This time it's "But what are those "poor" Russian Mentalists going to do, marooned in the woods like that?"
So I'm doing what I call organizational writing. Sorting out the factions by fictionally writing out what they're doing. So . . . I'll inflict it on you guys:
Lost in the Woods
There were a hundred and ten people in the Mikhailov Camp. And interlocking mess of relatives, plus all the servants and Cyborgs. Unfortunately the important ones were screaming at each other.
Leonti shoved his fingers in his ears, and could still hear them.
"Why the hell we ever left Novaya Moskva . . ."
"Because of the PLAGUE you idiot!" His father had the loudest voice.
"Da! The opportunity to be the first on the ground to take over from the Germans! It was a disaster from the first!"
Getting behind a big tree didn't help a bit. And now Aunt Kamilla's shrill voice.
"And then you fell for that 'Khar's' tall tale about the High Tech Civilization, which has evaporated and left us in a howling wilderness!"
"It wasn't Khar!" Big brother Benedikt joining in. "I told you. The fool said he got knocked out and everything he had was stolen, he woke up here, buck naked. Can't remember the whole last month."
"Like we believe a word he says?"
"We seniors will discuss . . . several things this evening. We have twenty of the families here--that I know of offhand--and I'm sure there are more, not that the youngsters are going to get a vote until they proven themselves. The Oldest will meet tonight. Volya and Ivan will come with me. Three Cyborgs." Father turned and scowled at the women, then beyond, at the servants. "The three youngest girl servants, and we'll take along a platter of meats, and vodka."
"But we don't have much left!"
"You can't replace the servants if you let the men harm them!"
"Who will protect us while you're gone!"
"Three hundred save me from a pack of wailing women!"
Leonti gave up and headed for the stream. Almost a small river, he slid down the sandy bank, using the willow saplings for handholds and brakes. He spotted his sister and headed her way. "Hey Mash, what's that? A basket?"
She grinned, "Hey Leon, forget all your Young Pioneers training? It's a fish trap."
"Oh! Good idea! All my snares have caught is one stupid rabbit. So far."
And Father laughed at it, because he had shot a deer. But what's going to happen when he runs out of ammunition? The fish trap is a really good idea.
"You're going to need a rope, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I thought I might be able to rig something up . . ."
"I think I've got a rope. I'll be right back." He headed back up the bank, grinning.
Masha will never get a brain chip, and I won't get turned into a Cyborg if I fail my presentation. Maybe there won't be any more presentations!
At the top, he circled around to the cars--out of charge and immobile now, but still the best shelter they had. Father, of course, had taken over the back of the truck as his home. The Cyborgs and servants slept on the ground, and the rest of them split up between the three cars.
Of course Uncle Volya wanted his own car, with his latest wife.
Which left fourteen of them of them, counting his oldest sister's two kids, to pack into two cars.
He and Masha had given up the first day and slept out as close to Forty-nine as they could get away with. To his ssurprise, Grandmother Magda, who hardly did anything these days, had joined them. Forty-nine had given the old woman his blanket. The old Cyborg had been there for all of their lives, a "bride gift" who'd come with his mother. And now that they were trapped in the wilderness, he was more protective than ever. And smarter . . . or just letting it show.
Not that he believed the snotty comments from Cousin Darya about him being so close to his mom they probably . . . well, never mind.
Although I sure wish he was my father!
He shook off the pointless pondering and grabbed his backpack. They'd had so little notice to pack that he'd just stuffed clothes on top of all his old scout gear in his backpack . . . so there ought to be . . . yep. Thin tough rope.
He shrugged into the straps and headed for the stream. He could inventory everything in the backpack down there, see what he had that would be useful . . .
And magic. Instead of lessons on how to control Cyborgs, I can try some of the stuff I've read about . . .
Being marooned is fantastic. I hope no one ever finds us.
The old Cyborg climbed into the back of the truck. A bit of hunting through boxes and he'd located the good vodka.
Forty-nine glanced at Lord Klim.
"Not the best. That should be reserved for private meetings." His master growled, a bit. "Twenty men, possibly more. Five bottles would be . . ."
"Cheap." Forty-nine put in, and received a glare in return. A painful flick, a split second headache. But he flinched, cringed just a bit.
"Parsimonious, but today . . . I am going to act like I'm rich. I'll take ten. Put them in the boot of Volya's limo, we'll take it. And that little table."
Forty-nine removed two bottles from the purpose-made bottle-carrier box, replaced them with stacks of shot glasses and carried the box around to Volya's long black vehicle. It was, barely, more suited to the wilderness than Benedikt's sports car, and marginally behind Klim's substantial sedan.
The servants and Cyborgs had mostly been crammed into very utilitarian vehicles, that could not be used for this meeting.
The box truck, apart from being a bit top heavy, was probably their best vehicle for the situation.
