Saturday, June 5, 2021

Understanding CRT

 I'm seeing many articles that make some pretty nasty claims about Critical Race Theory. It's a legal theory, stating that people are not inherently more criminal or less intelligent based on their skin color or any other biological factor. However, we see a disparity of incarceration and educational achievement correlated to those factors. The theory then, is that there is something in our laws and our culture that is causing these disparities. I find this non-controversial. Many do not. 

Here is a recent article that was linked to me to make the anti-CRT case. 

https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/should-public-schools-ban-critical?fbclid=IwAR2-hejN6gyQXvCFZKYFDQLFnjq75n5cxNR9JJHfgjRmgtOY2tKENH-tqc0

I could take it on face value, accepting the half dozen or so anecdotes as evidence. My experience is that information presented like this usually misses much of the data behind it. I'll drill down on one of them to demonstrate this.

This article gave examples, claiming they made up a case against CRT. Here’s one:

·  California’s Department of Education is proposing to eliminate opportunities for accelerated math in the name of “equity.” That means discouraging algebra for eighth graders and calculus for high schoolers. 

 The "eliminate opportunities" goes to Reason magazine. I would call this a "polemic". If I accepted the opinion of the author, I could have stopped there. This research was fairly easy because it had the report in this article. Although, it is long. I haven't read the whole thing, but if anyone would like to point out something in it, I'd be glad to respond. I'll respond to one of the quotes in Reason magazine below.

https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ma/cf/


https://reason.com/2021/05/04/california-math-framework-woke-equity-calculus/

This one reminded me of The National Enquirer, repeating the words in the title in a subheading, then again in the first paragraph. It quoted a report, and picked out some of the evidence for how it made it’s case. I’ll give them credit that they linked to the full report. It claimed the “entire second chapter is about connecting math to social justice concepts”. I downloaded that chapter and could not confirm that. I was hard pressed to find mention of social justice, let alone a theme.

The Reason article quotes the report, "To encourage truly equitable and engaging mathematics classrooms we need to broaden perceptions of mathematics beyond methods and answers so that students come to view mathematics as a connected, multi-dimensional subject that is about sense making and reasoning, to which they can contribute and belong."

Robby Soave, the Reason author, follows up with the comment, “This approach is very bad.” He makes some general statements about people having natural abilities to excel at math and how we should encourage them. He cites no data, no studies. In the next paragraph, he says, “young people who aren't particularly adept at any academic discipline might pick up art, music, computers, or even trade skills.” I have a computer degree. Calculus was required because of the way it teaches you to think about problem solving. I have trouble trusting Robby after this comment.

There is still a lot of that report to read, but so far, I’m seeing how it encourages a method of engaging young people in reasons for using math and working with others to solve a problem. The “discouraging” that is mentioned in the Bariweiss article is probably one of many possible recommendations to consider, not a main theme.

 


Here's one of the vignettes in Chapter 2 of the report. Not sure how farming is a social justice issue.

Lori, a high school geometry teacher, introduces a problem to students. Lori explains that a farmer has 36 individual fences, each measuring one meter in length, and that the farmer wants to put them together to make the biggest possible area. Lori takes time to ask her students about their knowledge of farming, making reference to California’s role in the production of fruit, vegetables, and livestock. The students engage in an animated discussion about farms and the reasons a farmer may want a fenced area. While some of Lori’s long-term English learners show fluency with social/conversational English, she knows some will be challenged by forthcoming disciplinary literacy tasks. To support meaningful engagement in increasingly rigorous course work, she ensures images of all regular and irregular shapes are posted and labeled on the board, along with an optional sentence frame, “The fence should be arranged in a [blank] shape because [blank].” These support instruction when Lori asks students what shapes they think the fences could be arranged to form. Students suggest a rectangle, triangle, or square. With each response, Lori reinforces the word with the shape by pointing at the image of the shapes. When she asks, “How about a pentagon?” she reminds students of the optional sentence frame as they craft their response. Lori asks, the students think about this and talk about it as mathematicians. Lori asked them whether they want to make irregular shapes allowable or not.

