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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Eighteen: Growing Pains

By the fifth year of the Change, the settled territories had established tentative boundaries and developed some idea of how both regional and national governments might work. Populations were still isolated from one another by distance and modes of transportation and when faced with limits and losses to their base of skills and resources, their neighbors were too few and too far away to be counted on. They were coping with the loss of continuity that comes from a long, shared history as they struggled to survive in the radically changed world they now faced.

As a result, their visions of community seldom matched perfectly with folks in other territories. Those who had established locally-chosen rules based on old world notions sometimes struggled to come to a mutual understanding with other groups who had different notions. While most clung to some semblance of democratic rule, many added creative variations that spoke to their particular circumstances and populations but were not easily translatable to people in other circumstances. The Hoppers maintained a peaceful understanding with the people of Falling Spring regarding recreational use of smokable hemp, for instance. But in territories who viewed their use of hemp as an evil drug, it was a different story. When interactions went badly, the Brothers came, freed them from arrest, relieved them of what they saw as a commercial product and just sent them home. It was hard work, but in most cases practical solutions were found that enabled groups to form agreements, either by making adjustments to the rules or by nudging some elements of a population to seek a home with those who were more likely to agree with them.

As the regions were established, those who called themselves The Religious and were called Lidges by others at first sought to lay claim to the entire western third of the island of Ozarkia – from the southern harbor at Theo to the farthest reaches of the uninhabited north. Unfortunately for them, others had already spoken for the parts of that region where pre-Change settlements survived or new ones had become established. Those others were willing to organize enough to form their own regional government but wanted nothing to do with the rigid theocracy adopted by their southern brethren. Among those who asked to be “included out” were a pair of enclaves that held inholdings both east and west of the once thriving but now struggling village of Ava. One was a women’s land trust, mostly lesbian. The other was a clan of avowed anarchists who wanted little association with outsiders, and, in fact, had vowed to reject any form of government that sought to rule them. The small trading post that had sprung up there at the Ava crossroads, composed mostly of a couple of extended families of B’hai, supported and made a connection with both communities, which were the largest source of the post’s livelihood. The resulting scattered community took a vow of kindness toward all who showed them respect, and called it good. They were willing to be helpful and get along, and wished neither to cause trouble nor to deal with the troubles of others, they said.

A dozen miles north, on a high ridge that overlooked the western ocean, more settlers gathered and formed a town from the survivors of the vanished western lands, coming to ground in the remains of the old village of Mansfield. The ragged settlement swiftly grew into a thriving, diverse community that called itself Hilltop. Its success was thought to lie in its location, where the remains of the old east-west highway crossed a north-south highway that once had run all the way from the new south coast far into the northern wilderness, where no one had come from and no one had yet gone – or if they had, they either never came back or weren’t talking about it. The town made its living primarily as a stop-off on the road to other lands, including the coastal settlements that had grown up adjacent to Amish farmland. Travel between those lands, however, required the building of new roads, because the Mansfield Fault had shifted during the cataclysm, leaving towering bluffs in place of the road west. Catering to travelers, Hilltop became a handy location for inns, hotels, and stores of various kinds.
The existence of settled lands at the end of the north road was rumored, but few had traveled very far in that direction. Civilized territory stopped at the abode of the metal miners and landfill scavengers, among them the blond men who passed through Falling Spring on their way between the territories selling their repurposed wares. As their work was hard and dangerous and involved mostly the repurposing of metal, they had taken to calling themselves the Ragtags, and mostly kept apart from others except when they joined the traders in their now twice yearly caravans.

Across the territories, such people as had stayed on or come back to their family holdings were assumed to have undisputed claim to them, while those places that remained abandoned for the entirety of years since the change could be claimed by others seeking land on which to settle.

Some of the logical changes in the overall culture of this new nation could have been predicted by anyone with any training in sociology, or so observed Steven in a journal he was keeping to track the newly forming history of the New World’s beginnings. The Society of Brothers, for instance, had gotten its start as part of a natural process kindled during that first long winter at Glen’s Cave. Glen himself, Steven noted, had come to these hills some years before the Change, seeking the life of a hermit, trying to escape the press of civilization. But the collapse of that civilization had driven him back out into the world, first to explore and then to look for what he could do to help those who survived. The formation of the Brothers had been one major result.

By way of the town meetings, the family dinner gatherings and a host of groups of like-minded folks who formed relationships in families and other alliances, the people of Mumbros learned to heal by talking through their sufferings and triumphs, until they found resolutions. Simply speaking, he said, they honored one another and came to peace. Instead of arguing over what to do in a new circumstance, they thought through the problems as they arose and dealt with them. Over time, and sooner than many would have predicted, a new vision of order, choice, responsibility, and accountability was brought into being at Falling Spring. The emerging vision was a surprise to many.

Somewhere in the fourth year, Steven asked Moira if she was happy at how the community was developing. “I suppose a good part of our emerging world view, as well as our ability to accept changes, was carved out by the hardships of the past. We realized that to survive we had to get along with one another. For a long time we thought we were just one tiny group among the few surviving remnants of humanity. Now that remnant has become a thriving, growing culture. We are now vigorously involved in the work of starting anew. I’m proud of how far we’ve come in such a short span of time.”

Actually, Steven observed, the thing that had finally tipped the balance and had brought the territories together to forge a council with jurisdiction over the whole nation was the problem of random groups and individuals laying exclusive claim to resources that were actually owned by none but vital to all. It was one thing for a territory to try laying claim to a large chunk of what they thought to be abandoned land for their potential future use, as the Lidges had attempted. It was quite another to simply hijack a resource vital to the nation and hold it for ransom.