Forty-nine looked back. Lord Klim was walking toward Lord Volya, his younger brother.
I have a few seconds, if I'm really going to do this.
But he was already twisting off the caps. And carefully using his cyborg hand, he pulled the little globe out of his pocket. The pin in his right hand pricked it and he dripped . . . whatever it was . . . into the bottles, screwing on the caps. He heard footsteps behind him and dropped the deflated glob on the ground beside the pin, picked up the box, and turned as Ivan Kuznetsov, Volya's son-in-law stalked up and opened the boot.
Forty-nine place the box in the boot, walked back to the truck for the little table maneuvered it into the boot. He stepped back as Ivan thumped the lid down and walked away.
The Cyborg bent and picked up the globule and pin. Plunged the pin into the soil a few times, then retreated to the primitive out house and dropped the globule in. Threaded the pin through the cloth under the lapel of his uniform. He was reasonably sure he hadn't gotten any of the Plague on his left hand, but he still walked down to the river and washed it. Circled back, checked that the resentful cook was laying out a pretty arrangement of meats--mostly thin slices of venison, but the lumps were probably left-over rabbit.
I'm proud of that boy, jumping right in to do whatever he can. And Masha's fish trap needs work, but it's also a damned good idea.
Lord Klim was herding people toward the limo, Lady Kamilla to remove her wardrobe and cosmetics, the men, Cyborgs and servants to fit themselves in.
Forty-nine drove, the other two cyborgs crammed into the front with him, the servant girls carefully holding the meat platter while trying to minimally attract the attention of the three older men.
Lord Ivan, at eighty was the youngest. Volya was only a year older, and had married his fourth daughter off to his old friend . . . his older daughters were back on Novaya Moskva.
Lord Klim was ninety, and having had rejuvenation treatments, looked perhaps fifty.
The treatments leave ninety percent of the men sterile. I suspect half the strongest Mentalists are sterile. An interesting situation, in the long run. And what comes of it will depend on how successful I am at spreading the plague to the most dangerous people.
Because if that man, the false Khar, is telling the truth, we cyborgs can escape their control. The women, minds dulled by their brain chips can recover.
Please, please let Olga and Vitaliya recover. The daughter of that bright girl I loved, and mourned when I met her again, a Cyborg, and nothing she ought to have . . . loved. And her with a chip dulling her bright personality. Fading fast, now. Damn this culture, and damn Lord Klim, my owner, for what he's done to the woman who might easily be my daughter. And Vity. Don't know if she's my granddaughter or not. Please, if there is a god, let me help my love, my daughter, my granddaughter and all the other women here.
And if any of them try anything with Leon or Mash, they will die.
Benedikt has been forced into his roll as a young Mentalist, and done well.
If only he didn't enjoy it so much. He's on his own, yet I'm glad he isn't along for this meeting.
The refugees were strung out over nearly fifty kilometers of dirt road. Looping through a forest, around a meadow, across a crude bridge and winding ever downward and northward for another twenty kilometers. Where it ended as pointlessly as it started. A road beginning and ending nowhere, a trap to seduce them into moving to a world that appeared to be not just void of a civilization, but any people at all.
Forty-nine spotted a line of cars parked beside the road just short of the bridge, and joined them.
"You should go to the head of the line, dammit!" Volya's attempt to punish him was barely felt.
"Not while he's driving, Volya." Ivan yelped.
"He was practically stopped." Volya snapped.
"No more. We need to support each other." Klim frowned.
Forty-nine turned off the car, got out and opened the door on his side.
Twenty-two, who wasn't terribly bright, did manage to open the door on the other side, and Thirteen nudged him out of the way so Lord Volya could get out.
Then he opened the boot and handed the table to Thirteen, and carried the box of vodka himself. No point in courting disaster.
He took to the road and walked on it as close to the cluster of old mentalists as he could, before turning between two cars and walking carefully across the uneven ground.
There was a semi-circle of chairs, facing a long table with three chairs. To the left, two mismatched tables to one side with an assortment of food on display. The old men eyed Lord Klim's entourage as the three men joined the rest.
Forty-nine pointed at a spot a few meters away from the nearest food table and set down the box. Stepped to the food table and shifted a few plates to make room for the meat platter.
Klim beats almost the people I see here, with two family members, three Cyborgs and three servants. Although Ivan Kuznetsov no doubt stands here for his Family Name.
And Berezin's got a flock, if those are the grown sons I've heard mentioned.
But it does look like all the old men have plenty of Cyborgs and most of them several serving girls as well. And here come two more younger men, must be the only representatives of their families here. One more car on the road and the meeting is on.
No, here's a fellow trotting up on foot . . . Nikita Khariton Morozov.
Got to give him points for nerve, showing up in ragged pair of shorts some servant threw him so women wouldn't have to see his privates.