After some discussion, Lori asks the students to think about the biggest possible area that the fences can make. Some students begin by investigating different sizes of rectangles and squares, some plot graphs to investigate how areas change with different side lengths.

Susan works alone, investigating hexagons––she works out the area of a regular hexagon by dividing it into six triangles and she has drawn one of the triangles separately. She tells Lori that she knew that the angle at the top of each triangle must be 60 degrees, so she could draw the triangles exactly to scale using compasses and find the area by measuring the height.

Niko has found that the biggest area for a rectangle with perimeter 36 is a 9 x 9 square—which gave him the idea that shapes with equal sides may give bigger areas and he started to think about equilateral triangles. Niko was about to draw an equilateral triangle when he was distracted by Jaden who told him to forget triangles, he had found that the shape with the largest area made of 36 fences was a 36-sided shape. Jaden suggested to Niko that he find the area of a 36-sided shape too and he leant across the table excitedly, explaining how to do this. He explained that you divide the 36-sided shape into triangles and all of the triangles must have a one-meter base, Niko joined in saying, “Yes, and their angles must be 10 degrees!” Jaden said, “Yes, and to work it out we need tangent ratios which Lori has just explained to me.”

Jaden and Niko move closer together, incorporating ideas from trigonometry, to calculate the area.

As the class progressed many students started using trigonometry, some students were shown the ideas by Lori, some by other students. The students were excited to learn about trig ratios as they enabled them to go further in their investigations, they made sense to them in the context of a real problem, and the methods were useful to them. In later activities the students revisited their knowledge of trigonometry and used them to solve other problems.

 

 


You're In My Light

Orion Origins Mission #7*

Executive Summary

 1st Mission to System 359
Sections: Goals, Species of Note

Written: Orion Year 14031 (10,947 Earth Years Before Contact)

Primary Goals Achieved

·         Sustained the Dark Energy Drive for three months and reached system 359 for the first time with no damage. Reduced to sub-light speeds outside of the orbital path of the fifth planet and entered the solar orbit.

·         Proceeded to the 3rd planet in the system. Entered planetary orbit after 137 hours. Confirmed telescopic data. Planet has a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere with carbon dioxide, neon and hydrogen. Flora and fauna are abundant.

·         Probes confirmed the existence of eukaryotic cells from samples. Life on this planet is descended from the bacterial spores distributed by the dust of the Orion Origin Asteroid.

·         Completed surveys of life, climate, and geography.

·         Duration: one moon orbit.

Animal Life

Forces of natural selection, random genetic drift, mutation, and gene flow are present. The variety of species exceeds that of the Orion home world. Cataloging and referencing of collected data can be found in subsequent reports.

Thousands of species migrate cyclically in a solar year. Depending on species, this movement is within one or two biome regions. Others cross multiple hemispheres. Slower migration, to expand territories or find more hospitable territory, occurs over generations as a reaction to changes in climate and geography. 

Large areas were depopulated due to the advancement of ice over thousands of years preceding our arrival. Smaller and swifter animals are migrating into them as temperate climates return.

Species of note in the sub-phylum of mammals with spinal columns

Species 1:

·         Some subspecies are high on food chains.

·         Migration across hemispheres.

·         Complex language skills.

·         Communication across thousands of miles.

·         Form long term relationships and cooperate in hunting and the raising of young.

Species 2:

·         High on food chains. Subspecies have recently gone extinct.

·         Some annual migration. Some recent migration into new territory.

·         Complex language skills.

·         Form long term relationships and cooperate in hunting and the raising of young.

·         Use of manufactured tools.

 Species 3:

·         Feathered.

·         Approximately 20,000 subspecies.

·         Migration across hemispheres.

·         Communicate alarm, aggression, mating, and begging.

·         Many subspecies form long term relationships and cooperate in hunting and the raising of young.

·         Use of objects as tools in some subspecies.