It had started with coinage. Needing a common medium of currency the council had managed to settle on a currency of coinage based on the dollar. Since there was as yet no way yet to replicate paper currency, an agreement was reached to assign new value to the metal coinage they could garner, and so when bank vaults were breached, making coin more readily available, the territories once again had a common medium of exchange. The problem that developed was one of scalping – there were some few in isolated areas who had seized not just coins but other vital resources, then jacking up prices to the point of outright banditry. A shipment of salt was stolen. Several caves containing saltpeter were stripped of the substance, which was vital to the curing of meat. So agreements were enacted that limited holdings, establishing reasonable property rights, and defining those things that were to be considered as “community property, in the national interest.” Because Mumbrosans and the Burenites to the east were the most prosperous and therefore the most intent on fair dealings with their neighbors, Steven wrote, they were the ones who drove the need for a central authority. The Council stepped into that space and a national government, casual as it was, came into being. During that same period a separate eastern contingent of the Brothers was formed, based in Popular and given a mandate to enforce order and fair play in those areas and beyond.

Moira’s extended family constituted the largest and most influential group of scientists, and so, as promised at that first conference on education, Mumbros was where scientists and students of the sciences gathered for advanced studies. Soon, enough students had completed advanced degrees that in the autumn of the fourth year the University of The Plains established an Institute for Graduate Studies at Falling Spring.

To the surprise of some but not all, one group at the institute immediately put its focus on studying the apparently increasing mental capacities and psychic abilities of the sentient beings, not all of them humans. As they established parameters to monitor and record their findings, which echoed the suspicions and beliefs the first family had voiced more than a year earlier, the researchers verified observations that without any visible cause or pattern, individuals in all the sentient species were developing some unique and identifiable abilities.

Among humans, some had an uncanny ability to track animals, others could find their way through the wilderness without a map or compass, still others could seek out and find salvage, a few seemed to be able to heal minor physical injuries solely through touch. These new abilities were no respecters of gender or cultural roles and so even as more than a few of the men elected to become or remain homebodies, one of the women, then two, then five, had chosen and insisted upon a place among the Brothers and had been accepted after demonstrating their own suitable skills. Some abilities, on the other hand, had been identified as disabilities, when a few sad individuals found themselves trapped by emotional actions and reactions they were unable to control, and had to be cared for gently by the community at large. Results of those studies, as Steven noted, were kept confidential, although observations by the community as a whole became fireside tales, soon developing into a colorful mythology discussed widely, especially in evenings at the Inn.

For all their successes over the past five years in preserving knowledge and skills, many more ordinary talents were still in short supply, and people’s abilities and skills of all kinds became more highly valued. Crafters, especially carvers, sculptors, and fiber artists, began offering apprenticeships so those skills could be passed into younger hands. Even Lon Brixey began encouraging those interested in the brewing, winemaking and the distilling of spirits to sharpen and pass on their skills, encouraging more than one young fancier of chemistry to spend an apprenticeship at Grove Hill. His timing was excellent, because another small upriver settlement in a long valley suited for farming had been gifted with a variety of nursery starts including bundles of fruit tree scions that had been heeled in by Tish and some helpers as she unloaded her cart of rare and precious plant starts. After five years of establishing orchards and vineyards, that settlement was able to supply Falling Spring and other communities with such luxuries as cherries, plums and the first of the bamboo harvests. And, to Lon’s delight, they were just now coming into a sizable harvest of wine grapes. “Go! Do the work! Come back a vintner or a distiller!” He had shouted repeatedly at the students nursing an after-class pint of ale at the Inn. And some of them did.

Another cultural shift underway was the announcement by a few brave men that while they intended to fulfill their duties of maintaining and adding to the still fragile gene pool, they preferred as their domestic companions, as did Toby and Rickard, the company of other men. A few women expressed similar, if opposite, inclinations. No one balked at either notion, though there was some small but heated discussion in some quarters about the possible rifts in the fabric of culture if people started stepping outside their more “natural” roles. That assertion was laughed into silence by a community of people that was beginning to get a new sense of itself. That they were all still human, Moira, as their leader, never doubted. But they were beginning to be something more as well. Enlightened, perhaps. Open, certainly.

But government, even on the village level, was not as simple as some might think, Moira observed after a particularly painful discussion among the midwives that spring. For unknown reasons, one and then a second newborn had arrived suffering serious conditions that had begun inside the womb and that would make life difficult if not impossible to sustain. The conditions were dissimilar: one frail little girl was born with a malformed and barely functional heart; the other infant, a boy, arrived looking perfect, but with lungs that had never developed properly. His every breath was a gasp, and treatment options were simply non-existent for either child. Ellen and Moira had sat with Alice, holding her hands each time as she weighed her choices: to let them suffer their slow way to a pain-filled, frightening end, or to take their lives in her hands and end them herself. And there was a second question: Should they make those difficult decisions on their own, or let the parents decide. As it turned out, whether by fate or the kindness of the gods, neither of those awful decisions came to them. The girl, born to a couple from the bus people, was at her mother’s breast feebly trying to nurse when she gave a sudden shudder and just stopped. Her parents had been prepared for that possibility from the first, and took it in stride, grieving but understanding that their tiny child had been spared much unnecessary pain by that outcome.

The second child, born to free agents Rae Jean Compton and Arthur Slocum, was still gasping when Alice came into the birthing room just off the infirmary. Rae Jean had been ensconced there holding the infant, whom she’d named Amos, for most of the day once the birthing was ended. She was patting him, crooning to him, stimulating his arms and legs, hoping against hope that his breathing would improve. It would not, but she didn’t believe that just now. Alice stepped up beside the bed and put her hand on Rae Jean’s forehead.

“You have to get some rest for yourself, honey,” she said. “I can hold him for a little bit while you nap some.” She took up the infant, said “Hello, little Amos,” and wrapped him in a small blanket she’d heated on the stove in the next room. She sat down in a rocking chair next to the bed and began her vigil.

Rae Jean fell asleep almost at once, and Alice had almost dozed off as well when she began detecting a change in the raspy breathing coming from the small bundle. It was slowing. She looked across at Rae Jean who looked back, her eyes filling with tears. But when Alice offered to hand the infant back to his mother, she shook her head. “Don’t disturb him,” she said.

Slower and slower came the little gasps, until finally he seemed to take in a long, unhurried breath followed by a deep sigh, and the tiny newcomer fell into that deepest of sleeps and was gone. “Sweet dreams, little Amos,” Alice whispered. “Sweet dreams.”

Arthur was summoned from his post outside and the parents wept together, while Alice sought Moira in the greenhouse nearby.

