Tuesday, 6 April 2010

»The Slave Pens« (Extract from the space pirates adventures)

I bought a farm! It's almost like an island, as there are two rivers marking the area, though it’ll be a while before it gets the fame of Mesopotamia, but no, seriously, I bought a farm.
            I’m a big believer in chance, so when it all pointed to it being a good idea, I wasn’t going to wait until I’m proven otherwise. Besides, I wanted an excuse to hang around Fidi’s new workplace since she got her own cottage and gained the benefit of a resident witch in some behind-God’s-behind landscape. For a witch that’s sort of a mark of adulthood. Kind of like having you first book published for a ‘Pagan. Although the nasty little shit continues to look thirteen, nobody can argue she’s probably older than an average planet by now. (Side effect of being an avid time traveler. Things add up.) – and as I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn more about her new home world, I’ve been wanting for an excuse to linger there more lengthily. Not many places left which would include trees in their terraforming ambitions, yet alone worlds where forests would be older than settlers as well. Not to mention those sex temples are a bomb! Anyway, I sold Gennonsuke’s silt – to him, in fact – and for the money I got, I bought him a farm. I enjoy giving his tax attorney a headache. The drug money from drugs, stolen, then sold back to the drug dealer and used to buy him a fresh breeding ground. That was before he could get angry at me for finally admitting it was me who stole his precious star feldspar. The man is so lovely when he’s gullible and he’s audaciously gullible – Sepp noticed right away the fish in the tank where I’ve hidden the silt look like banshees.
            Anyhoo. Zoom back forty-five solar systems to the left, the moon, Fidi’d moon, is called Dharowansa. As far as stellar charters concur, it is the only moon know to date to have its own – moon. Dharowansa actually means Moon’s Moon, although I’ve forgotten in whose language in particular. It isn’t supposed to be possible, but that’s universe for you: constant supply of anomalies. The pivotal planet, Marnassa, is a gas giant and it isn’t habitable, but it is beneficial for the Moon’s surface as far as temperature and debris goes and the moon2 is a little more than a glorified rock that hasn’t decided on its allegiances yet. The Good Jupiter’s gravity will probably, eventually, mess with its route and adopt it, but for now, as it matters, it belongs to Dharowansa. Because, although quite bright, this inhabitable moon’s atmosphere is always cloudy, the breathable air is constant and while nobody can see the little moon, everyone knows it’s there.
            Another excellent thing is that it’s quite close to Aurora. Horses continues to be my favorite planet, but by now everyone’s accepted Aurora as our Yeah-4ooo home, which is that much more easy to do because we are space pirates and every time some insane politician’s regime goes and fucks everything up, we can just skip out of Dodge and return when crazy solar winds blow over. Cole is still stationed there, though. Last I heard he passed on a promotion and switched from Human Trafficking Dept. back to legitimate bounty hunting, pursuing slaves. The thing with slavery being reinstated last year was a particularly interesting turning point and it doesn’t matter HOW better off the system’s economy is for it. The General’s considered assassinating key members of parliament who enforced it, but he’s since just murdered one. Best I can say, what with the sadist missing, is that some of us are doing more for those people now that they are forced to allow us, than anyone’s ever done for them when they were free. Gennonsuke alone has more than 18oo of them on his grounds, working in the paper mill, and some of them are daily fed and neatly clad for the first time in their existence. Cole continues to bring more in and General is bulling ministers into enforcing the strictest rules against inhumane abuse of the chattels by the so-called remaining free folk. You can’t not try to make the world a better place by turning one blind eye to the fact some people are just waiting for the green lights to start treating everyone else like punching bags.
            So this is what my farm will become. My Slave Pens. An extension of Gennonsuke’s factory vicinity. (“If you can’t beat the system from without, go within and around until you’ve hanged someone with it.”) Although no decree exactly prohibits the evacuation of slaves from Aurora, Gennonsuke has behave like a model entrepreneur and sign strict contracts that ensure the legislators he will not in fact try to simply smuggle them out and set them free like one would condemned lab rats. Not that it wasn’t our first intention. Ironically, however, as humane and moral that would be, it would not help them. It’s one of the rare things Cole had to agree with General on. These people were perfectly free since they settled on Aurora, but they continuously failed to rise up to its standards. Somewhat because they were lazy but mostly because they were bullied, they dripped, from one generation to the next, fourth one coming up very soon, lost and pointless. I am not trying to make excused for the ridiculous slavery law, but I worked as a mail-maid in those districts and they were a nightmare. You couldn’t even get them to accept vaccines and some of the plagues had resurfaced that hadn’t even been catalogued for the last 8oo years. I had to see from the creepy politicians’ perspective and agree with Cole, that as scary as this new law might be, it just may offer them an excellent new start. Then we went and bought every single one we could get our hands on and stuffed them all into Gennonsuke’s latest factory.

