Down by the Ferry

As a change from my rants concerning social media, I thought I’d share another story. I wrote this for the Bundoran Press Blood and Water anthology. Although it made it to the final round of consideration, it unfortunately was rejected so now I’m stuck with an 8000 word piece of science-fiction Canadiana. I thought I might as well give it to the internets for free.

I ride the Departure Bay Ferry often—it’s my preferred means of getting home to the Island—so those boats loom large in my mental landscape. Some of my friends have been writing dystopian stories set in a future Republic of Cascadia and mentioned the idea of converted ferries being used as gun platforms. From this seed the story idea was born.

As for the characters, let’s just say during my time in Port Alberni I’ve met my share of Shannons. Their kids always seem to have big pale eyes. I wrote them an apocalypse they did okay in. I hope you enjoy it.

Shannon remembered the day they had anchored the ferry, strapping it down with two long chains so it dominated the harbour entrance. The great steel tub was the last one on the Island, the others capsized in the maelstroms that had accompanied the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising of the water. Across the straight, the storms had taken more than just boats, the lowlands of greater Vancouver having slipped beneath the waves, hundreds of thousands drowned in their beds. The Crumbling had taken cities and countries down with it, reducing civilization to a shadow of its former self as the environment went into spasm under the strain of billions.

That was the day when she had come to terms with what had happened. Roy wasn’t coming home, and they’d never see enough gas to ever run the ferry again. They were going to be stuck on the Island for the rest of their lives, minus fishing trips. That ferry, stuck out there by Newcastle, represented the new world in which pirate bands came up from the Republic of Cascadia by night, or where rusty boats from Asia, full of starving refugees, would flounder on the rocks every week or so.

It wasn’t all bad however. Sure, there was almost never any power, and you scrounged to get enough to eat, but they didn’t starve. Roy wasn’t coming back either, so they were never going to have fights in which he lost his temper and hit her. She’d never again have to lie about the bruises.

Other than a bruise, his final gift to her had been the gun rack he’d left when he’d been drafted during the Crumbling. She blessed him for that every day. The crossbow that came with it was the best part, a reusable weapon in a world where you counted every last bullet you squeezed off. She’d made her mark by hunting around the edge of Nanaimo, where the woods were starting to envelope the abandoned houses there. With a bit of luck, she’d kill a deer once a week or so and drag it back to town. People would pay a lot for the luxury of meat, so she and Astor didn’t lack for anything, as long as she stayed lucky.

Still, that rusting ferry represented a dread that always lay in the back of her mind. She had never been much for politics before the Crumbling, but now that things were immediate, and politics concerned the food in your belly or the water that slacked your thirst, the subject was hard to ignore. Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver, two entities similarly named, but separated by the Straight of Georgia. The Island had been lucky in many ways. They didn’t have much in the way of lowlands, so most of the towns and cities were more or less intact. Unlike the interior, the rain catching mountains protected them from desertification, and the ocean provided a barrier against the armed bands of American refugees coming north. The town had come close to starving once, when Astor had only been a few years old, but the Island’s population had been elderly for a long while. When medical resources dried up, the old started dropping like flies. Now there were ghost towns and neighbourhoods to the north and south, but those who were left had moved closer together, and there had suddenly been enough to go around.

That was the essential problem now, the one that kept her up at night. They had more farmland than they had hands to work it, more clean water than they had mouths to drink it. From the prewar news, she knew the City had put in vast numbers of vertical farms into the City core, but with the desert to the east of them, the drowned land to the south, and the pine beetle riddled mountains to the north, they would still be in desperate need of food and fresh water to keep everyone alive. Half a million hungry mouths, she would think, as she’d go to sleep, will eventually notice we have extra over here. They have only to reach out half a million pairs of hands to take it.