* Translated from Orion to 37 Earth languages (Orion Year 25238/1 year EYBC). Includes local terms for time and distance. Published in Nebula Online Library (Earth Year 2001). – S/B 1999??


 

Orion Origins Mission #48

Executive Summary

2nd Mission to System 359
Section: Species #2, Class #1

Written: Orion Year 14793 (10,119 Earth Years Before Contact)

Unexpected growth for Species 2

Territorial migration due to climate changes continues in the Northern Hemisphere.

Continued migration further into all hemispheres and biomes. Population increased by 50%.

Unclear if additional extinctions of large mammals are related to the increased population of Species 2 or to the continued changes in climate.

Recommendations:

·         Increase frequency of missions to system 359.

·         Refugee status for 3rd planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

Orion Inhabitance #32075

Detailed narrative regarding the acts of resistance to the Orion inhabitance of Earth.

Originally published in the periodical Lepus Awakenings (Orion Year 24121)

Published in the Nebula online library (Earth Year 2019). 


You’re in My Light

A Hero’s journey on the way to the hardware store

Chapter 1

On a sunny day in Northern Indiana, in the underbrush by a dirt road a face took shape in the leaves. The leaves rustled in the wind and the face slowly rose above them. The face of a man smeared with ash and clay distinguished itself above the brush.

 Sitting nearby, next to a picnic blanket, with no camouflage, unless you consider khaki pants with a few grass stains and a T-shirt sporting the names of Midwestern rock bands camouflage, another man spoke, “What’s with the camo Pete?”. Pete’s cover was completely blown.

“Shhsh, it will hear us.”

“Of course it will hear us. It’s more sensitive than any animal on earth. It literally has advanced alien technology.”

“Then what are we doing here Barry? You said we were going to shoot at the aliens. You look like you’re hosting a neighborhood barbeque.” The intensity of battle was wearing off in this conversation, but his muscles were still tight, ready for a fight.

“We aren’t shooting at aliens. We’re shooting at a drone that people made with some alien technology in it. You’re reading too much Star Trek fan fiction and not enough of the tech journals.”

“I know it’s a drone. What I mean is if we are taking on the aliens, and they can see us hiding here, how can we possibly hope to mount any kind of resistance?”

“Maybe history should be on your reading list. How did the Palestinians get the attention of the rest of the world? How did Afghanistan take down the Soviet Union? It was one helicopter at a time, sometimes getting civilians involved. This isn’t conventional war. They were out matched and so are we. It’s called ‘trying to win’.”

“Yeah, I read the ‘Freedom Fighters’ speech, bin Laden was a freedom fighter, and so was George Washington.” Pete rattled off bullet points of the speech in rapid order, “They are going to call us terrorists and so on, but we’re not fighting for some religious ideal or against some despotic King, this is our planet. We aren’t just fleas arguing over who owns the dog, we have 4 billion years of biology behind us here. See, I read. But all I was told is shoot down a drone and run back to town.  I’m trying to figure out how all that fits in the master plan.”

An “m” slowly started to form on the lips of Pete’s brother in arms as he tried to process this “master plan” comment but that question would have to wait. One eye squinted and his head turned to the side like a dog. He was honing in on the whir of a the drone coming down the road His fight or flight response switched on, to fight. “Okay, we’ll talk master plan when we get back. Here it comes now. I need you for your marksmanship right now, not your political theories. One shot from me to get it to bank then it’s all yours.”

“This part I know.” His game face returned, and the camo now fit the attitude.

The drone whizzed toward them, noting the heat outline of a couple people by the side of the road, nothing to report home about. The technology to identify them existed on a large ship just above the exosphere, but down on Earth, it was still a democracy and privacy laws still kept that out of something the US government owned and operated. Those details were not on the minds of these two men. For them it was enough to know that it couldn’t tell their age or match their faces to any databases anywhere.

A 12 gauge shotgun popped out from underneath the blanket and was fired without taking much time to aim. The drone dipped sharply into a turn to avoid the shot spray. Pete had drawn his weapon at the same time from under a poncho that was laid beside him, a Browning A-5 autoloader with the iconic humpback receiver. He shouldered the gun, his cheek automatically rested on the stock and his eye looked down the barrel. He caught up to the drone and pointed ahead of the target then pulled the trigger.

