Author Topic: Part 45: A Branch to Grab Onto  (Read 10308 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 45: A Branch to Grab Onto
« on: April 21, 2023, 05:21:32 PM »
Another convoy of carts arrived the next day, and Char took the opportunity to reposition herself. She was actually getting used to this back and forth thing by now. Her roots had shortened, and her leaves limited their growth so as to avoid needing extra water. It took an effort each time to make sure her roots didn't extend too far outwards, but it made the transition much easier.

This time she was settling down in a hole dug not far from Moss' own position. She'd made the request herself, though reluctantly. She'd also ignored Moss' communications until the move was complete, with a certain vindictive pleasure. It didn't feel too good being the one in the dark, did it?

As the sandkin convoy moved on, Char connected a synthetic root to his own, creating a supposedly private conversation. Moss didn't speak at first, but then after a moment, sent out a stream of curiosity mixed with apprehension. "I wasn't sure you'd ever talk to me again."

"Don't think too much of it," she responded acidly. "This is official business and nothing more. Are you sure no one else can hear this?"

"I believe so. There is one way to be sure, but I don't think you'll like it. We could bond again. That would ensure privacy."

Char had to work hard to keep her fear from showing. "That won't be necessary. As you know, my people gave me a radio before sending us out from Hightop. They've been keeping me updated on the treaty negotiations with the Union, among other things. Recent reports have them a little disturbed, though. I was ordered to loop you in, provided you can keep it secret from the rest of the Union. I know how good you are at keeping secrets, so I agreed on your behalf."

She could tell that stung a little, but didn't gain as much pleasure from doing it as she thought she would. Moss sent out an agreement. "Go ahead."

"Allain is my contact in Hightop. He's been compiling reports sent by sandkin agents all over the Orja and inside the Union. He showed them to me, and I'm disturbed as well. It seems your people won't be content just forcing the trejuns back to their side of the ocean. From what we've been hearing, your Chancellor and her advisors are building carts that can cross water!"

Moss sent out some shock at that, but it was immediately followed by contemplation. "How would that even work? It's possible that they could make a cart that would float, if it was hollow and big enough, but how would they move it? Wheels couldn't do that, not underwater."

Despite herself, Char was amused. He was a builder, bark and soul. His first response to troubling news was how it was being done, not what it meant. "From what Allain told me, they turned the wheels sideways. When a wheel spins, it pulls water in from one side, and pushes it out the other. That makes the cart move. They only have a few prototypes as far as we can tell, and they move very, very slowly, but they work."

Finally, he caught up. "But if they want to cross the ocean, they want to invade Trejuna?"

"Or destroy it. Allain thinks they plan to build whole convoys of these water carts, and blast away at Trejuna's shore. Not just until they surrender, but until they're all dead!"

Moss hesitated, and Char did understand his response. He hated violence, but he also hated the trejuns for what they'd done. They'd destroyed more than a third of the Union, for Core's sake! It was only natural that his people would want to exact total vengeance for that. Even Moss seemed to feel that urge himself. She knew him well enough to sense that, at least.

"What are the sandkin going to do about it?"

Char let out some frustration. "There's not much we can do anymore. We've already solidified the treaty, trading our technology and resources for land to occupy in the southern parts of the Union. My people are already preparing carts to move up here, but we're not supposed to even know about these water carts, much less want to stop them. Assuming we even do want to stop them. Even Allain seemed split on that one."

"I still have my reputation as a Union hero. If I make a public statement, people will listen to me. If I were to break my loyalty oath, and make that information public to the entire Union, would that give your people the leverage they need to stop it? To force the Chancellor to accept the trejuns' surrender, if they offer it?"

Again, Char was surprised. "You'd do that? You know the Union's penalty for treason. I doubt you could bond with a Union citizen to protect yourself this time around."

Moss only twitched his branches a little. "It wouldn't be the first time I sacrificed for my people. As long as it's for all of my people and not just the ones in charge, I don't mind."

Char felt her earlier fears about him start to evaporate. Maybe bonding with him hadn't been a bad influence as she'd thought. Maybe some of her sandkin values were starting to push him in another direction. Not that it would matter, if his people ended up executing him anyway. She sent out a negative. "No, given public sentiment about the trejuns and the war, I doubt even this information, or your status as a Union hero, would sway things. Don't break your oath, because it wouldn't do any good even if you did."


They both stayed in silence for a long while, turning the problem over and over in their minds. Or at least Char was; she had no idea what Moss was thinking about. Bonding would fix that, but she didn't know if she could ever do that with him again. With anyone, really.

"I have to go to Trejuna," he said suddenly.

Jolted out of her thoughts, Char had to think that through for a second. "What? Are you crazy?"

"Probably, but it's not like that matters anymore. I assume your people are sending you north shortly? Either off to grove Heirach, or to whatever mobile group has the Chancellor in it?"