It wasn’t that she was worried about herself; in this world she would be lucky to see another ten years. There was only one member of her family still alive, her daughter, Astor. That made her the one thing that mattered. For all that the Crumbling had brought, it had made her focus on that one fundamental truth—that Astor mattered above all else. Before the Crumbling the kitchen had been full of moldy dishes, her head full of dreams of television fame, and her nights spent in bars whenever she could find a sitter. That was all gone now, cut clean away by the desire to ensure that Astor was taken care of. The trouble was, she didn’t know what to do with the girl.

Shannon had always been a girl’s girl. Clothes and boys had been her interests, surpassed only by ATV rides in the woods with Roy when he’d still been alive. Hers was a Sarah Palin (rest her memory) school of feminism, where she could go shoot something in the woods and then put on makeup for a night on the town. She’d grown up a lot since then, learned that she didn’t need Roy around to take care of her, or to be happy, but Astor remained an enigma to her.

Shannon would have called Astor a nerd if they had been in school together. Everyone had their pads and smart contacts when Shannon had been growing up, but they had been used for socializing, or trivial pursuits. Astor was interested in how things like that ticked. She was this pale little wisp of a girl with curly black hair and big moon eyes, her frame so slender you would be afraid she might blow away in the wind. The hair and the eyes were all Roy’s, and her don’t-give-a-damn attitude definitely came from Shannon, but that focus on the working of things was something that her mother was convinced had come from outer space. Astor’s room was a pile of salvaged electronics, and torn apart computers, a dynamo bike in the corner supplying power for her projects. She never seemed to go anywhere without her little toolkit for prying things open and putting them back together in new ways. All she seemed to read, outside of Chronicles of Narnia, were old computer and DIY books that Shannon would find for her when they were tearing apart old abandoned houses for usable junk.

Shannon had tried to toughen her up a little bit, make her ready for the day when her mother wouldn’t be around to look after her. None of it seemed to take. Once, when she’d taken her out hunting, Astor had been able to hit a deer more or less accurately, taking it down with a messy second crossbow bolt. There had been this look of distaste on her face when they reached the body, and Shannon had assumed that she was upset about killing the deer and tried to comfort her.

‘But that’s not it,’ Astor had told her sadly. ‘It’s that I can’t put the deer back together after I broke it. I don’t like breaking things unless I can fix them up again.’

Whatever way her and Roy’s genes had mixed together, something strange had come out. Perhaps Astor had been zapped by a stray cosmic ray when she had been just a zygote. Her brilliant little inventor of a child had been precocious since the beginning, fascinated by the way things used to be before the Crumbling. She’d made a cheap wireless net only a few years ago, so people could send each other short messages through the few unbroken computers and cellphones within the city radius. The network had begun as a small home project when she had wanted to send messages to her neighbour, old Ned, who ran a local computer shop back in the day. The man had encouraged her, and before Shannon knew what was happening, Astor’s local net was hooked into all the neighbours. It served as a welcome replacement to the long defunct phone system, its bytes hopping between old cell towers and still ticking wireless routers. It was held together with gum and cleverness, but most people didn’t seem to twig how unusual it was for a twelve year old girl to have made such a thing. They were just glad they could talk to each other without going out in the rain.

The problem, Shannon often reflected, was that Astor had been born too late. She should have been born in a world where sending a few bytes of a message across town would be commonplace, where she would get a scholarship and go off to university and design the next generation of computers or smart contacts or whatever they would have come up with next, if things hadn’t crumbled. Shannon still remembered that time, but for Astor it was a lost golden age, spoken of only in moldy old books, its artifacts rusting on trash heaps or in drawers unused.

One day a white sailboat came into the harbour, hailing the defending ferry on its slow approach. After it landed, the word spread rapidly along Astor’s patchwork net, a series of whispers saying that the City had sent an Envoy over, and that he had marched into the Mayor’s office with his men and shut the door behind him.

They called a town meeting the next day, and Shannon brought Astor along, literally tugging her away from her workbench and her half soldered circuit. They joined the small stream of people making their way to the town hall by foot, bicycle, or horse drawn wagon. Still not enough horses around, Shannon thought. Too many people had become hungry when things had gotten close to the bone.