Miles away in a room lit only by surveillance screens and low lamps over clipboards and small electronic devices, a man in a white shirt and a loosened tie was sipping coffee. He threw his legs forward to bring his swivel chair to the full upright position. He managed to do this while keeping his lips on his coffee cup and without spilling a drop. He set it down in its matching coaster and said, “Kids. We should put some ‘Deer Crossing’ signs back up. Give them something to shoot at”. One of his screens showed a country road, forested on either side. It was mostly a blur and the horizon was not in the middle where it should have been, but it looked like it was recovering to normal flight. The road and trees whipped back and forth across the display. He just barely caught two blurry figures. The screen went blank. He had a one-word response, “Shit.”

“Nice shot. Let’s go”, Barry spoke sounding as casual as his khaki pants. They were both already moving as he handed his gun to Pete like a runner passing the baton in a relay.

Both men moved at double time down a deer path. They split up as they started toward a stream and crossed at different points. Neither one of them looked back. The forest turned to corn field. Pete moved down the rows swiftly, being careful not to jostle the tassels above him. He slowed to listen as he neared the edge of the field then looked left, right, and more important, above.

The guns were tucked into the poncho he was carrying and slung over his shoulder. Now he adopted the casual attitude of his companion. He strolled toward the nearby barn. Inside, he got down on all fours and brushed at the hay until he found the large brass ring mounted flush to the floor. He returned to a wide stance standing above it and heaved open a door that revealed many more weapons and ammunition. With loving care, he unloaded and placed each gun in its designated place.

Water and some grooming utensils that could have just as easily have been there for the horses, were used to wash off the unnecessary camouflage and transform him back into just another young man in town. As he left the barn, he carefully fashioned his finger and thumb to hold his tongue for a loud whistle. Across the yard from the barn, on the other side of a house someone who looked like a farmer checked his watch then returned to making some motions that looked like working the land.

When Pete arrived in town for a well deserved adult beverage, the man who was his superior officer less than an hour ago was already well into an electronic trivia game. Pete tapped Barry as he walked by and asked, “what’s new”. The standard reply of “nothing” actually meant something this time. It meant they hadn’t made the news, yet. Barry had monitored police reports of a drone shot down of course, but he wasn’t worried about those, yet. Gun shots in a corn field in Indiana in late summer are not news. The shooting down of a federal drone would remain a matter for the Federal Government. Local police weren’t going to get involved until some investigating had been done. Whatever the master plan was, Barry and Pete’s part was to return to normal for now.

                                            ---------------------------

                             

Over 100 miles to the south, on a farm that was more like an exceptionally large garden, in one of the outbuildings, a Betamax video player hummed quietly as it played lecture #213. Dave was paying more attention to the lights and dials than the content. It was the umpteenth time he had seen this one about how electricity works. It was fun to learn something this way, way more fun than school, at least it was 25 years ago when his father had made it.

His dad started teaching him, then turned them into a series on video tape that he sold using ads in magazines. He loved it when he was little, but as he grew, he had been expected to help with the creating, then the editing, then maintaining copies of the library and upgrading to the next technology. It became tedious. It became work. Then his dad died. Almost everything he did he had first encountered through his father. Wiring a home, repairing a bicycle, navigating with a map and compass, determining how he aged just a little bit faster as he rode uphill because of the relative effect of the change in gravity, everything he did was a reminder.

When aliens arrived a few months after his father’s death and declared half the world a galactic sanctuary, he didn’t pay that much attention to the news, it did nothing to change his outlook on life. The best part of it was that people left. They left for one of the two other planets that were inhabited by people who said they were related to us from some billion years old bacterial common ancestor.

His dad always said that adding billions of people to the planet over just a few decades was the biggest problem we faced, and nothing seemed to be able to stop it. It was fine with Dave that human population would return to the numbers of his father’s boyhood. It was also fine with him that the two spaceports built on earth would help all of them explore further. It was not his thing, but it did no harm to him either.

