple of dedicated rooms for private communications.  The term radio wasn’t quite accurate — it used a tower, but the gear itself was reverse engineered from tinker tech.  The principle was the same as what had been used to communicate with Earth Aleph back in the day, but more manageable.  It was to the point where most scientists didn’t know how exactly the gear worked, but we could mass produce and maintain the gear necessary.

The cheaper ones were solar powered and had no privacy, as there was only one unit.  And they couldn’t run the encryption gear.  I had the feeling that the Sons would be using that one soon, if it hadn’t been in the other gear we’d delivered.

Bigger towns, those with a surplus of power, they had hubs like these.  Private rooms so you could communicate with business partners in other communities, or call home to loved ones.  Each unit was equipped with point-to-point encryption that was established individually during the handshake, which was nice.  The downside was that you needed to modify them to call to a community that wasn’t pre-installed.  Small downside to something so reliable.

I’d already sent word to Burlington, and now I was just waiting for Chris to make the appointment.  I’d still rented the room until then, taking the time to pore over my books, making frantic scribbles in my notebook.  Figures, chemical strains, questions that I should ask.  Everything necessary.  Anybody who didn’t think that having a family member who was a Tinker was awesome needed a head check.  Or a new family member.

The headphones I wore crackled to life, making a question mark jump and go through half the page.  “Jordan?”

“Bro!”  I was all smiles as I leaned back in my chair.  “How’s it going?”

“It’s going alright.”  He sounded tired, but excited.  “I’m making progress on your new armor!  I’ve gotten a new layer.  It’s lightweight, more thin than silk but just as smooth.  It’s got to have a current to it, but it’s a very, very low one, and I think I have a way to patch it into how we have your armor currently set up.

“This new layer just acts as almost a cloth when it doesn’t have juice, but when it does, it works to maintain a temperature of about seventy degrees Fahrenheit.  If the temperature drops, its temperature increases.  When the temperature raises, it decreases.  If I put it on the bottom layer of your armor, it should help you regulate your body temperature a lot better than even clothing can.”

He was caught up in the project again.  Typical Chris.  Typical Tinker, from what I understood.  “What about EMP?”

“Oh, that’ll mess with the temperature, sure, but not horribly.  Just for a few seconds, tops, and how far depends on its strength.  It has an automatic cutoff at forty for a low and ninety as a high, so you don’t have to worry about that.”


“Uh, well…  Don’t go swimming in radiation, I guess.  But that’s true for any metal.  Fluorine, stay away from that especially.  Beyond that, though, just the normal stuff.  I’ll need you to test it, but it won’t be poisonous under most normal conditions.”

You had to ask questions like this of Tinkers.  Their power gave them the knowledge on how to make and use things, but it was an innate knowledge.  They knew all the advantages, disadvantages, and capabilities of their items, but they didn’t always think about those things.  Or they might only know on a subconscious level, and not be fully aware of it.  Chris’ first water filters would only let pure water through, sure.  But they also had the issue of vaporizing contaminants, and we really didn’t want to breathe in possibly poisonous particles or protozoa every time we refilled our canteens.  It was another trip to the drawing board for him, eventually leading to the current versions.

He hoped to be able to have enough made that he could start selling them en masse by the end of the year, but he kept getting distracted.  We needed to get him some assistants.

“Um, speaking of the armor, we kinda-sorta got attacked.”

“Oh.”  The excited stream-of-consciousness ended instantly, replaced by worry.  “Are you okay?”

“It hurts to walk a little, but I’m fine.  Sarah played it smart and didn’t take a single hit.”  I paused for a moment.  “Crystal wall that exploded.  When the shards hit my legs from a distance, it was like he was throwing sand at me.  But when I was against the wall when it blew-”

“You what?!”

I winced a little.  “I was trying to disable him before he had the chance to make it blow.  I… missed.”  Even experts missed on occasion, right?

“Well…  How bad was it?”

“It was like getting kicked by a mule that just so happened to be a Brute.  Someone who took a blast without armor got messed up pretty good, enough that he’ll be in bandages for a while, but I’m still walking.  Mostly.  Hurts to go to the bathroom, but I’m glad I was wearing a cup, if you get what I mean.”

He chuckled a little.  “Nope, and I’m sure I don’t want to.”  He paused, his voice thoughtful.  “The outer armor probably absorbed most of the blast.  I’ll want to check it when you get home, see how well it survived.  If I had to guess, I’d say that the non-Newtonian fluid’s shear couldn’t handle that cohesive of a blow.  Normally, it disperses the impact over a wide radius by solidifying and then shattering at a high enough speed that you don’t really feel it, since the kinetic force is dispersed.  But for, say, your revolver, it’d probably need a good six inches to absorb the impact.  If you got hit over a wide enough area, it’s ability to disperse the energy would be greatly diminished.”