            The farm, my farm, is over 4o hectares, almost a 1oo acres of plowable land, with two rivers which periodically flood and wash away everything and four already standing buildings that we tore down and rebuild entirely. Fidi’s cottage is 34 kilometers westward through a forest, as a spaceship flies, which is how I found the place in the first place. We went leisure-flying around, looking about, hunting a bit (with cameras), checking the turf and just nosing as witches should, when a cool picnic spot presented itself and when we asked whose the abandoned real-estate was, we were informed it was for sale.
            Because Gennonsuke’s factory has reached its full current capacity some time ago and he wasn’t able to keep up with the expansion works – meaning the government would sit on his shoulder every chance they could, so he wasn’t taking chances pushing tin – I told him to lend me 4oo of his own while he airs the halls a bit. He gave me 2oo (he was still pissed at me. Stealing that feldspar two years ago put him out f his drug dealing business in his home world and profusely out of favor with the local cartels he supplied. If you ask me, it was just as well. He needed to stretch his legs a little. Universe is such a pretty place to stay in one mess for too long.) Mostly it was folk that was ailing or less useful in the mill in some way. (One of the plagues that commonly afflicted the slums of Aurora City was a parasite that ate the lungs and many people had a lot of problems breathing. He sent me those because doctors agreed Dharowansa’s air was fresher and would do them good. First spa time for any of them, also.)  
            Despite the fact that it will be a while before this place reaches the ranks of paradise, you have to start somewhere. I’m already past the basics, past the features of a Roman plantation. Not quite middle USA in the early thirties yet, though. We’re still building fast on.
  Easiest to accommodate are men. But I didn’t get only men and I wouldn’t have them if someone offered – I am not the sort to take the easy way around. First two thirds were male, only half were single and because all newly proclaimed slaves were given a vaccination of a sedative, supposedly to last a lifetime (considering the value of government I’d say that meant some 1o, 15 years), they were less inclined to just strike out again and burn the whole place down. These people were primitive and ugly before, now they’re just humiliated and trapped. There were ghetto gangs that spend their days making one another’s lives miserable: shooting, pillaging, burning each-other’s things and beating their women; their children never stood a chance. Now, chemically docile, they were harnessed into lower middle class minus the right to speak and although still resentful, they didn’t vandalize every spoon and shoe they got, which qualified for an improvement. Government applauded itself.
            Slave to my need to play an architect – pun tasteless, I realize - the first thing we built was the three main slave pens. We resided in tents until we managed. The one civil engineer we required to double-check my statics calculations was happy to help, since General kidnapped him and threatened to carve out his kidneys if he tries to charge us. The biggest building – that is to say, the longest, barracks-shaped – was for the multitude of single men. It was stationed on the far west of the kidney-shaped estate. In the middle of the bricked-in area was a communal room with a small bar and on each side of it were bathrooms, but mainly, split two ways, were the bunk-bed aisles that accommodated a 1oo sleepers each. I was still pining for more people, so we made it more spacious than really necessary.
            The second pen was similar in shape, long, but smaller and with more mirrors – that was the building for the single women. Not all of the beds there were bunks and some had partitions between them. A lot of women I got were elderly ladies, which coughed a lot. The third one, wider, was for families. There were 2o apartments, tiny but comfy, for couples with pre-adolescent children. For infants, there was a day care unit in a building we split four ways – into kindergarten, supervisor’s office, personnel supplies storage and infirmary. Another building was for preparation and serving of food. At the gate, there was a sort of a check-point mini-armory and cots for on-call militia watch, and stables (Dharowansa’s rural regions were still heavy on horse traffic.) All this was sort of bunched up between the main gate and the main house, which would probably be mine, but I only arranged that to be for the ground floor – a nice airy apartment with a neat kitchen and three guest rooms, where we could stay if we came to visit over a summer break. Upper floor and attic were small rooms for maids and cooks – elder single women who truly didn’t enjoy sleeping in communal dorms on bunk-beds or showering in the hammam. These also took care of the clothes and the windows and employed kids to do the dishes and toilets and helped me maintain a garden. I suck at gardening, but I always wanted to have one, so we planted a load of flowers behind the main house and I’m hoping somebody will think of watering them from time to time. There’s a cool pond with trout and a small cemetery at the far end of the first complex area. One river cuts it in half and cuts off a small hill from the second area, where there’s a little cottage for (originally the overseer) Gennonsuke. He agrees it’s far nicer than the big house and besides – he can hardly chance running into the General, so that’s where he’s decided to call home when on Dharowansa. Only other structure there – and the only in the third area also, are the sheds and shelters in case of bad weather, or where some of the workers may sleep if they choose, and tool storage.