The people here on this little farm were enough for him now. The skills and knowledge he had learned from his dad were a good fit for them. When they needed something from him, they would find him. When he showed up to do the work, it might happen to be around a mealtime. The smiles and warm conversation were ample payment. This morning however was spent just staring at the equipment, sending another of his father’s educational videos up to some kind of space encyclopedia.

Dave’s expressionless face in his tiny workshop did not match the enthusiasm of his father’s on the screen. The subject matter wasn’t exciting but you would think he was describing sky diving over a tropical island he was so animated. His voice cracked as he threw up his hands with a big shrug saying, “Ohm, why do they call it that?”, then bringing those hands nearly together as if he was crafting something in clay and lowering his tone, “well, see there was this guy, named Ohm”, and just as quick waving off that precise point as if this was an outtake, “oh, who cares, we just want to know how electricity works.”

Dave mouthed the words from the screen as his dad recited Ohm’s law. He couldn’t remember not knowing those words. He did remember the tedious work with the green screen technology to setup the cartoon images of getting struck by lightning. His dad thought that would be hilarious, to have him get zapped by a lightning bolt and have his hair stand on end and his clothes give off smoke. On screen, he set it up, “But with electricity, if you want to know what it does, go outside in an electrical storm.”

But this was an educational video, so he needed to explain the joke, “Wait, wait, do NOT stand outside in an electrical storm, especially not holding a metal rod.” All of his science videos were set in a cluttered lab, full of odd looking machine parts and items that seemed to have no relationship to each other but would get used throughout the series. One of those items was a metal rod. He grabbed it and stood like the Statue of Liberty with her torch.

Then came the green screen effect, the lab background was gone and in its place, he was standing in a cartoon forest in a storm. A cartoon bolt of lightning hit the rod and he shook and acted shocked in a performance that would not win an Oscar. The lab background returned and a little bit of fake smoke he had found at a magic store rose over his shoulders. Dave’s memory of his dad’s enthusiasm with every detail of that few seconds of video made a smile curl on one side of his mouth and made his head shake a bit from side to side. A child’s embarrassment never wears off.

His dad went on to explain that amps equals volts divided by resistance and a brightly colored triangle helped visualize that. Then graphics of waves showing current and comparing them to water flowing. Dave wasn’t paying attention to the words. His thoughts turned to the wires in his workshop, following those same laws his dad was teaching. The analog signal streamed out of the back of the player connected by cords with red, white and yellow connectors. It followed a winding bent path to the much smaller less dusty black box with one small green light on it.  From the other end of that box a thin gray cable went out through the wall. It sparkled in the early morning sun coming in through the small window on the east side of the shop.  The signal finally found its way out to an antenna. When he was first shown that antenna, Dave swore it could not possibly do anything. It was too small and the elements weren’t positioned in any way he’d seen antenna elements positioned. But according to all available evidence the now digitized signal was making its way to a spaceship.

When the Orions gave him that antenna, Dave thought they were joking. He said it looked like they designed it based on watching a Jetsons cartoon. They just smiled. They did that a lot. They told him his father’s collection of educational lectures and demonstrations needed to be preserved. He asked why they couldn’t just take them and do whatever they needed to do. They said they didn’t work that way. They said things like that a lot. He didn’t care for that answer but couldn’t get much more of an explanation out of them. Once he saw that he could look up his dad’s lessons on their Nebula Library, along with a few million others, all indexed and categorized and searchable, he decided it wasn’t such a bad idea.

They had come here from a few light years, from the direction of the left foot of the Orion constellation. People were still debating if they came to save the planet or conquer it. A few billion accepted it after almost two decades of making the planet a better place, but Dave was still not ready to join that majority. His grandparent’s generation had gone off to die without getting their questions answered. In his parents’ time, people were beaten and harassed and couldn’t get decent jobs because there were people who had answers that were not allowed to be questioned. This was his time. He was seeking answers and living with questions.