Which I already knew.  Just like I knew that he’d adjusted the fluid dynamics over my shins, knees, elbows and knuckles so that I could still fight without a weapon.  But I was letting him have his moment.  “Can you adjust that?”

There was a long silence before he hummed thoughtfully.  “Maybe.  I’m not sure, but I can play around with it.”

“Well, it’s not a large priority.”  I hesitated.  “The city’s cutting the contract.  Not enough gasoline.”

“Damn,” he whispered.  I resisted the urge to chastise him — I was pretty sure he was younger than me.  “What now? Need me to chip in?”

“No, no.  I wouldn’t ask that, Bro.  But, uh, the thing is, I might be able to still use your help.”  I grabbed my notebook and flipped to the first page.  “What do you know about hydrocarbons?”

The Jade Pool Hotel was, naturally enough, named for the color of its indoor pool.  The window looking into it so you could see underwater from the restaurant was a nice bonus for quite a few people as well.  Despite the amenities, it wasn’t the greatest hotel in the city.  The decor could have stood to be updated a decade ago, the wallpaper was fading fast, and the beds weren’t the most comfortable anymore.  But the price was pretty good, the food decent, the closets were big enough for our gear, and the staff made it worth the stay for us.

I swung by the front desk to grab my key, and the clerk let me know that Sarah was in the restaurant.  He did agree to hold onto my halberd, rifle, and pack for me.

As I stepped in, I saw Sarah readily enough, sitting close enough to the pool window to get a good view.  It was late, and to be honest, I was exhausted.  I might very well sleep the whole night through.  Even worse, after so long of keeping my weapons within arm’s reach, I felt downright naked as I crossed to her table.  Two glasses of iced tea, I noticed.


“So he finally returns.”  She smirked a little.  “Did you find some urchins to give all your coins to?”

“No.”  I paused a moment.  “Okay, so I played with a couple for a little bit, but that’s besides the point.  Nah, all of my cash went to the call.”

She was silent for a moment, but her smile turned more curious.  “How is he?”

I pointed to the more full glass, with only a couple of ice cubes in it.  “Mine?”  She nodded.  “How long have you been waiting?”

“About an hour and a half.”

“Sorry,” I said with a wince.  “As for Chris, he’s business as usual.”  I smiled at the waiter as he set down a menu.  “He’s busy producing new armor for us.”  She raised an eyebrow.  “I know, I know.  Something about keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  But beyond that, he’s got a new project he’s super excited about.  And he’s disappointed that I couldn’t bring him some of that crystal John produced.  He’d really like to study it.”

“When doesn’t he want to study something?”  She snorted, rolling her eyes.  “It’s either make something, study something to make something, or cook.”

“I’d rather have his cooking than here.”

“Damn straight.”  She waved her hand.  “You want the gyro.”

“Nah, steak.”

“No, I asked for mine well done and it wasn’t even medium.”

I winced.  “Gyros and potatoes it is.”  I waited a moment, studying Sarah.  She had a strange combination of restlessness and lethargy to her.  I understood what it was, but that was from experience.  How could she look like she was about to pass out, and yet eagerly look at everything she possibly could?  “You’re upset about the contract.”

“And you aren’t?  Jesus fuck, Bro, I’d figured you’d be more upset than anybody.”

I sighed softly.  “Nobody’s at fault.  Nobody’s to blame.  We knew it was coming, so why’s it hitting you so hard?”

She shot me a death glare.  “Maybe I just wanted to see you get lucky again.”

My head tilted to the side as I gave her a flat look, trying not to blush.  “Uh-huh.”

She sighed a bit.  “Our rep’s probably going to take a hit for not realizing about John sooner.  The government reps may claim not to care but-”

“We have a solid history, we’ve traveled with them for a long time, we…”  I paused as the waiter returned, making my order:  three gyros, a double helping of mashed potatoes with extra butter, and a garden salad.  As he stepped away, I glanced back to her.  “I’m low on coin.  Can I pay you back tomorrow?”

“Yeah, yeah.  I was planning on it anyway.”  She leaned back in her chair.  “Listen, our reputation is everything.  Yes, we’re solid and dependable work.  Yes, we can handle ourselves.  And yes, every job that we’ve done for them, we’ve gotten nothing but praise in return.  But if folks start to wonder if we let someone slip through because it was our last job and we were slacking-”

“They won’t.  It happens.  If we were the only survivors, yeah, they might think something.  But they’ll be more impressed by how we handled it quickly and efficiently.  Two paras within five minutes without any deaths?  When one was a barrier user and the other a mover and a blaster?  That’s gotta count for something.”