“It’s over,” she said. When Moira gave her a questioning look, she shook her head. “He went on his own. I guess he just wanted to come in and look around a bit. He may be back sometime.”

“If love has its way,” Moira answered.

That night at the family’s supper, medical choices, midwifery and childbearing were high on the agenda of topics at table.

“Couldn’t we have done anything at all,” Steven asked, deep in sorrow at the news.

“If we had any kind of technological sophistication,” Ellen began, but Moira overrode her comment.

“But we don’t. And we won’t. And everything that could be done was done. And at some point we’re just going to have to resign ourselves to the fact that in earlier times it was the midwife’s job not only to catch the baby and see to the birth, arranging the tools, educating the parents, it was also her job to recognize when the fetus or the newborn just wasn’t viable. We’re back to that point. We don’t have a neonatal center. We won’t have one in our lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. All we have here are our skills and our training and our compassion. If reinforcements were coming, they would already be here. It’s on us. The hard stuff should always go to those who are able to deal with it. There’s no one to hand it off to. It’s. On. Us.” Dinner went on from there, but mostly in silence.

This year at Beltane everyone, even the staunchest Christians, joined in the raucous and rowdy celebration of survival, fruitfulness, and, for the first time, real hope for the future. Due partly to the continued separation of the sexes during the winter months for the first years of what had come to be called “new time,” and partly to the continuing evolution of consciousness, there came to be more and more unions of varying degrees of intimacy and variety. An overriding consciousness of the fragility of the gene pool grew into an acceptance of what came to be called pan-families, with women bearing children by more than one father, and men fathering children by several mothers. Same-sex unions were accepted, but refusal to bear or to father children was frowned upon unless there were health or gender identity issues involved. Households formed of small groups of individuals who felt affinities for one another and shared relationships of varying intimacy within them. Likewise, extended families tended to occupy one or adjoining households for extended periods. The only taboos enforced strongly were those against incest, battery, and the abuse of the helpless — anyone caught stepping over those lines was simply shunned and sent into the wilderness to fend for themselves, often with a tattoo applied to their foreheads that proclaimed them a danger to others. It was a lesson that needed little reinforcement after being demonstrated a couple of times.

As for the Brothers, there came a time when their shelter and headquarters turned into a retreat and training center. In this fifth year, the fields, cropland and commodities for export reached a sustainable level. With hunger no longer an ever present danger, the men who had been wintering in the north finally came home for good.

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Fifteen: Endings and New Beginnings

After her dusty hunt in the seed vaults, the warm breeze and comfortable seat felt wonderful. As she cracked open the elderly textbook she smiled at the memory of Steven and Jared, her two favorite boys, hanging out together. She was pleased to see Steven in such a good mood today. It had been almost four months now since he had left the village one last time with Ellen, and Glen on what proved to be a terrible trip to the their former homes in the once-thriving community of Alton. The trip had had several goals: to search for any vestiges of Steven’s extended family, to locate others who might want to come to Falling Spring, and to retrieve anything that might be left of Ellen’s library or her herb plants and the products she’d made of them.

Ellen’s was the first place they had gone. They had found the house mostly trashed but still intact, and still holding a cellar full of dark bottles containing herbal tinctures. They had wrapped them in scraps of cloth and paper and carefully packed them in a pair of potato crates that had been converted to saddle bags for the pack horse. They had hidden those in the barn along with their pack horse, so they’d not be challenged or robbed. They had spent another hour searching the weed-filled garden for herbal mother plants, and found several, including a horsetail rush, a gone-to-seed lovage plant, a similarly decked bronze fennel, horehound and a prized spearmint. Ellen dug up the rush and the mint while the men clipped the seed heads of the other two, wrapped the plants in a scrap of burlap, bagged the seeds, and stowed them with the tinctures.

Proceeding on into town, they’d found the village in ruins, with most of the families gone and those that remained in dreadful circumstances. All semblance of civilization had vanished and chaos reigned. When they stopped to ask about lost relatives, a sinister looking crowd began to form and people had rushed them, trying to take their horses, presumably for food. They had barely escaped, Glen finally shooting one man in the leg and clubbing another away with his rifle barrel as he tried to grab the reins of Ellen’s mare. Some had been family friends, but they had reverted to a desperate state and were almost feral. The trio had told no one where they’d come from and had taken a circuitous route back to Ellen’s barn to retrieve the pack horse and its precious cargo.

They returned to Falling Spring grief-stricken, both Ellen and Steven vowing to never return to that sad place again. Ellen had not grown up in Alton and had no family ties, so the loss she felt was primarily for her home place. Steven, though, was deeply wounded by what he had seen. He made an emotional vow that Falling Spring was now and would always be his home, and he was home for good.

But the experience seemed to add to his depression, and even after months, grief for his lost family tormented him and he was consumed by sadness. As an antidote, he worked himself brutally and was always in search of more to do. Gradually he began to regain some bits of both his sense of humor and his sanity, but he was very quiet now and still worked best when left alone. Even now Glen and Moira and Ellen made sure they never left him alone too often or for too long.

Joey, who was asking them to call him Joel now that he had entered his tweens, loved Steven and seemed to understand his grief on some deep level. He was content to work at Steven’s side for hours in a steady, companionable silence, although with others he was so talkative as to almost be a pest. He seemed to instinctively sense what Steven was going through and was determined to be there for him. As Jared grew, Steven acquired another fan, one who eased his troubles and made him laugh. So Jared was succeeding in a job he didn’t yet know he had.
Jared’s presence might ease some separation anxiety in another few years as Joel reached adulthood and settled into his own path. She thought that path would likely be with Glen. In the winter just past, the men who had journeyed north to Glen’s former homestead to stay through the coldest months had made good use of their time. Glen had proposed they use their idle time to organize a kind of “brotherhood,” of men to serve the village and its environs in an organized way as workers, helpers and defenders. Together they worked out a set of principles, defined their duties and began to train, neither as a militia, a postal service nor a social service agency, but as a curious mix of all those. From the small, frightened, and disoriented array of men and boys there arose a tight unit with strict rules of conduct and a scheduled term of service. The group sometimes served as a law enforcement entity that now patrolled the region around Falling Spring and sometime became handymen, social workers or caregivers, seeing to various of the community’s needs as they arose. The group was open to any person, male or female, in the village and the surrounding environs, if they wished to take the oath and participate in the training. Its headquarters remained secret, in the hidden cave at Glen’s homestead. Its purpose simply to serve with integrity the practical needs of the community’s citizens, as well as those of people living in the surrounding area. As recruitment continued to rise, the stated purpose expanded until now they were considering sending small patrols afield to locate any outlying communities. Locally, they served to pass along news, assist where needed and settle disputes. As they traveled farther into wild and unsettled parts of the territory, they remained constantly on the lookout for useable salvage from the world’s wreckage. Joel planned to join them as soon as he reached the requisite age of 15.