‘Why do I have to have to come along?’ Astor asked her. ‘It’s all just silly politics. I hate politics.’

Shannon stopped in the middle of the street and sighed. She didn’t really want to bring her along, but Astor had to learn, quickly and soon. ‘I know you do baby, but these days politics are about food and water and who gets them. If we don’t pay attention to politics, we might not eat.’

Astor looked up at her with those big moon eyes, and Shannon wasn’t certain if she was thinking or just confused. ‘It’s like how we have to eat our vegetables,’ she went on. ‘Remember back when you were in grade one and we had that scare of people getting scurvy? All those people with the black gums? We have to do some things we don’t like, so we can do the things we want to do.’

Astor nodded, but then tilted her head. ‘Can we do anything to stop it? All the people from the mainland coming over here to steal our food?’

‘How do you know about that?’ Shannon asked her. Her little girl was already filled with political worries.

‘Some of the kids were talking about it at school. Jane’s dad is going to fight to keep them out, that’s what she said.’

Shannon sighed: it was Devon Young, up to no good again. He was the leader of the local militia, a former classmate of hers who had taken to this new dystopian world with excessive eagerness. While she dreaded the thought of a fight here over land and water, Devon would welcome it with open arms, as the small tussles that the militia had with pirates or refugee bands were now boring him. Once upon a time, Shannon had been one of the chubby kids at school, but the Crumbling had made her lean, attracting Young’s dangerous eyes. He would often corner her in the market—just to talk he’d say—and from those exchanges she knew he was eager for something with higher stakes, wrapped in a vague notion of liberty. Liberty, she thought, what good is it if you’re dead, or can’t get enough to eat?

‘Those guys are idiots Astor,’ was what she said. ‘If the City is coming, we’ll have to negotiate if the Capital won’t help us.’

‘What if the town decides to stay and fight?’

The kid was asking all sorts of awkward questions today. Shannon started walking towards town hall again. ’Then we run towards the west coast. The Alberni Valley is inland and the road hard to breach. If the City takes Alberni as well, we can go further out to Tofino. The highway there can be blown in a dozen places to make it impassable. It wouldn’t be worth the effort to pursue people through the pass. We could fish and hunt to get by. Old Ned says the fish populations are returning—some sort of mutant salmon that can stand the higher ocean temperatures.’

Astor looked troubled by the plan. ‘We won’t be able to bring my tools with me if we run that far, and they won’t have much in the way of electronic leftovers out on the coast. There weren’t many people there before the Crumbling.’

Shannon put her hand on Astor’s shoulder. Dream, they had told her in high school. You can achieve whatever you want if you try hard enough. For Astor’s generation, however, they had to teach them how to put their dreams away in order to survive. ‘Astor honey,’ she said, ‘even if we stay, even if we fight off the City, you might not get to mess around with circuits much longer. There are people saying that the network we now have is enough, that there’s too few leftovers for tinkering anymore.’ Devon Young had told her as much, and even Mayor Brown agreed on this. Back in the day, they hadn’t built electronics to last, and the remaining working devices were beginning to show their age. Every repair cost a component that could not be replaced, and Astor liked to experiment, fusing the old into the new, in a way that was costly in terms of parts. What she made lasted longer than the old pieces, and used memory and power sparingly, but all everyone else could see was that their monitors were yellowing and decaying.

‘Politics,’ her little girl said. ‘Everything is politics.’ As they walked to the hall, she was very quiet.

There were at best a few thousand people left in town after all the deaths in the Crumbling, a fragment of a fragment of the original population. A few hundred had come out for the meeting, heads of families or representatives from the farm communes further out. Politics might be life, but work still needed to be done in the fields. The hall was packed, most of the people outside in the overflow, so the mayor had rigged up some speakers to allow everyone to follow along with the proceedings.