We may only have twenty-two of the Hundred Families, but we probably would be better off with just twenty-one . . . and there go the top three.
Lord Max Afanasiy Berezin, the strongest of the Older Hundreds, flanked by Lord Vitaly Vasiliev and Lord Evgeny Dryagin.
They blocked the scruffy, half-naked man.
Morozov stopped and glared. "That. Wasn't. Me!"
Berezin snorted. "Of course not. You were beaten and held captive while a man with a tattoo identical to yours imitated you. And do you know why I believe you? It's because you are so very obviously a weak whiny nothing. Whoever that was--an infiltrator from the German Families, I suspect--he was worth ten of you."
"Go away, you thorn-faced fool. There is no place for you here."
"Ivanov and Smirnov are here." The ugly boy glared back.
"They represent their families. You have none. Begone."
The boy's fists knotted, and his jaws muscles showed for a moment. Then he turned and walked away.
Twenty years old, his father sent him through first to set everything up for the rest of the family . . . then the gate collapsed and he was alone. The man who imitated him must have substituted himself in the chaos of those first hours.
And now he's worse than alone. Shunned. Cast out.
Not going to get dosed tonight. I may have to kill him.
The last comers also had food offerings, and a bottle of vodka each.
Forty-nine shrugged mentally. Close to Forty True Men here tonight. I've rolled the dice. Now we'll see what comes up.
He circled to stand at attention on the side of the crowd nearest Lord Klim. Twenty-Two wandered over and joined him. Thirteen had taken a position ninety degrees away, to see everything from a different angle.
Unlikely anything would happen here, the Old Mentalists were giving each other plenty of room. The serving girls were scooting back and forth, bringing snacks to their masters. And at a signal from Berezin, shot glasses of vodka that had been dyed red.
When I was a child . . . I practiced the oath with my brother . Half brother. Bastards can be presented. I tried so hard to be the truest of True Men . . . didn't do me a bit of good.
Yeah. Swear by the blood of your enemies . . .
Then with some shuffling about, the eighteen men representing their Family sat in the arc, and Berezin, Vasiliev, and Dryagin sat on the far side of the table, like a trio of judges.
At least they don't have thrones.
Berezin started. "As you all know, we have been betrayed by the Germans we sold Neu Franfort to.
"There is nothing we can do about it. Unless someone opens a gate to here, we are stranded and must make as good of a life as possible, here in this wilderness.
"We are fortunate to have twenty-one of the Russian Families here with us, and while we all we work for our own Family, we need to not harm other Families, however few their numbers. We need to cooperate, and remember that we will all be inter-marrying within a few generations.
"Which brings up the most obvious problem. Even disregarding the Cyborgs, there are more than twice as many men as women. Women must be protected, and never harmed. Some . . . whose proclivities take them that direction will become whores. And they still must not be harmed."
Berezin sighed. "And . . . those of us who have had regen therapy . . . should remain married to older women, who are past child-bearing age. But these unpleasant details are something we will work out later. I just wanted to quickly make you all realize that women have become a scarce resource. Very valuable."
He spread his hands. "Now let's talk about government. Not that we need much. But we need to meet regularly, to exchange information, and deal with conflicts without blood shed."
Damned little chance of that, especially as the magic fades, and you are left with the few weapons you brought and your wits. Which are considerable, and possibly sufficient. We'll see.
Lady Olga seated her mother at the head of the table. Magda Zarkov was eighty, and deserved the honor, even through Ana would be doing the work of the hostess from her right hand side.
And through it made her grit her teeth, she sat her husband's younger brother's new wife "Lady Kamilla" on the left, before she circled around to sit herself. I should feel sorry for the girl--two stepdaughters one five years older than she is and one less than a year younger than she is--but she's so petty!
And whatever possessed Lord Klim to marry his fourth daughter to a man his own age . . . "Anuska, come sit by me! How are you feeling?" Poor thing! A bad time to be pregnant . . . I must inquire about doctors . . .
Her own oldest rolled her eyes. Vitaliya'd been a bit sarcastic about the formal manners in the wilderness, but then, widowed with two young daughters, she was a bit harried. She grabbed the chair at the foot of the table and pointed the girls at the seats between her and Anuska.
Darya, poor girl wasn't dealing well with her new chip. At least, as a Lord's daughter, she hadn't had her head shaved. But it had been eight months. She ought to have adjusted by now. She looked relieved when Masha trotted up and took the seat next to Kamilla.
My baby's seventeen . . . and there isn't any way to get her a chip to . . . celebrate . . . her adulthood next year . . . Olga ignored a faint feeling of relief.
A serving girl set out wine glasses . . . soft tumblers for the littles . . .
Mother grunted and pulled a bottle of wine out of the bag she carried everywhere. "This one . . . Illya said it was good. There's enough to share around."
Olga glanced at the label . . .Oh no! Not the slop we give the servants and Cyborgs!