Moira was impressed with Glen’s leadership and insight in seeing what needed to happen with the unsettled men – to give them a purpose, some dignity, and a place to invest their energy. He must have had plenty of time to think, for he’d even come up with a name for the territory surrounding the village. He had said it should honor the people’s evolving traditions of Part Pagan-quasi-Unitarian-Native American-Earth Mother focus, as well as the dedicated brotherhood of helpers dedicated to service, protection, and keeping order in the community at large.

“We appear to be done with the archaic model of man and ‘helpmeet.’ Mothers and sons, or mothers and brothers, is a better model,” he had said, only slightly joking. “It’s egalitarian, it respects everyone, and removes the notion that male energy, with its focus on rule by testosterone, is how things run best. As we’ve seen, that’s just not so, and we have the chance to fix it. We need to give dignity and respect to everyone’s energy. That’s what will keep us running right. I propose we call our piece of the territory surrounding Falling Springs with the name Mumbros, to stand for Mothers and Brothers, and in that way honor them both.”

And so they had voted. The name had taken some getting accustomed to, but people fell into its use fairly quickly. They soon learned that other communities were beginning to stake out what they saw to be their own territories. If they managed to not get into any serious fights over boundaries, this could well evolve into a group of cooperating states. Moira couldn’t help but be pleased at how things were evolving. She opened the book and began to read about hemp.

An hour later, hearing hoofbeats approaching from down the hill, Moira laid her book aside and shaded her eyes with her hand. Far down the way a mounted figure came into view, instantly recognizable. Young Tom Langston had claimed a Missouri Foxtrotter mare gathered in by Glen on one of the Brothers’ trips. The mare’s characteristic gait was evident as Joel appeared to glide up the hill as if seated in a porch swing. The old-timers said if you couldn’t recite the words “a hunk o’ meat and two potatoes” in time with the beat of its hoofs, the animal wasn’t a true Foxtrotter. Tom, having ridden this mount for weeks with his ear cocked to the side to listen to the rhythm, swore that it was true because he’d heard it. She waved as he approached and he swung down easily.

“Go find you some grass and a shady spot,” he said to the mare, looping the reins over the saddle horn, and off she ambled. “I used to think Glen was razzing me about Willie, but she does it too. She understands everything I say. I swear she does.”

“I believe you,” Moira said. She’d had her own experiences with the village’s animals, most particularly with Sheba, her dog, and Stella, the stray cat. Sometimes she swore Stella could hear her very thoughts. All the animals seemed to be showing signs of becoming more aware and more communicative. In fact, the same might be said for some of the humans as well. Ellen insisted that wounds healed faster if she touched them, and it appeared to be so. Moira shook her head in wonder. Even as they clung here at the very edge of survival, it seemed the universe was trying to make amends in odd ways for what they had lost. Not that it was anywhere near an even trade. Not by a mile. Not yet.

“What brings you up this way? Are you looking for Steven? He’s inside.”

“Nope. I found who I’m looking for. You’ve got some visitors down the hill. They’re dressed kind of strange, and they have kind of a different accent. They look like those wha’d’y’call’em, amich, Amish, something, that Glen described after his last trip west. They came driving in a little bit ago in a very nice wagon and it really caused a stir. You’d think somebody had come roaring down Main Street in a new pickup truck from the way people acted. I took them over and got them settled in at the Inn, and told them I’d come and fetch you. Was that all right?”

“It was excellent, clever boy,” Moira said, smiling fondly at the young man. “I guess I’d better put on some clean clothes if I’m bound on official business. You want to ride back and tell them I’ll be down in a bit?”

“Well, actually, I thought I might stay and see if Steven needs any help. You can ride Huffenpuff down, and I’ll come fetch her later. Just tell her to wait over by the spillway. It’s cool there and there’s plenty to eat. Be sure and tell her to stay out of the flowers.”

Moira agreed, put away her book, threw on a clean shirt, and was soon walking up the board sidewalk to the building they’d made the town’s social center and makeshift hotel. A small crowd of the curious was still gathered around the trim and well-outfitted wagon, and they looked at her with eyebrows raised as she passed them with a nod and continued into the Inn.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but not nearly so long to spot the three visitors.
Her best clue was the flat-brimmed black hat they each wore and their long, flowing beards beneath clean-shaven cheeks.

“Gentlemen. I’m Moira Evans, the nearest thing to a leader we have here. How can I help you?” She was startled when they rose and removed their hats to greet her, but she begged them to be seated and pulled up a chair to the table’s end to join them. Her stomach had lurched at first sight of their beards. But Glen had described them as a peaceful people and had said they had expressed a desire to travel here one day soon to discuss trading their excess grain for products that were in short supply in their area. She supposed that was why they were here and she was soon proved correct.

After a few awkward moments while she grew used to their appearance and accents, and they became accustomed to talking frankly with a woman, they got down to business, and trading survival stories, and just plain visiting.

Mumbros territory could certainly use a steady supply of more diverse and better grains, she told them. They would also be needing good wagons, and harness and tools of all description that could be operated without gasoline or electrical power. When she brought up the subject of wild hemp and expressed interest in obtaining a supply of its fiber, she was pleasantly surprised at their reaction.