She said nothing for a long moment as she gazed into the pool window.  “At least it gives us an excuse to look for a better paying job.  I…”  Her face lit up.  “Look at the legs on that one.”

I looked.  The guy bouncing in the water on the other side of the glass did admittedly have nice legs.  But the shorts he wore were a little big, and such an ugly color combination.  He was trying to draw attention to himself.

“He’s compensating for something.”  I held my fingers an inch apart and mouthed the words little penis.

Sarah snorted.  “Says the guy who uses a polearm.”

My eyebrows shot up, I plastered the biggest grin I could to my face and got a cheeky tone to my voice.  “It’s big and I know how to use it!”

As soon as the words left my mouth, my expression dropped flat.  Almost instantly, Sarah was laughing hysterically.  “I can’t believe you said that to me!”

“Oh crap,” I whined.  “I’m never gonna live this down, am I?”

That got her laughing even harder.

Distraction gained and cemented.  Two points, Jordan.



15 thoughts on “Soil 1.4

  1. Thank you for reading this chapter. I updated a little early since I’ll have other obligations later.

    Fun fact: With the abandonment of a centralized banking system and a near-total collapse of infrastructure on even a community scale, maintaining currency would be difficult at best. The problem would further be exasperated by so many people choosing to live on the frontier. While bartering remains a viable solution on a limited scale, many communities would come up with their own currency eventually. As the Spanish anarchists found out the hard way, maintaining a community without currency is nearly impossible.

    When first conceptualizing the story, choosing to have the city that was constructed on the other side of the portal was a no-brainer for me for reasons I’ll get into another day. While I don’t take Lisa as being much smarter than the average person without her power, I do see her as turning to people who are experts in various fields for help. A history major came up with the idea of coinage made from precious metals, taking clues from both Europe and Japan. It isn’t standardized amongst all communities, and trade rates may differ, New Brockton’s status as a major trade city helped immensely.

    I’ll spare you further thoughts, though. Next week, you’re guaranteed two updates, one of which is an interlude. I’d like to have two updates a week when one is an interlude, but I make no promises. I need to keep my buffer in place.


  2. And now, a fun fact from me!

    I’m not a writer myself. Even when I run a game, I get an idea and run with it, so watching Ritic go through his thing is pretty interesting to me. Originally when he was talking through his idea with me (mostly him rambling and me making noises occasionally) New Brockton was way different. It suffered from Scion’s assault on the city itself, and was still very much a wasteland. Tattletale was very much the queen of a broken throne. It showed up way later in the story, and was a very depressing place by his description.

    By the time I read the first draft of this arc, it was a wonderland. Tattletale was recruiting as many Tinkers as she could, turning it very much into a land of tomorrow. As I was reading this chapter, Ritic was already deciding that he hated that angle. It didn’t mesh, it didn’t fit his vision, and the logistics were all wrong in his opinion. I didn’t get it at first. Now, I kinda do. Neil Marshall describes the film Doomsday as a “virtual time travel movie.” At first, I thought that Ritic was writing something like that. A story that is the same as traveling through the past, present, and future. That’s where I went wrong. He went for a more realistic view of the apocalypse. Twenty years later some communities are in the dark ages, some are close to the modern day, but all are struggling.

    The reason why he chose to remake New Brockton as we see it is because it has the portal between worlds, making it a major and necessary trade route. That would give it power and affluence that it would need to become what we see in the story. He says that there’s a tax for merchants going through the portal, but I’ve never really understood that kind of thing.

    This version of the story continues to surprise me. It still hits a lot of the same marks that the first draft did, but in different ways and with different set pieces.

    Also, this is probably going to be the most blatant semi-pop culture reference in the story. He fanboys so hard over James Burke. Actually, I only counted a total of four pop culture references in this. He’s usually pretty sly about it, so I might be wrong.

    At least, I found these fun.


  3. Attack Chicken here. Tried posting before and WordPress ate my comment, so I’ll try again and summarize.

    I just wanted to thank you, Ritic, for what you’ve written so far. I can tell that much thought has gone into determining to what extent humanity has been able to rebuild. As someone who likes looking at the details and logistics of fictional worlds, the mention of the tinker telecommunications network and the novel forms of currency evolving post Gold Morning are a real treat.

    A quick question for the author: how has the practice of medicine fared post-GM? I would imagine that the knowledge and theory of practice survived the apocalypse, and the remaining practitioners are eager to train the next generation. Has there been any luck with importing critical medicines and materials from the more stable, undamaged dimensions?

    Eagerly awaiting next week’s chapter. 🙂



    • Medicine took a major hit following Gold Morning. While the wealth of resources available from opening up untapped worlds means that they, in theory, have more to work with, the issue is that they have neither the infrastructure nor the tech base to support as much as they used to. The fact that humanity is now spread out across multiple worlds is part of that issue, as the skilled populace is rather spread out into tiny pockets rather than able to easily communicate and share skills.