            Of course I haven’t said anything about what we grow, yet.
            Well. Considering this is me, and considering I only really stretch my mind in one direction, purchasing this farm wouldn’t even cross my mind if I didn’t know only one natural pigment production site exists in all mapped universe until now. Somewhere, nobody really cares where and I’ve only heard of it once, there’s a small insignificant farm with some sentimental owner with a hand-painted paper fetish. They grow bushes that produce mulberries which, upon proper treatment, make a really good and lasting pigment. I only know this, because as a curiosity, General and I went to buy some and I was mesmerized by their merchandise. By the looks on their faces, we were one of very few. Our next move was to procure the seeds for each of the bushes, as they were genetically altered (it began as an old man’s experiment and then became a regional wonder and quite a posh to indulge in, if one was a quilt letterer, but since, of course, nobody ever used ink to write anymore, their business never took off.) and could only be stolen. There were 12 different trees and just for good measure, we cleared out their research studio and took all the hybrids as well. I’m not sure if they’ve ever found out who robbed them, but that doesn’t worry me. Even if there was some son or some dying man’s vendetta, militia was trained by The General and they have shoot-on-sight orders for anyone who comes asking about my patents. We also have pigs.
            In love with pigment since the first time I pushed my fingers into the sleek powder in a market in Africa and got a bright bluish rash, I never got the chance to really collect it. It’s been a while since the era of Johannes Vermeer, so after Earth was lost, so went all its earthly treasures. Even though natural things that produced color, even saffron to a degree, still existed here and there, nobody bothered to color things with things that made your hands dirty. Aurora was an excellent place to resurrect certain crafts and as we already had a vast paper mill up and going, natural pigment was only.. natural. Carmine and Lapis lazuli were relics. Now we had freaky berry things.
            Four different reds – depending on the ripeness of the picked fruit; two blues, two greens, one orange, yellow, brown and two blacks (which became two different grays) were complimented by (experimental, fickle) another violet, green, ochre and pink. I was badly lacking fluorescent pink and turquoise, which can be very interesting colors in the dusty gritty backside of places like once-was-India and Mali. There will have to be room for my own research lab sometime in the future and I’ve notified the General to be on the look-out for some chromatic chemists, should he happen to be bored.

            And so, this is how I now have a little pigment mulberries farm. Work starts early, with a big brass bell toll and the slaves pour out of the pens like ants from a ruckused anthill, use bathrooms, gravitate towards the refectory and then hit the fields. They are either planting the seeds, tending to the soil, applying fertilizers, removing parasites or simply building. Berries are very neatly divided by the color of their results and they require different teams. Most of the trick is soil treatment, as it was observed early on by dendrologists, that different types of soil make for different colors of the blossoms on same plants. When harvest time comes, by the time we’re done with all the tricky little details, it will be time to sow again. Not sure what we’ll use to rotate the patches, but probably lawn and goats on it and then we’ll produce a shitload of butter. Hm. I can’t see why not. I think I’ll go find some cows.
            So then around early afternoon (time runs differently here, but let’s say around 3) there’s lunch and an hour’s rest and then more work until 7, when there’s big dinner. Afterwards lights out is at 1o, but people have to be in beds by midnight. There’s no alcohol anywhere and they can’t really run, the slaves, even though unlike some plantations, I don’t make them wear collars or build busty electrical fences. They all have GPSs in their spines,  and the inspections need to count them all every few weeks or so. They are always set in groups of ten and if someone is missing, that group’s register number doesn’t light up to green. It’s the same for a group that’s made of groups – if there’s not a hundred people in it, group’s faulty. If a group doesn’t pass inspection and if it’s suspected one has run away, they are taken from the incompetent owner and put to a far more heavy duty environment. It doesn’t make any difference, of course. People are natural born rule-breakers and some of the best characters in history were runaway slaves. I’m just hoping they keep it together long enough for Aurora economy to change and for whatever Spartacus emerges, times will be ready. I’ll hold their coats while they force laws to change back to humane again, but until then, a have a farm called Slave Pens and am making ink to be able to write it all down, neatly.