Devon Young and a few of his militia were close to the front, paying close attention to anyone who made it into the main hall. The militia were all hotheads with guns, many of them friends of Young’s even before the Crumbling. Shannon used to have a prodigious DVD collection—now dying from oxidation—and Devon and his friends had often borrowed her action movies, usually without asking. Now here was an opportunity that they might actually live out the gun slinger dreams that drowned Hollywood had promised them. They made some catcalls in Shannon’s direction when she entered and took the seats that a friend had saved for her and Astor. She gave them the finger and avoided eye contact.

Mayor Brown brought the meeting to attention and introduced the Envoy from the Independent City State of Vancouver as it styled itself now. Shannon noticed a few men in gray around the main stage she didn’t recognize—bodyguards she guessed. The Envoy, a tall thin man in a suit and tie, stepped up to the podium, and went straight into his speech. The City had claimed a right to the town, he told them, as well as the surrounding land on account of the general failure of the old provincial government down in the Capital.

‘Next month, an administration team along with a security force will arrive here,’ he told them. ‘The team will set in place an equitable system for the division of unused farmland between the five thousand settlers who will be arriving here over the course of the next year.’
A gasp went up from the audience: the number was greater than the town’s population. The Envoy hesitated, trying to feel the mood of the crowd before pushing on.

‘Food and water are tight in the City,’ he continued, ‘and so all excess produced here will be shipped across to the mainland. You will all be put on our ration system, with the same allotment of food as our citizens.’

‘Don’t we get a say in this?’ Devon Young yelled, jumping to his feet. ‘What happened to democracy?’

The Envoy looked towards the questioning voice. ‘You will be allowed to elect fifty percent of the council that will handle the transitional period of the settlement. During that period you will be granted conditional citizenship of the City. This region used to all be one province. It is the City Council’s opinion that due to the ongoing food shortage on the mainland, we have the political right to take whatever actions are necessary, within reason, to ensure the well being of our citizenry.’

Everyone began yelling at once, and the meeting descended into chaos. Shannon stayed quiet, relieved that the City wasn’t just going to come in guns blazing. She remembered that ache in her stomach when things had been rough and the feel of Roy’s rifle in her hands when she’d stayed up late at night, wondering if she’d have to use it on a neighbour so her little girl wouldn’t starve. Hunger reduced everything to a terrible simplicity.

Mayor Brown tried to wave everyone down. ‘The Capital won’t reply to any of our messages. They’re not going to stop the City folk coming over here if they want. It’s my opinion that we agree to this offer while it’s still available.’ He looked over at the Envoy, who gave him a weary nod. They were both trying to avoid the worst, Shannon realized, two men trying to make the mad world a little more sane.

She should have never counted Young out. What he really wanted was power: power to tell people what to do, to kill who he wanted, and to do what he liked. Mayor Brown had kept him from controlling things in town by outmaneuvering him with words. By the end of this meeting, Brown would make everyone come around to a negotiated peace. It was what he did best, talk and convince, but Young had the advantage when it came to violence, and he had finally come to realize this.

It was only when she noticed that Young’s men were creeping close to the stage that she realized something was wrong. By then, it was too late to do anything. The large number of people trying to squeeze into the hall had resulted in the crowd hemming in the speakers at the front, preventing an easy escape. In a matter of moments, the militia rushed the stage, taking down the Envoy’s guards with knives and pistols before they knew what was happening. Young himself walked up the Envoy, pulled out a worn revolver, and shot the man in the chest. Mayor Brown cried out and tried to shield the fallen man, only to be shot himself.

Shannon was deafened by the screams, and she pulled Astor close to protect her. Amid the chaos, all she could make out was Astor’s rapid heartbeat next to hers. Politics, she thought to herself, politics is life and death.