They, too, had thought of cultivating it. Even growing wild it supplied more than their simple needs for rope and such. But unfortunately they had lost the knowledge of how to process it for other uses. They would send all she wanted of the plants that grew wild in their territory, they said, but cautioned that it was of no value as a smoking material. They said this last in mock seriousness, and they all shared a laugh.

Then they told her why they had come. Their seeds, they said, were blighted. The wheat continued to flourish, and the oats. But garden seeds that had thrived last year had disappointed in the season just ending, and had not produced enough food for their families without rationing. If things grew worse or if the grain failed, they would go hungry. Even now, they said, the sameness of their diets was beginning to be reflected in their health. They had heard that she had seeds that would grow true, they said. Might she please be willing to share? And if so, would she consider barter as payment?

She would, of course. This was the very circumstance she had foreseen from the beginning. The seeds the visitors had been planting in their gardens were hybrids, purchased from the feed store each year. They had produced well the first year, but in many of their saved seeds the cross had not held. They had not retained their altered genetic pattern and could not reproduce the fruit their parents had delivered. By the time another year passed, some would lose almost completely their ability to produce food. It seemed to her a classic and predictable scenario — but then she was a specialist who understood the seeds and what to expect.

“Certainly we can supply you with seeds from our stores,” she said. “We began last year growing out and expanding our stock because we expected this might happen. All of what we grow are varieties you should be able to save and replant again in years to come. There are some plant families, however, that cross-pollinate very easily, especially the cucurbits, and so you may want to come and get new seeds of things like squash, melons, and cucumbers every year or two, just because they mix so readily.”

“We are grateful for your kindness.” said a brown-bearded, kind-eyed man of about 40 years of age who spoke with a thick Germanic accent. “We will happily repay you with grains and with other things we have that you might find useful. We might not have come so soon to seek aid, but with all the refuges, ah, I’m sorry, refugees, we have experienced difficulties keeping everyone fed and our community in order.” At Moira’s puzzled look, he continued. “When the city to the west of us sank beneath the waters, it was a great tragedy. All those thousands of people. It happened so suddenly that most of them were unable to escape. Those who did, though, still were in the hundreds. They descended on us like locusts, most of them with no food, just the clothing on their backs. It was terrible. We were putting people in the barns, in the cattle sheds, any covered places we could find, because it was winter, you see. Still, many were lost, either from the cold, or from illness, or just from the horror of it all.

“But most survived the winter, and now things are beginning to get better. They are learning our ways, and learning to work differently, and learning not to spend all their time correcting our speech or our beliefs. When the fuel for the automobiles is gone, you learn to respect the wagon-maker a little more, I think.” He smiled at Moira with his kind eyes, and she knew she could trust him with her life – and the seeds.
They had expected to come and place their order now and pick up the seeds when they delivered whatever grain was asked in payment. But some food crops, like brassicas and peas, could still be grown this late in the season, and there was no sense in putting off the agreement for formality’s sake, she decided, or to delay planting when it might mean more hunger.

“Why don’t you all spend the night here as our guests. Tomorrow we will go over your list of needs, and I will prepare a supply of seeds suitable for fall gardens and you can take them back with you,” she said. And then she suggested that perhaps if there were stands of the wild hemp still to be had, and if someone were to travel with them back to their land and take along a pack animal or two, they could bring her some of the stalks and seeds of the wild hemp to begin experimenting with.

“You can bring payment when you return in the spring. Actually, we’ve been discussing whether to invite everyone from the surrounding regions to come here for a spring gathering and to bring their wares to sell or trade. We’ll let you know the dates when they’re settled. But you might as well be getting some fall crops in now. There’s plenty of time for greens and peas and some root crops” Her eyes twinkled.

“You’ll be back to see us more often if we can keep your strength up,” she said.

The brown-haired man blushed but admitted it was so. The men ended up staying two nights and left the third morning with their saddlebags loaded with seeds, along with orders for two of the sturdy wagons and a thousand pounds of grain. It was the beginning of what would be a long and happy association between the communities. In time, Moira suspected, a few brown-haired, kind-eyed children might also grace their village. She hoped that it would be so, for every expansion of the gene pool meant a better chance at the survival of all, for they were not out of the woods yet. And, like the seeds, these men were of good stock.

On the evening before they left, she broached another subject that some thought she should ask.

“You know, not all of our community members here are Christian,” she said frankly. “In fact, it has happened that some of those of more conservative backgrounds feel themselves to be very much in the minority here, and some of them are less than comfortable with that situation. They feel they do not have an adequate church community here to sustain them. Is your community still crowded beyond endurance, or could you consider taking in just a few more, given their yearnings to be with more people of their faith in the broader sense? Given that those with truly radical beliefs have already left us,” she added hastily.

The brown-eyed man grinned widely at this. “It happens that we also have those among us who have the same complaint, but from the other side. They favor a variety of ways, but most lean toward a more Earth-centered tradition. Would you consider a trade?”

She would, and so when the men left, they carried three people who elected to join them for religious reasons. Moira wondered who they would get in return. Better not to speculate, she decided.

That same week, Glen came riding in late in the day from another foray into the wild, bringing with him another newcomer and a heavily laden pack horse. Fast on their heels was a dramatic thunderstorm that boomed and crackled and flashed until everyone put aside their tasks to stop and watch, ready to throw blankets over tender garden crops if it started to hail. But the storm petered out and blew away, leaving a drenched pair begging dry stalls for their horses and dry lodging at the Inn. Moira was called down from her hilltop refuge again as night was falling to meet with Glen and his guest.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do with this ornery old woman,” Glen said by way of introducing Moira to the grey-haired, still damp stranger, and for a moment she was unsure of which of the women he was addressing. She motioned to a table and they all sat.
“Moira Evans, Letitia Beebe. She claims to be a botanist, or plant specialist, or maybe several kinds of -ists. I couldn’t get it all straight, but when I found her out east of Brixey living in a cave and brewing up potions, I thought we might make some use of her.”