The bumper sticker on his dad’s car read “question everything”. He preferred hearing evidence and his father’s series on logic and logical fallacies was always right there, just below the little voice in his head that reminded him that being pleasant was more important than being right. Usually the little voice remained in charge of his mouth, but sometimes not, and words like “that’s an argument from ignorance” came out at the most inopportune times. That could make for awkward conversations. But being convinced by aliens that there are other planets ready to welcome someone just like him was not just any conversation.

Dave snapped up from his day dreaming with three thumps on the door.  He spun in his chair and opened it. It was Marianne. Dave always thought that was funny especially since according to her hair she was a ginger, but not everyone got the Gilligan’s Island reference anymore. After mentioning it four times, he figured out Marianne didn’t like it either. When he opened the door her awkward smile retold that story and also said she needed something fixed and would like him to come by but only if he kept his conversation limited to gardening or canning or perhaps electronic gadgets. Recounting long stories of obscure science fiction characters was another thing he had figured out not to do.

A full, warm beverage was held in her palm and gently kept there with two fingers from the other hand. The breeze from the opened door blew across it and freshened the room with a hint of cinnamon and honey. Dave was looking at it and noticed it was raised as if she was about to present it, not as if she was going to sip from it.

Remembering to let her open the conversation before he reacted to all the cues, Dave said, “Hey Marianne, what’s up?” and turned and moved a piece of paper on the table four inches to the left for no particular reason.

Speaking to where his eyes would be if he was looking, she said, “I figured you were out here and working since early this morning, like always, without breakfast, so I brought you some tea.”

He suddenly made the connection between his inability to focus and his lack of sustenance. He turned to her and reached for the steaming cup. Their fingers just touched in the exchange. Dave was thinking about that touch as he reached. He knew this was a small thing that can help people feel better about their encounters. Marianne showed no sign of any specific thoughts about it. Encountering people wasn’t something that required that much thought for her.

“I probably should grab a bite to eat.” Dave finally returned her smile and managed to make eye contact for more than a half second. Baggage from their past encounters got a little bit lighter.

Marianne didn’t let the silence get awkward, “Sooo, having a little trouble getting my root cellar door to close tight. We should have a good harvest this year and I’d hate to lose any of it.” She trailed off, hinting at times of the day, hoping one would be good for him and hoping he’d help close her sales pitch.

He had returned to looking for things on the table he could pretend needed his attention while thinking about his not so busy schedule. Graciously, he replied, “Yeah, yeah, today is good. When the sun comes around and gives me some light for it.”

He moved to the doorway, where she was still standing, and they danced their way to an understanding that he was going out. For a moment, the tea and her breath and her hair transported him to a land of princesses and ballrooms. Marianne showed no sign of similar thoughts. However, like Ginger Rogers, she could do everything Fred did except backwards and in high heels, so she navigated herself and Dave through what should have been a simple egress. When the spinning and stepping was done, the two of them stood just outside his shop and faced the rest of the world. Mid-morning sun scattered through the trees and warmed parts of the yard while others stayed cool. A thin mist drifted from shade to light.

The promise of a good harvest brought all the feelings of a healthy community out on display. Dave and Marianne had experienced Halloween and Thanksgiving before 1999. They could see hints of those celebrations in the décor. Stalks of dried corn were arranged on a porch. An ofrenda was setup to honor and remember lost friends. The younger humans saw the changing of the season everywhere. Those who were mature enough to express thankfulness felt it a little more as the fresh bounty of what the older people did all day was showing up on their plates.

When they were younger, Dave and Marianne might have worried about what a man in a red suit thought about how they acted all year. The children who were running around here knew that story and some of the other stories and traditions of harvests and changing seasons from around the world and from other planets. Their little voices added a soundtrack to the day.

One of those little voices let out a loud noise that could have been a scream of pain or laughter. Dave and Marianne looked to where it was coming from and didn’t see anyone hurt. One of them was running with a banner that was probably discarded from a grandparent’s box of college memories. Dave knew most of them and could guess the rest based on their dress or similarities to their parents.

