Friday, July 15, 2011

A Few Words from a mid-21st Century Deputy Sheriff

Okay, I really have to break in here. All this scribbling about "utopianism" is really scraping me off. As if folk shouldn't draw up ideas for a good future! As if Guetti doesn't do it himself, all the time...not that he ever does anything except talk and write about it!

Hi. My name is Lance Shaw. This is Nick Guetti's "blog", whatever that means, and I couldn't find my way around a computer if I had a manual, so he's typing this for me. I've had some schooling, and I can read and write okay, but I don't know how to type--I've never worked in the print shop in town. Otherwise, I'd be doing this myself. But Guetti's honest, I guess I can say...although he's the worst kind of hypocrite about some things.

I live in a small town called Homestead, a little over thirty miles--about six, seven hours' ride, more or less--northeast from Amherst, in the New England Commonwealth...south-central New England, right at the eastern feet of the Berkshire Hills. A lot's changed since your time, in case you're wondering about my geography. Trust me: I may not be a genius in that area, but I am a Deputy Sheriff, and you don't get that job without having a little data in your drive about where you live. I don't really get into all the politics of it, or the history--that's more Guetti's kind of thing--but I guess I know as much about where--and when--I'm from as I need to.

Homestead's been there for exactly as long as I have. It started off as a Rural Reclamation Community. The founding members of the Town Council--the Randalls and those--came there with some legal notes and a bunch of folk, including me and my foster family, back in 2034, when I was eight years old. That was eight or nine years ago, now, right after the end of the Civil Wars. I grew up watching it grow up, from pretty much nothing but a ten-acre plateau in a cove up on the side of a mountain--just a bare, rocky, wide ravine with a spring at the end of it--to a town of about nine hundred folk, now, not including children. Scrap, I don't even know everybody there anymore! Most of them came there to build it--and in eight years they carved another ten acres out of the side of that mountain--but there have been children born there since pretty much day one. I guess I know most of them, all right...and I think all the children know me. Well, everybody knows who I am, I guess: me, and Aidan Meecham and the Sheriff. Folk talk a lot about us.

My parents were killed in the last part of the Wars, and my sister Melissa and me ended up with their friends, the Meechams--Aidan's folk. We're from Amherst, which was pretty torn up at that time, but the Commonwealth was already getting their scrap together. A lot of the big families--the Founding Houses, they're called now, who helped folk during the Wars--got involved, and they had thousands of people building, farming, writing law...they got busy. The military top brass of the United American Rebellion were there too, of course--it was right after their victory--along with those of the Army of New England, and together they set up their big joint academy, Fort Wescott. We were already gone by then, out to Homestead. The Commonwealth needed RRCs like us out in the countryside to keep it inhabited by something other than bandits. I haven't been back to Amherst since, but I hear it's gotten pretty impressive in eight years. Freight caravans come through Homestead four, five, six times a year, to and from there. It's a big city, all right: sixteen and a half thousand people, now, I guess.

Guetti says nobody who reads this is going to call a community of that size a big city. Like I said, things have changed. They do that. Amherst is probably the biggest city in all the eastern provinces. They say the capital out in Pacifica is a lot bigger--more than twenty-five thousand, supposedly--but I don't know. That's way the hell out west, across the Waste and the Divide. Guetti says that's where he lives--where, not when. He's like you, from before...

Where was I? Okay, so anyway, I got into archery when I was about ten. To tell the truth, I don't really remember much before then, and I don't really like to. I guess I was having a lot of trouble before, but once I started shooting, things got better. I've never wanted to do much else. Giles Garrett, the merchant from North Adams, gave me my first bow and arrows at May Fair that year, and Sheriff Lambert got me pointing my arrows downrange at the tournament there. I started working with the bowyers and fletchers, and a little bit with the smiths, that same year, before and after school, and at night I'd go to the range if the Town Guard wasn't using all of it. Next May Fair, the year after, I won that tournament. After eighth grade I quit going to school and joined the militia, still working as a bowyer. Constable Chedsey--he's a big, smart, tough, grizzly old veteran--put me through weights and calisthenics, how to ride and handle a horse, along with all the other volunteers, and I got to shoot more often. Aidan had already been with them two years: his Dad's on the council, and pretty close with Sheriff Lambert, who taught Aidan how to use the big cutter--the hand-and-a-half sword, they call it. That's his thing; not too many folk know how to swing one of those...actually, him and the Sheriff, and that's it as far as I know. He's a pretty good archer himself, too...not as good as me, but he doesn't make it his life like I do. I'm not saying I'm the best shot in town or anything: there's a few around here who've trained at it a lot longer than I have. I'm only sixteen, after all.