“Elixirs,” the woman snapped, scowling. “Witches do potions. I do elixirs. And formulas, and drugs.” She stuck a gnarled hand out and clasped Moira’s outstretched one. “I’m a biochemist and horticulturist, Miss Moira. And I’m hoping you might find use for the 200-odd pounds of plant starts and ‘potions’ I brought with me. Your fella here thought I should come along without them. He’s still a little put out with me, but they were my life’s work and I wasn’t about to leave them to the hogs. So we worked our way through it, although I think he’s grateful to be about shut of me. I just ask that you put me to work and give me a reason for surviving this godawful mess.”

Moira shook her head in disbelief. If she didn’t already believe in the beneficent bounty of the universe, this would have nailed it for her. She fixed the woman with a gaze of stunning intensity. “Hemp. What do you know about hemp?” she demanded.

The woman flung up an arm and began to tick items off on her fingers. “I have rope hemp, and dope hemp, and five bamboos,” the woman shot back, fire blazing from her eyes and her voice trembling with passion.

“Five … you mean river cane?”

“No, I mean timber bamboo in all dimensions. Tools, pipes, structural bamboo. And medicines. I have quinine, and prickly ash, and you name it. I’ve got either a start or a seed of everything I could save.”

Moira sat back, a smile on her lips and amazement in her eyes. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I’d conjured you up. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for you to get here?”

This time it was the other woman’s turn to be amazed. As the two sat staring at each other and grinning, Glen stood and picked up his mug of coffee.

“I just knew you two would get along,” he said, irony in his tone as he strode away toward the fireplace.

Moira laughed. ”I’m not sure we’ll get along at all,” she said. “But I’ll bet we’re going to have us some serious fun.”

Tish Beebe wanted nothing to do with a cubicle at the Keep, but settled herself in a little homemade hut alongside the garden, from which she enlarged the stock of medicinal plants, expanded the adjacent orchard to add numerous varieties of berries, and established the bamboo thickets upriver from the village. Her energy was high but her age was advanced, and Moira came up with more than one tempting offer to get her up the hill where facilities were more comfortable. But Tish would have none of it. “Everything I do is centered in the garden and what the plants have to offer. I move away from that, then what earthly use am I? I’m happy here, and I’ll live longer if I can stay that way. So hush and let me get back to work.”

Moira knew who would be her best help, and she didn’t have to bring it up. Both Rick and Toby were following her around like puppies, soaking up everything she could teach them. They would look after her.

At the Inn, though, talk of Tish’s talents centered on her ideas for improving the brewery and its products. Lon Brixey, the volunteer brewmaster, was trembling in excitement for what kind of potion she might be able to conjure up for him. The more he talked, the more expectations grew.

But that would be a while coming to pass, and soon the talk turned to the growing awareness that further explorations of the outlying territory by the Brothers had ascertained that, although they had not yet reached the farthest reaches of the north shore, this part of their once vast nation had indeed become an island. At the next town meeting it was christened “Ozarkia.”

In a comical turn of fortune, a small group of wandering itinerants who had come to study with the Brothers but found the course to be too rigorous volunteered to move upriver to the old Langston and Case farms and establish test plots of the several varieties of medicinal hemp whose seeds Tish had collected, and grow them in fields far enough apart to discourage cross pollination. The sites were chosen because of their many positive features. Some of the facilities remained – the buildings were repairable and they rigged a downsized electric system to run on solar – and the bottomland fields along the river provided fertile ground, cleared and ready for sowing.

The only problem – if it could be called that – was that most of the crew had made sampling of the crop (to test its potency, of course) into a steady habit. They did manage to produce a plentiful, reliable supply of standard cannabis varieties as well as create some new crosses, in particular by grafting the hemp rootstock onto some shoots of the hops they were also growing for making beer. But in addition to creating new drugs and drinks with interesting potential, they became an extremely laid-back bunch. They were called by their downstream neighbors the Hoppers, and their “research station” thence became Hopperville. The vicious band of Ossabow-related pigs who had terrorized the original inhabitants had mostly moved farther out into the untracked wilderness, and the few who remained became more docile as they,too, sampled the local vegetation.

But that, of course, is another story.

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Fourteen: The Village It Takes

The explosive “Aaa-choo” that echoed down the hard corridor was followed quickly by a curse, as Moira worked her way down the dusty shelves far back in a little-visited corner of the seed vaults. She knew what she was looking for but damned if she could find it, and the dust was beginning to get into her brain.

Where could all the dust be coming from in what was supposed to be a sealed chamber? Well, come to think of it, it couldn’t be that well sealed or the air would have gone bad years ago. She guessed it could be coming down through the ventilation shafts, although those were supposed to be covered with filters. Maybe the earth tremors that had begun over two years ago had knocked something loose or made a crack somewhere. She would get Steven to look into it. That wasn’t her job or why she was down here.

Somewhere in this ill-assorted mess was a book of such arcane information that she had thought best to keep it tucked away in earlier days, when the vaults had been part of a living history museum and she was simply its chief of operations. She’d been hired based on her knowledge of plants and animals. And yet some plants, in an era that was beginning to seem in many ways far back in archaic times, had been on a forbidden list. You weren’t supposed to know anything about them at all. Don’t ask, don’t tell. No, wait. That was another issue. Never mind.

It seemed now as if nearly everything from those times was swiftly receding into the dim past, so much had the world changed. She expected the same experience was common to everyone. But the book. Where was it? She’d held onto it even though it had been somewhat of an illicit tome in the world that once was. She had been one of those forward looking individuals who thought there was more to be considered about the notorious hemp plant than its reputation as the devil’s weed. For one thing, she’d traveled abroad frequently in her younger days and had seen first hand some of the industrial uses to which it had been put in other, less puritanical cultures. Certainly in the last days of the old world the laws had changed and research had made some forward strides. But much of that new research had not been published, and now probably would never be.

