Author Topic: Part 32: A Different Kind of People  (Read 3088 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 32: A Different Kind of People
« on: January 06, 2023, 12:27:08 AM »
They made it back to the oil well without incident. Moss had kept up the conversation on the way, but changed it to be less confrontational. The sandkin were an entirely different people after all. Everything he'd thought he'd known about Char had been wrong.

She wasn't a loner—she was part of a massive Union of her own kind. She wasn't damaged on the inside—she was just hiding who she was because of her orders. She didn't hate her home grove for exiling her—she loved them despite the wrong they'd done her. And now that they were gone, she felt their loss keenly.

Moss didn't know what to think, so he focused on trivial or practical conversation. By the time they were rooted near the oil deposit, he'd basically run out of things to say. Which was just as well, since she lent him half her surviving qars. They had to lot of work to do.

The cart had to be refueled, and the tank made heat-resistant. The whole motion machine had to be, in fact. The desert wouldn't be forgiving on moving parts any more than it would be on their qars. Also, the qars would have to be left behind.

Moss reveled in the ability to affect his environment again. The death of Grace and the others still pained him, but at least he could give orders to qars again. He had to encode them simply—they didn't have as much experience with him as Grace or Fortitude or Strength had had.

"We should make another tank," he said after a while, as his new qars worked on gathering up insulation material. "Not for fuel, but water. We can grow roots into it, and then seal it up tightly. No matter how dry it is down there, the water will last until we use it all up."

"That's not a bad idea," Char said, her consideration leaking into their network. "I don't know exactly where Sharpcrag is, so I can't guess how long it'll take to get there."

"Why go to Sharpcrag at all? Aren't there other sandkin groves that would be easier to reach? They could contact your people for you."

She sent out a negative. "It's the closest to the green lands. There is a grove right on the western shore, but it's on the other side of a mountain chain. The cart could never take us through that safely."

"So we're going heedlessly into the world's largest desert, looking for a grove that might not even be there anymore?" He felt a burst of chagrin. This was her family he was talking about. "Sorry. It's just, for all we know the trejuns bombed Sharpcrag, too."

"You're right, we don't know for sure. Still want to come along?"

Moss allowed himself a moment of smugness. He'd already said he would go with her, but now that he knew about the sandkin's isolationist nature, he suspected her question didn't mean anything anymore. The sandkin had protected the secret of their existence for eons now. If Char found her way back to them, she'd tell them everything. Including what she'd told Moss.

Char might trust her superiors to treat him fairly, but she had an obvious blind spot when it came to them. Moss knew what they would do when they found out. They'd send some of their other agents to… deal with the information breach. If he stayed, either the trejuns would find and kill him, or the sandkin would. No, going with her was the only option he had left.

Or maybe they wouldn't. That's what the Union would do, but if Char was right, the sandkin behaved differently. Had they already voted on whether or not it was permissible to kill people to keep their secret?

"You said the sandkin voted to send you and others like you into the Union," he changed the subject to something that had been bothering him. "How do you know that vote was accurate? Whoever was handling communications could have altered it to say whatever they wanted it to."

She sent out a brief burst of anger. "Maybe that's what people in the Union would do, but that's not our way. When we cast a vote, we don't hide it. Everyone can see our voting history, right from when we were first planted. Even if the results were misreported, everyone could check them with a single message. The lie would be discovered, and the liar punished accordingly."

It was never that simple, but Moss let the topic go for the moment. Most likely, the sandkin who voted to infiltrate the Union had had a strong majority, so anyone who opposed the decision didn't really have any options on subverting it. Grove Praska had been part of a Greenleague before the Union had been formed; just a half dozen groves with similar interests working together. Moss had studied the records of how voting had been handled between groves. The Union way was better, he decided. Even a flawed leader was better than no leaders at all.

Still, the idea that sandkin voting history was public was new to him. If everyone could see what you voted for, then it forced you to have a good reason for voting that way. Or at least have a reason you thought was good.