Near the back of the group, one was a head taller than the rest. The running was as smooth as the rest, they were rocked a little back and forth as they ran. The mix of skin tones seen at the farm was something that had slowly increased over the years, but Dave was still not accustomed to seeing the light purple. He turned to Marianne who was already smiling in anticipation of his question, “Do we have visitors today?”

“Yep. That’s the daughter of Hirobuka-ah. They’re here to give us some tips on using the worm compost we setup two years ago. We read the manuals online but sometimes hands-on is just better.”

A few of the little humans ran across their path and one broke from that bunch and latched on to Dave’s leg.

“Well hello Kiandra. What adventures are you off to today?”, Dave asked with genuine interest.

She looked up at him with her brown eyes surrounded by a milk chocolate face and told a detailed tale of adventure and romance. None of the words were in a language that Dave knew, or anyone in this solar system or any nearer one knew. They were her words alone. They flowed like a sailor singing a song after returning from whaling in Kachemak Bay.

Dave provided the chorus of “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” on queue as he lifted her with his one free arm. Somewhere in there he interpreted the word “crackers”. As she said it, she went limp and laid her head back toward the dining hall with a non-violent resistance technique. Dave did not need to hold her for questioning, so he knelt to release her. Her feet were already running before they touched the ground and made a bee line to the dining hall.

The crackers she was after were not just any crackers, these were Marjo’s sourdough crackers, a byproduct of a weekly batch of sourdough bread. Bread that sustained this community, like it had sustained communities for thousands of years. It was not the kind of bread that comes in a plastic bag and must be sliced by a machine because it is so delicate that a human hand with knife would rip it to shreds. It was the kind that you keep on the counter wrapped in a towel. The kind that you break and experience the chewy crust, experience it kicking in enzymes in the mouth and your whole body settles as the soothing process moves toward your stomach.

Marianne could see Dave was now on a mission. She waved and turned for a field of corn that began right after the short row of buildings ended. Hirobuka-ah stood at the edge of that field waiting to meet up with Marianne. Her hands waved around as if she was swatting flies but moving too slow to hit anything. Dave and Marianne had seen this before. She was using the computer built into her googles to make some notes or maybe send some off to somewhere official.

Dave noticed Hirobuka-ah was a little larger around the middle than most of the Orions. Normally their lines were even from their shoulders down to their knees, then thinned a little before their narrow and long feet. Maybe it was the overalls. She had probably bought them for this visit, so she would fit in, but they were baggy on her. Loose clothing was the norm for them so Dave had never quite made out where their waist line was. He had read that the ratio of their legs to their torso was less than ours. He didn’t like to stare and as he was looking at her up and down, he thought maybe one of those arm motions was actually a wave. As he looked away he saw Marianne giving a hesitant half-wave in return, she probably wasn’t sure either.

Dave caught up to his little friend pushing against the large dining hall door. She put all her body into it. She called upon the power of her ancestors to move that massive door that was between her and crackers. Dave used a few fingers over her head and gently guided it open and then to help balance her back to vertical,  Her kinetic energy released across a big room full of empty tables. Marjo knew to have a plate of crackers for dirty hands to grab so they wouldn’t intrude any further into the baking area. Dave also respected that barrier. She would invite him to cross it if he waited for the invitation.

Marjo looked up from a magazine on the counter and gave Dave a look she often had for him, a smile with a little sadness. Not exactly, “bless your heart”, but not exactly “hey, you been working out?” Marjo was the big sister Dave didn’t have, the girlfriend that might have been if she were younger, the mentor he didn’t want, and the drinking buddy who actually didn’t drink, all rolled into one. Depending on the mood she read in his face, Dave could get a lengthy speech about his potential or any variety of suggestions for his lifestyle, so he had been working on his cheeriest “good morning” from a couple steps before hitting the door.

This morning, she greeted him with a simple, “Hungry?” She kept her eyes on the little one, but spoke to Dave. A few crackers in the face were enough to keep those little legs energized, but Dave would need more.