She’d been putting the word out since last year that she was looking for samples of both mature plant material and seeds from as many different varietal sources of hemp as possible. She knew she must locate every possible existing variety for more than one reason. First, with their limited pharmacological capabilities, they needed to make use of all the medicinal plants they could find and learn uses for. Not long before the Change, it had been discovered that different strains of cannabis had different medicinal properties which still needed evaluating. And secondly, she knew that at least one variety of the hemp plant had once been valued primarily for its fiber. In fact, farther to the north and west, over in Amish country and beyond where some of the terrain was flat enough for row crops, hemp had once been widely grown for that purpose. But that was before the cotton, tobacco, and liquor industries had taken aim at its smaller cousin, the marijuana plant, and had pressured Congress into outlawing the cultivation of any variety of cannabis. However, she knew now that the wild hemp still flourishing on roadsides and in waste spaces in areas where it had once been cultivated was far different in character than the shorter, bushy, aromatic specimens that were cultivated for more medicinal and recreational purposes. They needed all of it. Annie had brought a few seeds, but they were old, and only one plant survived, a male that did not produce viable seeds.

Just last week when a stoned-looking young man stopped at the village for supplies, she persuaded him to share with her a small quantity of his obviously recreational variety – because it had seeds.

She’d had the devil of a time convincing him to part with a gram or two, plus some additional seeds, but he had finally capitulated, and now they had on hand enough seeds to produce one strain of the valuable medicinal in quantity sufficient for use and research. The object now was to procure seeds of other varieties, particularly the strains with differing medicinal properties. She was pretty sure she could trade with any surviving farmer to the northwest for the wild hemp, the one used in industry. There were still people alive in that country, for Glen had met them. One day the fiber and the seeds would come. To keep the strains pure, the fiber plant would need to be grown widely separated from its cousins to avoid cross pollination. Perhaps they should just continue to let the plant grow where it was happiest, and establish good trading partners with people in other places who grew different varieties. Ellen the herbalist had claimed most of the resinous plant material obtained from the young man and was busily making tinctures for use as painkillers and tranquilizers. The seeds had been passed on to Toby and a number of other reliable growers to do with as they would. A small portion of plant material was passed to Annie, who was now extracting its resins and trying to track the markers that would make the variety distinguishable from any others.

If they could find reliably useful varieties, most other issues would be moot. For instance, if some folks decided to indulge in a toke or two purely for recreation, it was none of her business. It was hard enough to enforce such rules as were absolutely necessary for survival. She didn’t have time to keep track of everybody’s personal habits so long as they posed no harm to others, and neither did anyone else. Besides, every one of the survivors still carried the immense burden of loss, not just of family, friends and loved ones, but of their entire context as human beings. How could she argue against any remedy for pain, particularly the pain of deep grief and heartache? But now she was drifting, and she must keep on track.

What she needed desperately, and as soon as possible, was information on how the plants of the fiber-producing hemp could be processed into the goods and materials that were rapidly becoming rare commodities in this isolated culture. Paper, for one thing. And rope. And door mats, shoes, baskets, clothing. Goddess, the list was endless. Leather served for some purposes but was itself in short supply. Split white oak would do for durable baskets but had little tensile strength. She had begun her dusty search when she’d remembered reading that the oil extracted from hemp seed was extremely versatile and easily processed into a variety of fuels and lubricants, including lamp oil.

In just these past year and some months some things once thought crucial to life were gone, used up, and no replacement had been found that could be produced in sufficient quantity. They’d soon be reduced to burning animal fat for light if nothing else could be found. The small amount of electricity from the mill pond generator was providing some comforts for now, but even at its peak it could supply only minimal amounts beyond what was needed to keep the vaults dry and evenly heated.

She had been both generous and practical, she thought, in allowing its use to drive power tools used in the construction of housing for the rapidly growing community. They might as well use the tools, and use them up, while there was power to spare, she reasoned. After all, both the tools and the generator would wear down and then wear out over time. Once they were gone, there might well be no replacing them. They were merely buying time and sparing these unintentional pioneers some physical effort as they struggled to adjust to a world of vastly different and far fewer resources. From here on, there seemed very limited potential for the kind of growth that was once called “progress.”
Fortunately, those long-silent folks who had earlier supplied her with the “doomsday stash” had sent numerous large cartons of rechargeable batteries, and more of lightweight, flexible solar panels. Those too would be useful for their limited lifespan as would, eventually, the still half-full carton of once cheap and now priceless butane cigarette lighters.

Unfortunately, some of the settlers at Falling Spring hadn’t figured out the need to be frugal, or perhaps were still in denial. It was only through her dogged determination and occasional threats that the more short-sighted of the citizenry hadn’t decided to just chuck the preservation of the vitally important seed stocks in favor of holding on just a little longer to that last precious symbol of their former lives — electric light. Never mind that the supply of light bulbs was dwindling, too, and there was no conceivable way at this point in the new world’s evolution to make more. Goddess, what primeval forces were at work. She was seeing deeply what fear was driving them all, to be without a way to light the darkness. No wonder they panicked so easily when reminded that the age of cheap and plentiful electric power had simply ended. Well, she meant to fix that problem for good and all, if she could only find that damned book!

An hour later she had found helpful instructions on brewing homemade beer, making vinegar from apples, basic soap making, leather tanning, and fermenting techniques. And a recipe for a variety of intoxicating beverages, including raspberry mead, of all things. All useful information, but not what she sought. She tried to remember where she had last seen the text on hemp production and processing.
Wait a minute. That’s right. It was a reference book, not something from popular culture. She’d come across it at the university library’s annual book sale while still in grad school and had been intrigued enough to carry it home. She’d paid something like a quarter for it, she remembered. Now, she thought, it was priceless. It was also likely to be stored with the rest of her ag reference books on a shelf in her bedroom upstairs. Oh, great. She’d spent a morning down here in the dust for nothing.

Well, not quite, she thought with a grin. She’d found the beer-making book. What they’d managed so far was drinkable, more or less, but that’s all. Their crop of barley had been meager since it wasn’t really suited to the local climate. Maybe they could substitute wheat for part of the malt and still get something drinkable – if the wheat harvest was sufficient. It was worth a try. She’d drop that book by Lon Brixey’s cabin down next to the mill. An African American carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade before the Change, and one of the latest arrivals, he’d been trying to get the woodright’s shop, powered by the mill wheel and used by the house builders, developed into a better design so he could make more than lumber. He was talking about making, among other things, barrels and casks for storage vessels. He’d also frequently expressed serious displeasure at the mediocre quality of the beer and the few fruit wines they’d managed to produce. If he wasn’t interested in developing the craft of beermaking, she’d bet he’d find someone who was.