Anyway, about a year and a half ago, a couple of jumpers came into town. That's what we call scraps who roam around rural communities like ours, looking for women to hurt. Or girls...or boys, for that matter. We'd had a lot of trouble with the Pit Vipers from the ruins southwest of there before that time (and I was too young to be involved in those fights), but these two were different: slickers from Amherst, I guess...I don't know; I never did ask about what their notes said, or where they came from. But me and Aidan were out in the south orchards after most of the pickers had already gone back one evening in late summer, looking for some rabbit or grouse or pheasant to shoot. I don't do much hunting, but I like some small game when I can get it. We fry it up and glaze it with preserves or syrup out there. Anyway, these two jumpers were out where we were, and they were hunting something else. Wanda Veeder, who was just thirteen, was cleaning up and gleaning a last few apples after the rest had gone, and they caught her. They didn't know we were there, and we saw what was going on, but not before they had her down on the ground with her skirt up. As soon as we figured out what we were seeing, we just killed them. I put a broadhead in the side of one and then gutted him with my cutter. Aidan shot the other in the leg, chased him down and about took his head off with that sword of his. We hacked those scum to pieces; I mean, we butchered them. We saved the girl, but she'd never seen that much blood in her life, and she got as scared of us as she'd been of them. She never talked to us after that.

Because they'd been citizens, with notes and everything, instead of bandits, it was first. Most of the Council were horrified. Plenty of folk had been objecting to guys as young as me being given arms and turned into fighters, and when we turned up back home that night covered with blood and with a freaked-out girl in tow and told the Guard without batting an eyelid that we'd killed two guys we said were jumpers, they thought maybe the objections might have had something to them. We pointed out that a girl getting raped was kind of a big deal too, and Wanda Veeder finally remembered how to talk again and told them we weren't lying. That was a bad night. The Council questioned me and Aidan separately, and asked us all kinds of stupid questions about what we were thinking when we did it, what we were "feeling" afterwards, and did we know it was wrong to kill someone without a trial. Scrap, no one asks you how you feel about killing one of them Goddamned Pit Vipers when they come raiding and you're on the militia, and these two were no better, I don't care if they had notes from the freaking Prime Secretary's office! They may have, for all I wanted to know. The Sheriff stuck up for us, and one or two others did too. Paul Meecham, Aidan's Dad, didn't say anything: he just sat and listened. Me and Aidan both told them the same thing: we were just glad we'd been there, and that we'd just wanted Wanda Veeder safe. Even so, they were going to take us off the militia. Before they could, the Sheriff got us alone with some legal notes and, real quick, signed us in as full Deputy Sheriffs--leaders of the actual Town Guard: the police, not the militia. That way, we belonged to him and couldn't be charged with a crime or stripped of arms without a full consensus of everyone on the Council...including Sheriff Lambert himself.

They wanted his blood for that. They were roaring for it. He was in a closed session with the Council for all that night and all the next day, but when he came out, he was still the Sheriff and we were still his Deputies. He told us later what he'd said to the Council: that these times were not like before the Wars, and nice young men became killers some times, and that me and Aidan were good lads with a lot of martial aptitude, and you couldn't turn back the clock anyway. He said the town had two choices: let us go on being killers, with no more training, or else train us harder than before and make us into fighters who use our training to protect innocent lives, which is obviously what we wanted to do anyway. But, he said, he was going to train our asses off every day; this was going to make training in the militia look like picking blackberries.

He wasn't lying. But my notes had a lot more numbers on them after that--a lot  more--and we started going out on patrol trainings, where he taught us how to use our eyes and ears to spot signs of potential threats. And he combat trained us personally from then on, too, which was no joke. He's been in the of the Golden Eagles, the Rebellion's military elite--a Sergeant. He'd seen a lot of combat in the last few years of the Wars, before he "retired" and became a Sheriff. He taught us how to lead militia squads. And for everybody who thinks I'm too young to be doing this scrap, there's at least one other who appreciates it. I started getting a lot of respect. Children look up to me. I started my own elite archers' militia squad--trained them myself. They're mostly younger than me, and they can all outshoot me at long range already; I got them to teach themselves how to do that specifically, just to watch them do it. They can all hit a hay bale with a high volley from a hundred and seventy yards, over and over again, all day long, and rarely do they miss. The Council hates that I'm doing that, but they can't do scrap about it, except insist that my squad gets the best gear the town can afford when they're working, armor and so on, and they do. They all want to be like me, and they love to talk about how in some ways they can actually shoot better. Anyway, in a pretty short time, I could afford a little house for me and Melissa in the Residential area. It's a small earth-stone-and-timber, but it's got a garden, two stories, a good kitchen, a methane digester, water piped in from the storage tanks uphill, insulation's not bad. And it's ours. Melissa's working at the medical and veterinary clinics, mostly, but she's always helping everybody in her spare time. Somehow she finds time to paint, too. We're doing fine.