Olga suppressed a gleeful smile. "Thank you, Mother. Let me pour you some."
Just half a glass, same for the glaring Kamilla. It looks more like a rose than a cheap white . . . She poured for 'Nuska, herself, then passed it down to Vita, who pour a token splash for herself, Darya and Masha. The littles pouted and got a few drips in their cups, then their mother diluted that bit with water.
Lady Olga raised her glass. "May the Families stay strong. May we face and conquer our challenges."
She took a sip . . . blinked. That is a rose, and a nice crisp . . . "My, that is good." She gulped and felt a little flushed.
Mother grinned. "I think someone . . . fortified it." She sipped and nodded.
Kamilla swayed in her seat. "Well, that can't possibly be what the label says it is. Who is this Illya Lady Magda refers to occasionally?"
"Oh, an old childhood friend. He's . . . not with us anymore, but Mother occasionally gets confused."
Kamilla actually blushed. "Oh. Sorry."
Yes. Please don't notice my old Mother's growing senility.
The serving girl brought out salad plates. Skimpy, disguised as elegant.
Leonti and his scouting book. I hope everything is as edible as he claims.
Some of the greens were a little bitter, the pair of berries, tart. But it was nice to have something fresh. The servant brought the wine she'd been planning to serve and the adults got a glass each. Nice, not unlike the rose, no doubt she ought to have ordered the girl to get clean glasses, but they needed to be as frugal with soap as with . . . everything.
Today she was indulgeing . . . a little.
"So, ladies, we are going to have to step up and figure out how to help with surviving in this wilderness while maintaining our positions in society." Olga looked around the table. "We need shelters that can later be the servants' quarters, to shelter us and our children while we plan and build proper homes."
They all glanced around the clearing, the long shadows of trees in the afternoon.
Masha perked up and pointed. "Can we have a mansion on the hill?"
"I think, " Goodness I feel so clear-headed! I hope it's not just the wine going to my head! "I think we'll be wanting four large houses to start with, and adding more as the boys mature."
Vita nodded. "We should spread out. We'll need manors. Room to hunt. We may have to domesticate our own livestock. Gardens and orchards . . . Do we have potatoes? We mustn't eat them! We'll plant them."
The fish plate. Goodness, Masha's an enterprising young lady. But I wish she hadn't watched Forty-nine deal with the first one, and then insisted on cleaning one herself. Leonti, now that just to be expected of a boy, but I'll need to watch that Masha doesn't forget she's a top prospect. She should marry an important husband . . . Lord Berezin has an unmarried son. And that's no longer out of reach.
Magda cleared her throat. "The servants have four hens. They have one of them sitting on eggs, hoping they will hatch. I do wish Illya'd also been able to find a calf on short notice."
Anuska wrinkled her nose. "I don't recall a servant named Illya."
I wish Mother wasn't so chatty today! And I'll check, about the hens. I did hear clucking . . . didn't I?
"That will give us a small start towards a civilized diet." Olga looked uphill. "We'll get the men's opinions on the amount of land we ought to claim."
Kamilla nodded. "I think we'll be eating a lot of venison . . ."
Masha nodded. "We need to find other animals, capture the young ones. There are wild goats and sheep aren't there?"
A serving woman scurried up to removed the fish plates and two others brought dessert. A cooked pudding with canned fruit.
Vita sighed. "Enjoy it girls, it may be a long time before we have anything like this again."
Anuska nodded. "A formal luncheon was a good idea, Aunt Olga. I feel like I can deal with the future, now."
The Young Men
Benedikt Klim Mikhailov looked at the younger man in disgust. Nikita Khariton Morozov. How did I ever mistake whoever the hell that man was for this . . . creature?
"That's the worst bow I've ever seen. Do you actually expect it to work?"
"It's to test the bowstrings I'm making. The real bow will be better." The tattooed idiot sneered. "How about you? Are you even trying to hunt? I don't see a gun. Have you been trained to hunt magically?"
It didn't help a bit that the two brats--his little brother and his cousin's stepson--exchanged grins, yelling, "Magic hunting!" as they slapped hands.
"Why no, Khar, I don't know how to hunt using only magic. I have, however, hunted both deer and boar. Successfully. How about you?"
Khar growled and went back to rubbing a straight stick with a rock.
Anatoly and Rodion snickered.
Osip grinned. "Trying to start a fire?"
"No. I am sanding down an arrow shaft."
One of the younger set snickered. Artem Dimitrii Ivanov was probably in his mid-twenties. He was here with an older brother, his mother and a sister. The other one, Nikifor Makar Smirnov, also had an older brother, plus two sisters with children.
The two smallest "Families."
Their older brothers went to the meeting yesterday. Representing their Families, small as they were. Father ought to have taken me with him. We're a larger Family than both their families together!
I'm strong enough to stand with them . . . I think.