"Who Is Devoid of the Power"
It was Operetta who told Astin
of another trader running a loop
from Carinan space, a fellow
by the name of Knox who
supposedly had connections
through the old military supply lines.
After a few messages batted around
the ciphernet, Astin arranged a meeting
with Knox at Sargasso Base.
The approach always made Astin feel
a little edgy, and xe wiped xyr hands
on the tough spacer jumpsuit to keep
from slipping on the ship's controls.
True to its name, the system was
cluttered with derelict starships
and assorted space debris,
a number of which had been
co-opted for living space.
Astin could hardly look at them
without wondering if a piece was
going to break off and hole xyr ship.
The trader navigated past the creepy ruins
of technology and at last made xyr way
to the Agora, a hub of Lacuna culture
as it evolved out of the remnants left by
the Orion and Carinan militaries when
they returned to their respective Arms.
Knox was short and stocky,
a fireplug of a man with a bald head
and ears that stuck out on the sides.
"Pleased to meet you, Astin," he said.
"Care to talk trade over a drink?"
"I've been thirsting after a glass of yogurt
since I started my approach," Astin said,
and led the way to the Flask of Phlegethon,
a tavern established shortly after the war.
"Hello, stranger!" called the bartender,
even though Dash had known Astin
since the trader's first visit to the base.
Astin gave her a cheerful wave
and a call for two orders of yogurt.
Knox was a bit dubious of the value
of a non-alcoholic beverage, but
proved willing to sample it -- and then
promptly fell in love with the stuff.
He clinked their glasses together and
said, "So I hear you're trying to splice
a trade network throughout the Lacuna."
"Traders benefit from steady routes,
and residents benefit from reliable supply
of whatever they can't make for themselves,
so yes," Astin said. "That's the idea."
"Well, you have my route on file," Knox said.
"I have an anchor, too, on Cascabel. There's a
facility in Fillet Ridge that used to do troop support,
only now there aren't many troops left onworld
and no call for shipping to any in the Lacuna."
"Unless the current residents of the Lacuna
can make their own arrangements," Astin said,
sipping xyr yogurt. "All right, what do they
have to offer? It is a favorable market?"
"Mostly medical supplies, personal care
and entertainment -- some farms also
supplied raw ingredients for the galleys,
so the boys could have something more
than just mealpacks," said Knox.
No wonder Operetta had latched onto him,
given her interest in setting up some kind
of health care system for the locals.
"Please tell me that the place is run
by someone reliable, and not one of those
fly-by-night Supply flakes," Astin said.
"Bowie's good for it," Knox said quietly.
"How do you know him?" Astin asked.
"Is he someone you can vouch for, or just
a business contact you know by name?"
"He's -- he's my cousin," Knox said,
his voice roughening. "We weren't close,
before, but we're all that's left now. Our folks,
everyone worked at Brakeworm Base."
"I'm sorry to hear of your loss," Astin said.
Xe couldn't help thinking about Spalling and
the whole sordid story of the Massacre of Cascabel.
"Thanks, I guess," said Knox. "It's been hard,
trying to rebuild, but we have to do something.
We need to lay some lines of connection, or
that damned war will just break out again."
"Are you sure this is what you want?"
Astin asked. "I can't imagine that
you're too fond of Orion folks."
"I'm trying to forgive," Knox said,
his thick features twisting as he spoke.
"Somebody's got to, or we're all just
fucking doomed. Not sure it'll be me though."
"Better to try and fail, than to sit there on
your tailpipes wishing for escape velocity,"
Astin said. "It's a valiant course."
"Could be," Knox agreed. "The sykes say that
anyone who is devoid of the power to forgive
is devoid of the power to love."
"That sounds depressing," Astin said.
Xe wondered if Spalling was having
any better luck forgiving himself.
"That it is," Knox muttered. "So what
do you say to hitching our loops?"
Astin twirled xyr glass, watching
the dregs of yogurt swirl up the sides,
leaving behind a pink film and
a few strawberry seeds.
"I think I'd like to meet your cousin," xe said,
"just once to establish a foundation for trade."
"Yeah, I could set it up," Knox said. "It might
do Bowie some good, to make a new friend.
Just you might not want to mention
the Orion connection, out on the street."
"I'll be discreet," Astin said. "So you've told me
about the goods on offer and about the fellow
in charge of them. What do you need in return?"
Knox crumbled silently and buried his face in his hands.
"What's wrong?" Astin said, baffled by this
sudden withdrawal. "Surely there must
be something that we could --"
Knox flailed an arm in what was probably meant
to emulate the crisp hand-flapping of the locals,
and Astin shut up in light of his distress.
It took over ten minutes for Knox to recover
enough to say, "It's not the goods. It's just.
Being asked." He had to pause and clear
his throat. "That's the first time I've heard
anyone say that since the Massacre."
"Nobody asked what you needed?"
Astin said, appalled by the oversight.
Talk about something difficult to forgive!
"But then -- how do they know what you need?"
"They don't," Knox said bitterly. "They just ...
do whatever they want, send what they
want us to have. I guess it makes them
feel better. Glad it does somebody."
With a sickening lurch, Astin realized that there
was more than one way to lose power than
just having a hole blasted in your planet.
"All right," xe said. "When I first started
working with the folks here in the Lacuna,
we talked about what they had during the war,
what they already managed to replace, and
what they wanted most from other sources."
"You did all that with these people?"
Knox said, giving a ragged laugh.
"I just stock stuff that everybody needs,
and then let them take their pick of it."
"That can work too," Astin said.
"Is there anything like that which you
can't get easily on Cascabel anymore?"
"Used to raid for nonpareils,"
Knox admitted. "We got nothing
with that compact power storage, and
the war source is all dried up now."
"They're in demand here too, but
I'll see what I can do," Astin promised.
Xe could talk to Spalling, and maybe
he would have a source for them.
"Meanwhile, let me know if you
think of any other trade stock,
and I'll check with Bowie when
I make it to Cascabel."
"It's a good beginning,"
Knox agreed, and
they shook on it.
Astin ordered another round
of yogurt, and Dash brought
the glasses with a cheery wink
and a wish for good luck.
The sweet-sour taste reminded Astin
of an earlier exchange, which made
xyr wonder whether forgiveness
was something that could be
built one piece at a time,
like a trade network.
* * *
"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Trade routes may take the form of a loop or network.
Phlegethon comes from Greek mythology, the flaming river of the underworld.
Dash -- a short burst of speed, or a small amount of liquor.
Collective trauma can result from natural disasters or wartime atrocities. It is difficult to heal. Understand how to cope with emotional trauma and traumatic stress.
Syke -- slang for a psychiatrist or other counselor. It has previously been used as street slang for pretending.
Forgiveness can be difficult in the face of the enemy. There are tips on how to forgive someone, especially if they have seriously hurt you. It also helps to cultivate your conflict-resolution skills.
Helping survivors after a disaster works best when you ask them what they need. Bear in mind that this may be overwhelming if they haven't had that opportunity before. Also, survivors may not know what they need; in that case you can make specific suggestions based on what you can observe.
Nonpareil -- an Orion battery that looks like a tiny crystal.
* the best of its kind, something without equal
* a small round decoration for pastries
Continue with "Hacking Perceptions."