The room suddenly went quiet, as Young began to speak. ‘We’re not going to take this anymore,’ he told the shocked crowd. ‘The City meant to come and take what’s ours, to take away our lands, our rights, and eventually even our lives. If you think they’re going to let us keep what we have now, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s more people than food and water to go around, and they’re going to choose their own over us, when push comes to shove. We’ve got only one option now, and that’s to fight off these bastards till the Capital realizes what’s going on and sends help. You hear me? We’re going to fight!’

There was a quiet rumble in the crowd, and then the militia took up the chant. ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ they yelled, and then everyone else took it up. Shannon pushed her way out of the hall, Astor in her arms, not certain of what to do. Behind her, she could hear Young calling Mayor Brown all sorts of names, like ‘collaborator’ and ‘traitor’.

‘Is this what politics is normally like mum?’ Astor asked her, once they were clear of the crowd. She was trembling a little. Sudden violence was a too common occurrence now, but you never really got used to it.
‘Sometimes baby,’ she told her. ‘Sometimes.’ Young had killed them all, she thought. What the Envoy had promised them had been the best they could have hoped for. There were no doubt others in the City who thought, like Devon Young, that there wasn’t enough to go around and it was either mainland folk or island folk who got to eat. They would get their turn now, and when they were done, there wouldn’t be a soul left alive in town. A half a million hungry mouths would soon be marching.

She made her way back to their house quickly, Astor in tow. They would need to run soon, preferably tonight, but it would take time to get things together. When they arrived, however, three of the militia were already waiting there on horseback. They must have ridden by another route to cut her off, as soon as the meeting had ended. Young must have been planning for this for a long time, laying the groundwork when nobody had been looking.

‘Can I help you boys with anything?’ she asked, drawing Astor close to her as they walked up to the three. She only recognized Raymond Hunt, who slung himself off his horse and tipped his baseball cap to her.

‘Shannon, we’re here on behalf of the militia defense planning committee, the new MDP.’

‘Oh, you’ve already thought of an acronym for yourselves? That’s clever.’ Shannon tilted her head as she smiled at him, or tried to.
Raymond just laughed, which was a good sign. ‘Got that lip on you as always Shannon. Well you were at the meeting, you should know why we’re here.’

‘Slipped out before the end actually.’

‘Well they passed a motion, just at the finish, where we’re supposed to round up all the guns and weapons in town and distribute them out for the purposes of defense. You’ve got that old armory of Roy’s in the back there and you can’t fire all those guns by yourself.’

She hesitated. The guns were her wealth, her way of making do. If they had to run, they would need as many of them as they could carry. ‘Well I suppose if that’s what the town’s decided to do, I’ll have to hand them over,’ she said carefully, trying to keep the tremble out her voice. ‘But I get my living by those guns. If I don’t hunt, my girl and I don’t eat.’

‘If we don’t fight off the mainlanders,’ one of the mounted militia members snapped at her, ‘then none of us eat!’ The other, a blonde woman, spat on the ground, but didn’t say anything.

Raymond waved at him to be quiet. ‘I understand that. We can let you keep three weapons: a pistol, a rifle, and your crossbow. That’ll allow both you and your girl to hunt and defend yourselves. There’s no sense in denying a skilled markswoman a rifle, after all. We’ll write out a list of the ones we take, so you can get them back when all this is over.’

When all this is over, Shannon thought, we’ll all be dead on account of Young’s foolishness. ‘Anything else I miss at the meeting? Any other new laws that Sheriff Young is bringing in?’

‘Mayor Young now,’ he informed her. ‘You can’t leave town. I know you’d rather be heading west with your girl, out of harm’s way, but we need every sure hand ready to defend the City. You’ll have to check in each day so we know everyone is still around.’

‘Ah, you know I’m up for defending the town,’ she lied, ‘I just don’t like Young is all.’

Hunt laughed at that, and the tension passed, the three members of the militia presumably convinced that she was on their side. To further the appearance of her feigned civic pride, she submitted calmly to the orders and brought out the contents of her gun cabinet. They carefully listed and tagged all the weapons, including the ones she kept for Astor and herself.