Someone overhearing her thoughts might have thought her a little too focused on the production of addictive substances, she realized with a grin. But she knew what her growing extended family was going through in its struggle to adjust to this new and difficult life. If she could spare any of them an ounce of pain and make their daily lives smoother, that would be just fine with her.

She bypassed the energy-sucking freight elevator and headed for the stairs. She was stronger than she’d been in years from the physical labor required to stay abreast of her duties and jogged easily up the stairs from the vaults, brushed the dust from her clothes, and had another sneezing fit at the top. When she entered her apartment by the back door, the book was just where she’d thought it might be, tucked away right between chickens and grains on a closet shelf.

She leafed through its introductory pages as she strolled absently out of her personal quarters, across the hall, and into the cavernous room that had once been the exhibit space of the visitor center, now converted to use as an infirmary and for other purposes. Most of the equipment in the hall, including the antique tools and implements on display, had long since been scavenged for direct use or as patterns to copy, their once-obsolete designs having suddenly become essential again. She looked up, hearing the screech of a nail being pulled through wood, and found Steven dismantling one of the last remaining tall display cases. It was on its side with its front open, the heavy glass panels from it and two other cases leaning against a nearby wall.

“What’s going on, my good man?” she asked, moderating her tone as she noted a small, moccasined foot protruding from what she’d thought was a pile of rags. “I see you’ve stolen my son.” Jared, her adopted firstborn, was just now old enough to escape from the village nursery so long as he had supervision. He was becoming Steven’s frequent companion on days when his tasks posed no danger, like today.

Steven nodded and smiled. “I thought I’d give the nannymamas a break for a few hours. I know people describe his kind of energy as ‘all boy,’ but I swear, this one seems to be about a boy and a half.” He smiled as he stood and put out an arm to pull her to him. They embraced awkwardly, each unwilling to put down their tools — hers the book and his a pry bar. Exchanging smiles of easy affection, they held each other a moment and then stepped apart.

She pretended an official tone as she demanded, “And what mischief are you up to today?”

“I’m commandeering these articles for use in the greater plan, oh wise and generous one,” he said, affecting a similarly officious tone and saluting with the pry bar. There appeared to be more than one mischievous child in the room.

“In other words, you’re absconding with more loot from my place to put to some questionable purpose of your own,” she returned.

“That’s it, exactly,” he said with a grin, looking pleased with himself. “The glass will make some great windows for the school, and these cases will hold lots of books and supplies, once I’ve put in some sturdier shelves. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Not a bit, especially since I’ll end up with more of this great big room so its other endeavors can expand and offer more space for essential services. The theater is great for meetings. We can seat everyone and more in that space,” she said, gesturing toward the adjoining room.

“This room has the capacity to become a medical center of sorts. Annie has her lab, Nurse Alice has her clinic, and Ellen is developing a proper herbary to process and store medicinals in what used to be the other restroom and the janitor’s closet inside. They all seem to get along well enough, and are learning a great deal from each other.”

Steven commended her farsightedness, but she demurred.

“ It had to happen. At first, I was obsessed with keeping this whole facility, excepting Annie’s lab and the warehouse, as some kind of last remnant of the world before. But I’m over it. I don’t really need anything in here for me beyond my apartment. I do want to hold onto that, because I really think I’d like to have another child, once this guy’s a little farther along. I was against it at first, because my job gives me little time to spare caring for an infant. But now that the nannymamas have organized, that’s not so much of an issue. I’d have the benefit of those extra hands. But what we really need” she said, shifting gears, “is a community health, science, and research center. And what we don’t need is another structure to build. So I’m thinking this is it.”

“Yeah. Like a Keep,” he said and grinned, for everyone called it that, but she still found it awkward.

Yeah, kinda,” she agreed. “I’m beginning to see that.”

“Well, don’t see it too clearly. There’s bound to be another meeting,” he said and made a face.

“Oh, Goddess bless us, not that,” she groaned. They laughed, and she returned to her previous focus. “Well, hey, we’re going to have to do that anyway pretty soon, because I’ve just now found us the answer to most of life’s biggest problems.” She held up the book and he read its title.

“What’s this? ‘Hemp Production and Processes?’ Oh, right. You’re going to get us all so stoned we don’t give a rip for life’s biggest problems, is that it? Some answer.”

She held the book up and shook it under his nose, a menacing look on her face. “No,” she hissed. “I’m gonna take this stuff and grow you a shirt – and some tow ropes, and maybe some house paint, and a goddamn night light, you scientifically challenged woofer. You know what this means? We work out how to break this stuff down on a large scale into its component parts and we have a manufacturing base. We have raw materials for some of the most basic goods of civilized life. It’s all right here, in this one amazing plant.

“And I’m not blowing smoke, buddy. Did you know that this fiber is, ounce for ounce, stronger than steel? We can make ropes and cables and baskets and paper and clothing, plus lubricants and oils for nearly every use imaginable. We can cook with it and light our houses at night. This stuff is going to save our asses, Steven. No kidding. I’m certain of it.”

“Wow. Okay then, I guess I’m impressed,” he said, sobering. “So how do we go about it? How do we get these wonders to happen?”
She heaved a sigh. “Let’s save that for the meeting. I need to bone up on my subject matter some more before I go blowing about it like this before an audience. But I’m glad you said ‘we,’” she said with satisfaction. “If we can locate the right seeds, I’m sure we can get the stuff to grow. But then to learn the refining processes, to work it into usable forms, I’m going to need the right implements, including some pretty sophisticated machinery. Warning’s fair – I’m probably going to be keeping your forges hot all summer.” She gave him a wicked grin, which he answered with eyebrows raised.

“Oo, baby, you know what I like,” he quoted the long-ago popular song. They shared another hug and a chuckle, and he returned to his task. Moira tiptoed out, leaving Jared to his nap, and found a sunny corner outside, next to the greenhouse and out of the wind, where she settled down to read everything she could squeeze out of this little book about industrial hemp. It was going to be their salvation. She just knew it.

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