I ran into Nick Guetti not long ago...although he says it's like five years ago, for him. I don't really understand that; this time travel thing is weird. He said he wanted to write a book about me, and about some big, mysterious change that's supposed to happen soon in my time. I finally said he could do it, though I don't know what his interest is in writing about me, of all people. I haven't known him that long, and I don't get him, and I'm pretty sure he really doesn't get me either. I don't like him that much, to tell you the truth. I think he romanticizes the lives of people like me, though he doesn't think he does. He says he really tries not to, and I guess I have to believe him, because he is honest, in a sketchy, inward, unaccountable kind of way. But he's also a hypocrite...or he would be, if he wasn't even harder on himself than he is on others. Like I say, I don't get him. I think he's manipulative: he puts people in really insanely intense situations just "to see how their characters develop", like he says, and I don't think he gives a scrap about the content of their lives, even though he writes it all down like a legal writer in the Commonwealth Attorney's copy shop. It's weird. Unsettling. He actually scares me that way sometimes. I think he knows something about the future--my future, I mean, not yours--and he won't say what it is. He just says it's going to be amazing. Whatever that's supposed to mean.

Whatever happens, I hope it helps Melissa stop having those nightmares. They've been getting worse...

But I didn't mean to talk about my life so much. All I really wanted to say is that you can't necessarily trust all that Guetti says. Like I say, I've got to hand it to him for being honest enough to let me dictate all this through him, but I think he's got weird ideas. He never really does anything, is what I think it is; he just practices his "martial arts", goes to work, comes home and spends his and his wife's money to pay other people to do most everything for him while he sits around and writes about real people who do real things! If he tried to use that kung-fu bullhonkey on me--and of course he never would, he's a decent guy--but if he did, I'd just send him running with one of my broadheads in his ass. Those fancy moves aren't scrap around here.

He once asked me how I felt about all the people a generation ago...people like you; about how you all could have made a difference, lived more wisely, left a smaller footprint, done more about the politics, and yatta yatta ya, maybe prevented the climate change, and the Wars. I have to ask, what kind of a freaking question is that? Why do some people seem so interested in how I feel about folk doing what folk freaking do?! And it's not as if anything you did rendered me helpless, is it? Like I said: me, and Melissa, and all the folk and the children and everything, here in Homestead...we're all right. You don't need to worry about us. We're sure better off than you: a whole lot of you are dead! I don't think two thirds of you in 2011 survived to see the United States surrender to the Rebellion in '38. That was a bloody twenty-three years we had, after '16. But it's over now, and the Union down south as been quiet; they seem to be living and letting live. The weather could be better: half the year, you can't even cross the Midwest, let alone live there, and the maple sugar harvests out here are supposed to be not as good as they used to be...I could handle a little more of that. It's a delicacy, and we don't export it.

Mostly, I'm too busy to think about the past. I don't know what to think about you; I don't have to live your lives, and I don't like to give people advice. But Guetti won't leave me alone until I do, so here it is. I hope you're not like him, just sitting around and noticing things that happen, and treating them like art in a museum or files in a video archive or books in a library. I hope you spend your time doing things that actually matter, and that when you notice something that needs to be dealt with, you just take care of it, without feeling like you need an invitation or authorization from someone else who isn't even there to help you. Beyond that, I guess...just do your job. Work for your community, and be happy with what they give you for it. Respect your leaders, and your elders...I mean, don't take everything they say like it's true, because often they're full of scrap, but at least listen to them.

And practice what you love! Say anything you want, it's what you love to do that's going to be most worth doing.

Me, I'm going to go get some dinner and go to bed! Guetti's kept me talking here for hours. Scrap, I don't think I've talked this much all year. It's cold tonight, and I've got to get up early tomorrow. Giles's caravan is coming in from North Adams, and I'm the Guardsman at Arms on that shift. We haven't had Viper trouble in a couple years, but you never know...

Anyway, I'm tired, and Melissa'll have stew on the table by now. She'll turn me into a freaking newt if I let it get cold. Goodnight.

Lance Shaw is a fictional character in the forthcoming fantasy novel Archer, by Nick Guetti, currently scheduled to be finished, re-drafted, edited and published by... Well, as soon as Guetti can get his lazy act together. As of January 2043, he serves as a Deputy Sheriff in the Rural Reclamation Community of Homestead in the New England Commonwealth, a sovereign province of the United American Restructuring (UAR). He resides with his younger sister, Melissa...and no, she can't actually turn people into newts...yet. He is destined to be a great hero in a time of change that not even someone of his era can yet imagine. To him, it will be nothing special, and no more than can be expected. 


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