When the militia were safely away, she and Astor packed everything they might need in two rucksacks that they sat near the door. They cleaned the two remaining guns, and checked their ammunition. Astor did everything she was told without asking any questions, but broke her silence when they were finished packing.

‘We can’t leave now,’ she said dully. ‘We’ll never make it.’

‘I know baby,’ she replied. On foot, they couldn’t outrun militia on horseback. They would have to plan this one. ‘We just need to be ready. First hint of the invasion, you get back here, even if it’s a school day. They’ll be too busy fighting their little war to notice us disappearing.’ She tried not to think of what had happened to Mayor Brown and the Envoy. If she and Astor kept their heads down and looked patriotic, they should be okay.

They went back to their lives after that, although the bags and weapons remained by the door. Under Mayor Young, life was almost the same as usual, but the militia now patrolled through town and along the waterfront, old binoculars and makeshift telescopes scanning the horizon for possible signs of an invading armada. Sometimes they would get overly excited and shoot at shadows in the early morning fog, setting hearts thumping before a false alarm was declared.

Mayor Young made a point of stopping her in the market one day. He remarked how glad he was that they had someone like Astor to make sure there was a decent communication system in town, and that wouldn’t it be a great idea if she came along to one of the defense planning sessions to help make sure all the radios and backup systems were working? Shannon was reluctant to put her little girl even close to harm’s way and told him so, but Devon got this glint in his eye. She pretended to reconsider and told him she would have to ask Astor first.

After the town meeting, Astor had made a habit of curling up in what was left of the library, working with the local banger of a desktop and going through one of the downloaded Wikipedia caches they had on file. It was there that her mother found her, next to a pile of books, the topmost of which was something called The Prince written by some Italian guy. It was a terrible time for her to get interested in boys, Shannon thought.

To her surprise, Astor eagerly accepted Young’s proposal. When Shannon asked why this was the case, she calmly said, ‘It’s politics mum. Everything is politics.’

Gamma rays, Shannon thought.

This strange state of affairs continued for weeks, but there was no sense of relaxation. Some of the farmers out on the edge tried to make a run for the valley, and the militia brought them back and threw them in the slammer. Young made some big speech about traitors and aiding and abetting the enemy, but Shannon just nodded and cheered at the appropriate bits and kept her head down, so it was nothing.

The siren went off one Friday morning, before the fog had finished burning away, the shrill electronic wail announcing that sails had been sighted by the forward outposts. Shannon was in town, haggling for vegetables, and her heart skipped a beat when she heard the sound. The day had come at last, the day to do or die.

Everyone ran to their appointed positions, yelling and shouting as they did so. Children and noncombatants went to their basements and bunkers and those who could bear weapons to their posts. Most had been assigned to the main harbour, but some were going to the outposts on the islands of Newcastle and Protection. Shannon had been assigned to Newcastle, which divided the two bays. Anyone posted there would be cut off and killed if the fight went against them. She had no intention of dying with the rest of them, so she left the market and ran to Astor’s school. They would have more than enough time to get away in the chaos.

But at the school she was told that Astor had gone to the library when the siren had sounded, and at the library she was told that Astor had gone towards the town hall where the communications center was. Running over there, she found Raymond Hunt handing weapons into eager, but frightened, young hands. Young was nowhere to be seen. When she starting asking people where Astor was, Raymond informed her he had sent her daughter home.

‘The girl did a good job making sure all the equipment was up to scratch,’ he said, ‘but Young didn’t want a twelve year old in his communications center. I’ll will be running things here instead.’ He told her go home and get her guns, and handed her an assigned radio, with her name scratched on the back. It looked like Astor’s work—every little thing organized and accounted for.

