"Fortifications of the Future"
Sam the Gardener was busy
digging, digging, making dirt and
planting things in it, playing with
his pet worms, running plastic pipes
everywhere and punching holes
in them to hold more plants.
Backup found the whole process
boring, although he liked the salads.
It was quiet, which was good for thinking,
so Backup sat in a half-empty storeroom
and thought about things while he made
an inventory of the remaining contents.
He thought about the War
and the people of the Lacuna.
He thought about how peace
was a fragile thing, and what could
happen to them when it broke down.
He thought about things
they could try to do in order
to prevent another war.
One of the bins rattled oddly
when Backup touched it.
The label said Ration Packets,
which should not rattle, so he
looked inside the bin.
It was full of ball bearings
and all kinds of junk.
Then he realized that it wasn't
exactly junk -- the ball bearings
were sorted into baggies and
boxes according to their color,
some silvery and others golden.
The other stuff included slabs
of metal and plastic that had been
drilled with holes or hollows or lines
to make some kind of ... game boards,
Backup realized, meant to hold
the ball bearings in place.
He pawed through the bin and
found sheets of scrap paper,
old orders that were blank on
the back side, covered with
handwritten notes of rules.
There was a bundle of small boards in
different shapes for solitaire games, and
several more for two-person jumping games.
There was a set of square tiles
that could be twisted in place, and
a hexagonal board that held ball bearings
so they could be pushed along in rows.
There were two different games
based on boards designed
to tip back and forth.
Backup tried moving the pieces
back and forth on different boards,
and quickly discovered that he liked
the balancing games the best.
They reminded him of the Lacuna,
caught between the two Arms.
Backup still had his birth-brothers,
back in the Carinan Arm, and
their father General Fallon
(with whom he was no longer
on speaking terms), so that
offered some opportunities
for potential outreach.
He knew that the OCS-397
and Specialist Miles Cernan
had come from the Orion side
and might have contact there.
So Backup took the tipping board
and its ball bearings with him to lunch.
Sam wasn't there -- he had a bad habit
of getting so far into his work that he
forgot to eat, and it started arguments.
But that was Router's problem.
"You found games!" Case said happily,
and Port crowded alongside him.
"Whole bin," Backup said,
"but look at this." He lined up
the ball bearings and moved them
around, showing how the board swung
back and forth. "Enemies." Then he
pointed at the middle. "Lacuna."
"Ah, I see," Router said thoughtfully.
"May I?" His hand hovered over
the board and the shiny balls.
"Yes," Backup said, waving
him onward. Router was smart.
He'd figure something out.
Backup grabbed a sandwich,
which now came with a small choice
of vegetables to put on it.
Router shifted the balls
into different positions,
studying how they
affected the board.
"We really need to make
some fortifications of the future
in order to survive," he said.
Backup nodded. "So things
don't tip back and forth too much."
"So we don't get smashed
like a crate caught between
two steam hammers," Case said.
"We'd be safer if we had something
that both Arms needed," Router said.
"What do we have plenty of?"
Case asked, taking a handful
of tiny yellow tomatoes.
"Empty space," Port joked.
"Ah," said Router. "That may
prove useful after all. We could
suggest ourselves as a neutral party,
to help keep the peace by providing
a permanent buffer between the Arms."
Case frowned. "Would they
even go for that?" he said.
"Scared and sad," said Backup.
"After the Massacre of Cascabel,
the Carinan Arm is scared, and
the Orion Arm is sad. Both of
them are exhausted."
"Those are some good points,"
Router said, raising his eyebrows.
"I think I can work with that."
Backup finished his sandwich
and took the last little tomato.
"Do we start by reaching out
to the Arms, or by talking with
other people here?" said Port.
"Start at home," Router said.
"If people here aren't interested
in the idea, then there's no point
in bothering anyone else."
"How are you going to convince
folks to go along with this?"
Case said. "It's tricky stuff."
Router winked at them.
"Well, we can make copies
of the games that Backup found
and offer those as perks for
everyone who participates
in the discussions."
"Do we have enough materials?"
asked Case. "Some things are low."
"Z-balls," said Backup. "We sell
the good ones, keep the bad ones
for making the new games."
"Right, even with easy production
in space, every manufacturing process
has some failure rate," said Router.
"I bet if we examine your games,
we'll find that they're made from
materials discarded as flawed."
That reminded Backup of something.
"Dimple," he said, picking up one of
the ball bearings to show Router.
He pointed to the imperfection.
"It's all about turning liabilities
into assets," Router said with a smile.
"We're isolated, but that also makes us
good guardians for a neutral zone -- and
we already have plenty of people
skilled in watching for trouble."
Everyone laughed at that.
The original population of
the Lacuna had consisted
mostly of spies.
"Same job, but working
for ourselves now, and
helping the Arms stay
away from each other,"
Backup said, nodding.
They passed around more ideas
about who to talk with and what to try.
"Let's see how this plays out,"
said Router. "I'll open communication
with Specialist Miles Cernan and
the OCS-397. Backup, try to reach
your brothers over in Carinan space.
After that, you can help Case and Port
figure out how to make new games."
"Okay," Backup agreed.
Just then, Sam the Gardener
wandered in. "Am I late?"
he asked, blinking at them.
"You missed lunch,"
Router said with a frown.
"Oh well, if you guys are
mad at me, I guess I'll just
eat all these myself," Sam said.
He opened his hands to reveal
a bowl full of scarlet fruit.
"Strawberries!" Case exclaimed.
"All is forgiven," Router said earnestly.
"Sam, please divide those evenly,
and then get yourself some lunch.
I'm afraid there's not much left of
what we put out, but you can
fill in gaps from the rations."
"Dessert of the future," Sam agreed,
and handed out the strawberries.
To Backup, the future tasted very sweet.
* * *
Peg solitaire is played on boards of varying shapes. The goal is to leave only one marble on the board.
Nine Men's Morris is played on a cross-shaped board. Players try to make lines of three marbles.
Fox and Geese is also played on a cross. It is an unequal game with one person playing the flock of geese against someone else playing the single fox.
Pentago uses a board divided into four quarters which can rotate. Players try to line up five marbles.
Abalone is played on a hexagonal board. Many different starting positions are possible. There are rules for 2 players, 3 players, 4 players, 5 players, and 6 players. Extra marbles are needed for more than 2 players.
Rock Me Archimedes is a balancing game played on a rocking board. Players attempt to move marbles from the center to their end goal without either side of the board touching the tabletop.
Yali is another rocking board game but with a different grid. Here the marbles start at the ends and you need to get yours all the way to the far end.
Strategy games have many benefits for players. They can get people thinking about other issues and encourage creative solutions to problems.
Sandwiches are a great way to capitalize on a limited but interesting selection of vegetables.
Strategic thinking uses a variety of skills. There are tips for thinking strategically.
War has long-term effects on civilians, soldiers, and society at large. Traumatic stress can make people want to avoid future conflicts.
Peacemaking includes many aspects. Understand how it works on personal, international, and global scales. Learn about the connections between them.