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chapter twelve
Part Three

These people of the Great Plains call me MaQ, but for them it is the contraction of a Scottish surname. I do not correct them, in this case it's beneficial that they see me as an outsider for they regularly interact with neighbouring denizens of the Network and no one is fooled by which group I better resemble.

Oddly this allows me to relax somewhat. There is no expectation for me to blend in, no slips I can make, no faux pas or social landmines to cross-over. I am a visitor here, but still my mission remains the same.

So I lament the stories to them at every opportunity. Some are stories I have created, some are events I have witnessed, most are stories I have heard while on my travels. Those are stories of betrayal, violation of long-standing treaties, or stories of conflict between the invading backlanders and the off-landers they are attempting to displace.

Most of these stories are not new; many of the people here have heard them, particularly because they trade with the outside world. This means the seeds were already planted before I got here but unfortunately that doesn't make my job easier, in fact I would say it's quite the opposite, for these people have also exposed to Network propaganda.

They're hearing the lies of recompense and the half-truths of a falsely reported agenda. They don't believe a war is coming. They don't believe their land will be taken from them. They think that they will be allowed to continue to sow the land and reap the fruits of their effort before selling the excess crop to those around them. They are comfortable, and in that comfort, complacency flourishes.

At least that is the seed I'm planting. Surely, I say, each time people who look like them re-act, each time the conflict escalates, each time violence erupts in the Commons it must make the outsiders see those who live here as savages.

I don't know about them but the words ring hollow for me. These people aren't savages, not even the noble kind I read about in school. They are hard working, industrious and rather refined. Their children are taught in schools run by both their own and outsiders and they are connected to the Network in ways that astound and surpass many even in the League I was raised.

Their healthcare embraces all aspects and the full spectrum, from the holistic and spiritual - an approach I failed to understand until coming to this land – to techniques from beyond these territories, nano-medicines and calculated genome pharmaceuticals precisely balanced for pinpoint delivery of life saving treatment.

And yet, at this point, I still feel I will be successful with these people. Their paranoia will flourish because they have more to lose. The question is: have I put forward the suggestion too soon?

* * *

Having never spent time on farms I am ill prepared for how mesmerizing crops can be. The wind blows and the tips of the wheat stalks oscillate in waves and would that I allow myself to drift in thought I might even be fooled to believe I'm looking at a big golden sea.

There is a true magic to the sound, the accumulative rustle of a million plants undulating in waves on a series of gentle breezes.

And walking through the field, feeling the tips of the looming golden harvest dance playfully against my palms as I hold my hands out like an aeroplane brings me back to a moment from childhood, although I cannot explain it with any certainty for surely I've never done this before, yet there is a simplicity to this walk and being in the moment has a purity. Perhaps that is what makes me nostalgic for a time I never knew, perhaps purity is the domain of children and child like moments.

I wasn't the only in the moment. Ahead of me, clustered around my caravan, were a group of children, playing a variation of hide-and-seek. At least that's what it looked like. As I got closer the truth became much more ominous, the children where playing with my cart.

Panic descended upon me and I picked up my pace while waving to the children and calling them to move away from the wagon. As excited youth is want, they ignored me.

I began to pull them off the cart one-by-one. Particularly the small ones near the back. Their exciting rushing had them pushing against the cart as they ran, pushing and grabbing the wood for leverage as they raced at faster speeds.

They couldn't know that the right push at the right spot would open any of six hidden panels, other pressures would unlock more. The end result could have serious repercussions.

The oldest of the group challenged me on my behaviour. It's not the way of these people to hoard things, this is a true community. As I pull a spanner from the hands of the youngest, how they found it is beyond me, I explain that it would irresponsible of me to allow innocent children to play with equipment that could hurt them.

I motion to the horses, who twitch nervously amidst the commotion, and suggest they are not use to such activity so close. They could bolt, and in their stampede injure someone.

I freeze as one of the middle ones appears in the seat of my wagon with my Teklua Scanner. They are fiddling with it as though it's a box holding some wonderous toy. I carefully, slowly approach them and gently, softly pull it from their tightening grasp.

It isn't just that this device is sensitive, or that production of replacement parts ceased over a century ago. The problem isn't even that the nano-circuits built into this device are performing double duty and should they be damaged there is no way I can get them repaired. The problem is that the calibration of this unit took hours and one of the best labs on the planet. That calibration is the only way I can communicate with my superiors and if a misalignment occurs I shall be completely cut off.

You might ask why such a precarious system was used. The answer is simple. I could not have been in this region with proper communication gear. Any method of communicating had to pass even the closest of inspections were I stopped by Network forces.

Surely even the most comprehensive of analysis wouldn't reveal the communication capabilities I posses. But it all hinges on this one device, the one being clutched by the screaming child under the delusion they're about to lose control of a valuable toy.

Ultimately I do something well outside my nature, I bark at the child, frightening it enough to make its grip slip free of the unit before something serious happens.

The oldest is the first to pass judgment, his comment drives deep to a looming concern that I have momentarily forgot, he says to me, “We won't be buying anything, you know.”

I don't see how he knows but any attempt to engage this callow youth cannot result in any good.

If he is correct then I shall be moving off soon, heading for my next stop, an inland group of subsistence hunters who clashed with off-landers only five years ago. That will be an easy sell, my research suggest that the only thing which has kept the peace has been the tribe's lack of firepower.

If he is wrong then I will make sale, a deal that could only be scuttled by whatever tales are told, comments mis-repeated.

If they are on the fence then I do not need this young one sabotaging my efforts as I demonstrate my wares further. I shrug at him instead.

The children move off, less interested in the close quarters of my wagon as they are the open space of the fields. The sun beats down a punishing heat, the only warning that the summer will be brutal.

The doors to the settlement's barn remain closed, the discussion continues. I'm too far from it to tell if the direction of the meeting is going my way or not. There is nothing I can do about it now anyway.

I enjoy a light lunch from own kit. I've been eating of my own supply the entire time I've been here because the processed foods these people purchase from the Network either fail to address my dietary restrictions or cause internal discomfort.

As the languid song of the afternoon envelopes us all even I find myself wandering the field, again allowing the tips of the grain to playfully splay the palms of my outstretched hands. There is a bliss in the air and a peace I've not known in many years.

Pity that ends when the barn doors open and Councillor Garmin Hilady steps out with their decision. I did not know it when saw him approach but his steady gait signaled the end of my time with these people.

* * *