She followed Hunt’s instructions, although she had no intention of returning to fight, and made her way over to the house, which was situated on the hills overlooking the ferry bay. When she got there, however, Astor was nowhere to be found. She called out to her again and again, hoping for an answer, but none came. When she was hoarse from yelling, she sat down by the front door and began to cry a little, not sure of what to do next. She felt as helpless as she had before the Crumbling, in the days when her choices hadn’t been clean and forced.

Her radio crackled. ‘Mum?’ she heard Astor’s voice chime out. ‘Are you there?’

She snatched it up. ‘Astor? Are you alright?’ She could hear the sound of gunfire in the distance—the fight had already begun.

‘I’m fine Mum,’ Astor told her. ‘I just couldn’t meet you at home or at school because you’d stop me doing what I’m going to do.’

‘Astor!’ she exclaimed. ‘What is going on? We need to be leaving now! There’s fighting down in the Bay already!’

‘I’m not going,’ she said. ‘If I run I won’t be able to do what I want. Fix things. Make them better.’

Her heart wanted to break a little. ‘Astor,’ she said, ‘you’re just a little girl. What can you do?’ Then Shannon realized that it was strange she was the only person on the network. Checking the settings, she noticed that her radio was switched to channel five, although everyone else was using channels one to three.

‘I’m the little girl who built the local network,’ Astor told her, her voice filled with static. ‘I’m the little girl who has been talking to people all over the coast on the Ham radio. Everything is politics mum, but I don’t want to just live. I want to do more than that.’

‘Astor,’ she said, stepping out onto the lawn, where she could look down to the water. ‘What have you done baby?’ From the lawn, she could see the anchored ferry, with all the damn awfulness it represented.

Then she caught sight of the other ferry coming through the gap.
The mainlanders had armored their surviving ferry with miscellaneous sheet metal and strapped what looked like a mounted swivel gun to the front. How the City folk had enough fuel to run it was beyond Shannon. The boat glittered in the pale sunlight, a small fleet of white sailing ships and yachts circling around it. Some of them were going around Newcastle island, peppering the defenders with small arms fire, presumably to try and make a landing in the city harbor, but the battle ferry was swinging around from bombarding the defenses there to face its anchored cousin.

‘I spoke to some of the tech people over in the City, over the AM band,’ Astor told her. ‘I told them I could give them an easy victory here, if they promised to spare everyone after the fight. All I had to do was compromise the network and tell them where the heavy weapons were.’

Shannon flipped over to the other channels, where all she could hear was screeching static. Sabotage, that was the reason Astor had agreed to Young’s request. It put her in the perfect position to betray him. Shannon quickly flipped back to channel five.

‘Young wants the fleet to enter the harbour,’ Astor was continuing. ‘He’s hidden his zodiacs and RPGs in the old ferry because he thought they won’t fire on it, for fear of blocking off the other harbour entrance. The plan was to allow the mainlanders to wipe out the garrisons on Newcastle and Protection and move into the main harbour. Then Young would hit them in the rear, trapping the fleet in the confines of the bay where they could be picked off with RPGs and fireboats. He could have won this battle, if not the war. Of course, now they know he’s on the ferry, with most of our heavy weaponry.’

The ferry’s gun spoke, a sharp boom that echoed through the bay. There was a flash and a great spray of water as the anchored ferry took the shot midship, and then the boat cracked in two with a terrible sound. Shannon could see small figures and boats trying to escape from the rapidly sinking boat from either end, giants blasts of water spraying them as the battle ferry continued its bombardment. Smaller boats from the armada moved in to pick off the survivors, and she looked away when she realized that Young and the militiamen with him were done for.

She flicked to the main communication channel, the one that Astor had compromised. The static was now gone, with only a message in a deep electronic voice running over and over again.

‘Lay down all arms,’ it said. ‘Surrender.’

The sound of gunfire elsewhere in the Bay began to fade into silence, as first one platoon and then another acknowledged that this battle was hopeless. Without the weapons to take out the invaders’ boats in the water, they had no hope in a pitched battle.