      Many locations rely on “frontier medicine,” but that sounds worse than it actually is. There’s places of learning where thinkers are devoted towards adapting and advancing medical knowledge in the world they live in. As well as physics and most other subjects. Though there aren’t a lot of English or Political Science majors these days for some strange reason.

      Your care still depends on where the doctor was trained and where you live. New Brockton, with its population base and electricity supply, is fairly close to the modern day for a city just shy of being a metropolitan area. They focus on methods learned before GM, though there is a lot of crossover with frontier medicine as it tends to be cheaper. They don’t have access to a lot of pharmaceuticals that we do today, but what they do have they use to expert function. There have been advances in those chemicals, however, and some of them are far more effective than what we have today.

      On the other side, if you have a village that’s remote, has no power, and a small population you can expect care to be a lot more primitive. Doctors may need to keep a supply of maggots on hand to deal with bad burns. It tends to be more meatball surgery. However, I know of at least two colleges where the doctors produced can do more with scraps than some doctors can with a full surgical theater.

      For cases that small villages can’t handle on their own, if people have the money to pay for it, there are movers willing to help move a patient to better facilities. They’re far cheaper than using tinker teleporters for a variety of reasons, and often work comparatively cheap. Tattletale in particular has a group of them on hand who work for peanuts — but then again, she owns a hospital in town, and makes back her money that way.

      People who can grant regenerative powers are the gold standard, and colleges often fight to get them on board for their own hospitals — it also provides some interesting observations, which is helping considerably. Just seeing how someone heals can sometimes tell you more than a thousand tests.

      If the situation is truly dire, though, there are five alternatives that I can think of offhand. I’ll get into those at another time, though. There’s a few that will be making an appearance.

      I’d like to note that one area of medicine that has grown by leaps and bounds is cognitive therapy. A lot of people were suffering from the psychological effects of Gold Morning. When it became obvious that society wasn’t going to bounce back, a lot of effort was put into getting maximum results with minimum resources. With access to antidepressants and antianxiety medication limited, teaching people how to retrain their brains became paramount, and there’s been some surprising successes. Of course, there will always be some people who can’t be helped without chemical assistance, and others who will never show any real signs of improvement.

      In essence, they locked Dr. Yamada in a room and begged her to teach them her ways. Within five minutes she convinced them to calm down and unlock the door, and that they’d need tea if they were going to talk business.

      Honestly, I could go into details for days. (Also, thanks to E.V. for the support while I wrote this.)


    • Got both of them, thank you.

      Sarah’s name was Susan in the first draft. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this version that I settled on her name being Sarah. I kept catching myself mixing the two up, but I thought I’d caught them all. I’m going to have to be more careful in the future.


    • I’d still rented the room until then, taking the time to pour over my books, making frantic scribbles in my notebook.

      You had to ask questions like this to Tinkers.
      -of Tinkers

      “He’s compensating for something.” I held my fingers an inch apart and mouthed the words Little penis.
      –Also, slightly meaner than I would have expected from Jordan. He lets that part of himself out with Sarah? …uh, not that part of himself.


  4. Oh, and I think you mean “from” here instead of “for”.

    “We’d meet up tomorrow to get our pay for the city officials, then go to wherever we did next.”


  5. Rodger let loose a deep sigh. “Another attack, this time from one of our so-called guards.” He jerked a thumb towards John and Beth, our two captives. “Can you take ’em off our hands?”
    -Really? No mention of “Pyrokinetic and Shaker?” That’s the most important info to give to captors.

    I still found myself frowning as I did the math and estimations.
    Gordon noticed. “Are you coming in or going out?”
    -What’s Gordon mean? Also, does Jordan get any money back for returning books?


    • – Good point! I’ll fix that.

      – Gordon is asking if Jordan is coming into the city for a job, or if he’s finished the job and heading home. If he’s coming in for work, it means that letting Jordan take them and pay later is a no-go. He might not have the coin for another month. If he’s picking up his pay and heading home, then Jordan will have more cash soon, making a loan more viable. Jordan’s been visiting this shop regularly for three years, so Gordon is familiar with him enough to make this deal.

      The books that Jordan returns are automatically deducted from how much he’s getting charged. Think of this as a college bookstore, plus research books and the like, and you’ve got an idea on just how much they screw someone over. Jordan actually gets screwed more than the average person, since he’s been identified as an easy mark by Gordon and his parents.


  6. Pingback: Soil 1.3 | Setanta

  7. Pingback: Soil 1.5 | Setanta

  8. “the clerk let me know that Sarah was in the restaurant. He did, however, agree to hold onto my halberd, rifle, and pack for me.” That however is pretty strange for me.


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