"They are. I'm supposed to be picked up the day after tomorrow. I don't know exactly where I'm going, but Allain said I should use the radio to keep being a liaison between your people and mine."

"Your people wouldn't condone a peace emissary being sent to Trejuna, would they? Not this soon after they were attacked."

"Definitely not. Sharpcrag is still fresh in everybody's mind," she said, remembering uncomfortably how she felt about it. "Allain thinks if we put it to a national vote, fewer than twenty percent would be in favor of peace, at least until the whole continent has been reclaimed. After that, it's less clear."

"Then I'm the only option," he concluded. "Your people would never let you go to Trejuna, not with your position of importance as a liaison. None of my people want to go either. That leaves me."

He set out some chagrin. "Look, the war has already turned in the Union's favor. My people are pushing west even now. It's only a matter of time before we reach the sea. If the Chancellor has her way, we'll build huge numbers of water carts, cross the ocean, and kill every last trejun on their island! If I leave right away though, I might be able to get to Trejuna in time to show them what they're up against. If I can convince them to surrender before those carts get built, then the sandkin might be able to convince my people to accept that surrender. Or you might, actually. I doubt they'd listen to Allain if he's hundreds of leagues away. That way the war ends, but most of the people stay alive."

Char seriously doubted that it would be as simple as he was making it sound, but at least he had a plan. That was more than he could say for her own people right now. They were just following the Union's lead, and the Union was being led by people who were apparently fine with genocide! "What kinds of terms do you think your Chancellor will demand? Reparations? Criminal prosecution of the warmasters who survive the war? Will she want territory from Trejuna as a concession?"

"I don't know," Moss admitted. "Any or all of them, maybe. But at least this way they'll be talking and not fighting. If doing this saves even a few lives, it'll be worth it, but I have to try either way. I can't believe that every single one of the trejuns was in favor of this war. It's more likely that they are just afraid of what their president will do to them, if they speak out against it."

Char thought back to the enzyme recordings she'd reviewed while being a part of the Arbormass. She remembered experiencing each one individually, as the various groves had been consumed by Streek Fire. Perhaps some of the trejuns hadn't been in favor of burning those people to death, but they hadn't stopped it either. If concern for their own safety had stopped them from keeping other people alive, that made them the opposite of Moss. He didn't care if he lived or died, as long as he spent his life keeping others safe.

Trying not to think about the likelihood of that happening, she tried to stay on topic. "How would you even get there? All of the carts around us are already being used, either to go to war or to relocate my people up north."

"I'll build my own," he responded confidently. "I'm a hero of the Union. If people ask, I'll just tell them I plan to join the war effort myself. No one will question me. I was planning on building one anyway—” he cut off abruptly. "Oh, Void!"

"What is it?"

Regret flooded out from him. "I promised Rane—oh, Core forgive me. What will I tell him??"

Char recognized that name. He was one of the villagers here in Praska, and apparently a friend of Moss'. She was tempted to offer a suggestion or two, but didn't know enough about the situation. Char had learned through bitter experience that trying to help when you weren't familiar with the details often just made things worse.

Eventually, Moss snapped out of it. "I'll have to think of something," he said despondently. "He won't be happy, but I'd say giving an entire civilization the chance of survival is a little more important."

Still with no idea what he meant, Char brought up something else that she'd been meaning to find out about. "What about the other thing? The—” she hesitated. There was no guarantee this conversation was private. Somehow, this topic was even more sensitive, to her at least, than treason or statecraft. "What about the object we found in the cart in the desert?"

Moss' confusion melted away. "Oh, that. I've already spoken to Father about it. He's agreed to look after it while we're away. He anticipated that one or both of us would be leaving. He's a lot brighter than he lets on, actually. It's probably a politician thing."

"Will it be safe here, though? I mean Praska's not that far away from the front lines right now."

"It will be. He may not have been the best father, but he's always been diligent, attentive and driven. He agreed with me that we should keep it secret from everybody for now. We can always change that if or when we get back. Or you could send for it in a few years. It all depends on what happens."

Char felt a bit of relief at that. One less thing to worry about, but a particularly important thing in this case. "So you're really doing this thing, then?"

He paused for a moment. "I am. I have to. But you knew that already, the moment you told me about what your people discovered."

"Moss, if this is your idea of redemption, there have to be other ways." She wasn't exactly sure what those other ways would be, but there had to be some. Somewhere.

"It isn't. Like I said back in Hightop, there is no redemption for what I've done. I'm making this trip because it's the right thing to do. No other reason."

He said it with a sense of complete certainty. He meant every word. Char let out some frustration at that; at how likely he was to get himself killed in this crazed endeavor. Still, she had to admit he was brave, in his own damaged way. "All right. We have a few hours before Corerise. I have a few ideas about this water cart you're gonna need, and Allain sent what they know about the design your people are working on. Let's bounce ideas around, just like old times."

He sent out a trace of gratitude as they got started. Still, it was laced with bitterness. At what, she couldn't tell.