‘Mum?’ Astor called out again. ‘I’ll need you to come down to the town hall. They’ll be landing in the town harbour once they’ve got everything under control. Bring the bags.’

Shannon picked up the bags in daze. Astor had delivered a complete and total victory to the enemy, the hungry people who might just kill them all. Not knowing what else to do, she went back to the fundamental truth, and began to walk towards town, where her daughter was presumably hiding.

There was the smell of smoke and gas in the air as she went down the road. On the way, she ran into one of the City patrols, dressed in green uniforms, like they knew what they were doing when it came to war. When they found out her name, they took her weapons and escorted her towards the town. The patrol that took her in was mostly East-Indian and they seemed to think that this all was a funny joke for some reason.

Astor was there in front of the town hall with Raymond Hunt, standing next to a man in military uniform who looked like a general. He was smiling, which she hoped was a good sign. When she came up, Astor ran up to hug her and the uniform shook her hand and introduced himself as General Singh.

‘I’m happy to inform you that the fight here was very brief,’ he told her. ‘Your militia men faded away or surrendered when it became clear they couldn’t win. Mr. Hunt here surrendered very graciously.’
Raymond looked very tired and old, Shannon thought. ‘What are you going to do with us?’ she asked.

‘We’re going to take all your guns away and put in place a proper police force instead of these militia maniacs you’ve got running the place here.’

‘Anything else?’

‘You’re going to get to live if that’s what you mean. You’ll even get the same deal that our poor dead Envoy gave you.’ The General seemed mildly amused by this, as if he couldn’t believe what was happening either. He waved for Raymond to be led away. Shannon looked down at her daughter, who looked up at her quietly with those big moon eyes.

‘Oh yes,’ General Singh said, when Raymond was out of hearing. ‘It’s all your daughter’s doing, her and those Technocrati. I was all in favor of massacring the lot of you, but they managed to give us the tools for a nearly bloodless victory. It means they’ve earned a lot of sway on the City Council, enough to buy you lot your lives and even get their Electronic Monastery founded.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t understand,’ Shannon said, confused by these new terms. ‘Technocrati? The Electronic Monastery?’

Astor tugged at her hand. ‘They’re people like me, mum. They want to fix things, put them back together. They want to preserve the knowledge of how to make things like the network, so they’re going to build an Electronic Monastery, and they want me to help.’

General Singh coughed. ‘Well, they’ll need her to make it. They were a little long on the theory and short on substance until now. The Technocrati want to make new computer and networks systems can can run nearly forever, and your girl here is the only one who has been able to make anything close. She’s the real deal.’

It was still a bit much for Shannon. This all reminded her of something about monks and the dark ages and books, but history had never been her strong suit. ‘You’re hungry over there,’ she said at last, focusing on the essentials. ‘Why does a bloodless victory matter to you? You have lives to spare.’

‘Well, I would have hated to lose our ferry,’ the General admitted. ‘It’s proven useful going up against the Cascadians. I also don’t relish having to fighting more than one enemy at a time if I can help it. You folks come quietly and you’ll be treated right. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have duties to attend to. A new administration needs to be put in place here.’ He gave a polite salute and then strolled off down the street, a guard forming around him.

There was still chaos in the town as the invaders took control, but people were giving up quickly. The fight that Young had put in them had gone out, and they just wanted to get home to their families, to see another day. They didn’t even realize that they’d been sold out by a little girl and her single mother.

Shannon turned and put her arms around Astor. ‘You planned all of this,’ she said, amazed at her.

‘I just paid attention to what you told me,’ Astor said from inside her arms. ‘Everything is politics. I learned everything I needed to from the library and came up with a plan that would allow me to do my thing, to put things back together, to fix everything, even the whole wide world.’

The ferry loomed in the bay, boats swirling around it, soldiers clambering over its decks. Some day soon it would leave the town and take them with it, over the water to the City. It was the dawn of a new day, Shannon thought. It was the dawn of a new world.

The End

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