January 01, 2006

Chapter 37

The pilots wore red, but they had never reported to Matthew before. Relations with other cities were purely the territory of the leader, and while the pilots sometimes coordinated with Matthew, they never told him where they were going or what they doing. Gregory sometimes did, and rumors sometimes suggested what was happening, but this was the first time Matthew had sat down with the four of them expecting details of what they did.

The pilots filed in to the council room, which Matthew had cleared for the meeting. Anthony entered last, closing and locking the door behind him.

"We're ready to take the raiders whenever the weather clears," said Elizabeth. "The helicopter is fueled and all maintenance is up to date, except the pre-flight. We'll need about six hours between the two trips for additional maintenance."

"That's excellent," said Matthew. "As critical as that mission will be, though, I need to ask you about your other projects. Gregory left behind notes, and some invoices, but not a lot of detail about where and how he was hoping to get us fuel."

"It hadn't been going very well," said Mark. "We kept getting offers, but most of them were setups. We had one case where the landing site was in a canyon, but the infrared scanners showed a small army of people ready to take us down but no one at the actual landing site."

"Then there was the one where they greeted us warmly, but didn't have the goods for us," said Mary. "They had some old tubes filled with lead, but it sure wasn't fuel."

"Did Gregory find you these places, or did you find out about them from other cities?"

"Only a few of the other cities will even talk about their trading partners with us," replied Mary. "When you go to the same place repeatedly, you get to know their trade crews, but even then it's mostly rumors as they try to get more from us than was promised."

"There are some interesting bazaars out there, though," said Anthony. "Most of the cities work like we do, with leaders negotiating prices and us just acting as a delivery team. When you get closer to the coast, though, there are some cities near enough to each other that they have open markets."

"The food is usually pretty good, though you have to be careful," said Mark. "The deals are mostly questionable, but we brought back some large decorative furniture for Gregory, some jewelery that we later traded to another city, some chemicals, some fabric, spices - it's usually not big stuff."

"How does that kind of trade work?" asked Matthew.

"Usually we bring a set of solar panels to [city3], and the city pays us in gold coins. We don't really need gold coins here - though Gregory did build a small stockpile - so we then take those coins to the bazaar and buy various things. It changes every time we go there, but you can still mostly work from a list," said Elizabeth.

"How many cities do we actually trade with?" asked Matthew.

"There are only three places we go with bazaars, plus another dozen we visit once every couple of years. There are probably another twenty beyond that which we've visited occasionally, but they're mostly further away and don't have anything that interesting to us," said Anthony.

"And what have we been trading away?"

"Mostly our finished manufactured goods. Gregory was also looking for markets for some of the things the farmers produce, mostly their furniture and more permanent things like that. We've sold some food, mostly flour and hops."

"Except for the solar panels, most of what we have to offer doesn't seem very exciting to the other cities. I think they want more excitement," said Mary.


"Well, only a few of these places are anything like us. There are two other libraries within a reasonable flight, and they have most of what we have. Well, most -"

"One of them's out of fuel completely," interjected Anthony. "They've been out for ten or fifteen years now. They're using solar panels - our panels - to get by, and selling off their stocked-up goods, but it isn't pretty. They never - well, they have a much bigger population, and a lot of it is learning about farming the hard way now. If they weren't hidden away in a mountain valley, they'd have been taken over long ago. Gregory gave them a discount on panels, too, which probably helped."

"The other library's in decent shape," said Mary. "But they've cut their population to a skeleton staff over the years. They don't have pilots any more - anyone who wants to trade has to come to them, and their landing strip is set to explode if anything goes wrong. It's terrifying going there, but apparently everyone who deals with them understands the terms."

"They weren't willing to trade us their fuel, obviously," said Mark.

"So what do the other cities want?" asked Matthew.

"It totally varies by city," said Elizabeth. "They're all so different."

"Different?" asked Matthew. "I mean, I understand that different climates might lead to differences, and most of these cities were put together by survivors over time, but aren't we all trying to survive?"

Anthony laughed. "Everyone's trying to survive, but some are surviving a lot better than others. [City4] on the coast is a lot of fun for us, and they take some of the farmers' furniture at a nice price, but their leaders are completely harsh to their subjects. I can't imagine having to live there, especially knowing how their king and queen live."

"King and queen?"

"Yes, thrones and everything," said Mary. "They always grant us an audience, I think so they can enjoy the sight of us bowing and scraping. Oh, and they laugh at our red uniforms, up there on their golden thrones."

"They're rich, but it's a strange rich," continued Mark. "They buy our solar panels, but I don't think they have much power in their city. It's on the surface, so maybe they don't need it."

"How do they survive?" asked Matthew.

"They dominate the countryside, so they can get food. Their army looks especially well-fed, but there's nothing much around for them to attack, so they mostly keep an eye on their own people. They do their trading on ships, mostly up and down the coast, but occasionally they cross the ocean. And ocean-going ships come to them."

"They have no helicopters?"

"No - if you want to trade, you come to them."

"But they have no fuel?"

"They have it sometimes, though they have no need for it. The prices are incredibly high, though."

"Are there any other sources for fuel?"

"Yes, but they're all incredibly expensive," said Elizabeth. "No one on this continent seems to be producing it anymore."

"Two cities turned into huge radioactive disasters about three centuries ago, apparently," added Anthony. "I'm not sure if they were the only producers, but no one seems excited about making it now."

"Gregory had us exploring coastal cities in the hopes that they were getting some by trade," said Mark. "It was a good idea, except that no one seems to be getting any from anywhere. It made no sense to take the helicopter empty, but I don't think the trades we managed to make were all that valuable, either."

"There are always rumors in the bazaars, of course, but that never went anywhere," said Elizabeth.

"They might," said Mark, "but the cost of the bribes just to start the conversation seems to be more than we can carry in the helicopter."

Posted by simon at January 1, 2006 08:22 PM

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