The five people on the farm who made bread rotated their responsibilities, so each could tend to the rest of their lives while all of them together maintained the supply, enough for their families, plus a little extra for whoever might wander through. Yesterday’s sweet rolls would be a good start for Dave. He noticed the chickens were producing so some hard-boiled eggs were also available.

“Yes actually”, he replied before stuffing his face. “I get focused on something in the shop and forget to eat.”

“Life is what happens while we’re making other plans.” Marjo, always had an aphorism ready.

“Whatcha’ readin’ there?” Dave asked.

One of the ovens beeped and she turned to check the contents then reset the timer and shuffle some other trays. “Lepus Awakenings. Latest issue,” she answered.

Dave was surprised. “I don’t usually bother with that. It’s for aliens by aliens. I use their Nebula library to look things up now and then, I’m surprised to see you looking at a Lepus.”

“Well, yes, but I like a good story where I also learn something. It’s like National Geographic, except from another world. I like reading what they say about us. Actually, I was reading something they printed by James Michener.”

“Michener?” Dave queried. “The guy who writes the multi-generational books about places, like Texas or something?”

“Right, actually this is from Alaska,” Marjo explained, “the beginning, where he describes how the mountains formed and how glaciers shaped the land. It’s some great prose of an otherwise scientific subject.”

“That is a beautiful passage.” Dave took a sip of tea and noticed that Marjo had paused from responding to ovens and moving trays about. He could see she was following the cup and realized she knew who had given it to him.

“Yes, Marianne needs something fixed. And that’s all. You know that’s not going anywhere.”, he replied to her unspoken comment.

“I don’t know much. I know there will be a dance in a couple weeks, maybe a hayride later, and you haven’t considered the contents of your closet.”

“Does new rain gear count?”

“It does not.”

“Well, I need to get to Chicago. I suppose I could do some shopping.”

“Chicago! That’s a hike. Or are you taking the shuttle?”

“Shuttle? Are you forgetting who you are talking to? I’m looking forward to a week and a half on the bike. I’ll stop by the Tippecanoe River to see some friends and the reason I’m going is for parts, so I’ll see Old Dave at his electronics shop.”  

Not understanding the words, but sensing the grown-up talk, Dave’s little cracker munching friend exited through the screen door, letting it slam.

The storefront for that shop actually said The Electric Shoppe. Old Dave thought it was funny in some kind of retro old-fashioned view of the future way. Old Dave was a name no one else used except Dave, and Dave’s father. He had been there when new Dave was born and Dave’s father didn’t like the idea of calling him “Uncle” although he knew this man would hold that special place in his life. He would be the one who could tell his son the stories of what his father did before he was born. He would be the one who could tell him when it was okay to break the rules. Dave’s father would play the role of father, the one who had to enforce those rules.

Marjo never forgot who she was talking to, “Oh good”, she said without stopping the kneading, the checking of the oven or the other tasks she was managing that Dave could only guess. He had just revealed something to her, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He thought about correcting the awkward situation by offering to help, but that would just take them down a different awkward road. She knew who Old Dave was and how important it was that the two of them see each other now and then. Dave, young Dave, would use the excuse of keeping his mouth full of food to justify the silence. He salted his second boiled egg from the jar on the counter, being careful to do so over the garbage can. He was eating outside of the scheduled mealtime which meant he had to clean up after himself. He brushed some crumbs off the counter, waved with the egg hand while grabbing his tea and juggled it all out the door.

**************************************************************

Chapter 2

Out

“The big problem is that people don't believe a revolution is possible, and it is not possible precisely because they do not believe it is possible.” Pete’s friend Barry was off on another rant. Pete could tell when Barry was quoting someone, but he was never sure who he was quoting and Barry sure as hell didn’t provide a citation.

Barry took another drink of his beer to wet his lips. This also loosened them, “The problem my friends with all this technology the aliens are bringing is it will make life unfulfilling. Getting off this planet was always an artificial goal. We weren’t put here to just work, consume, sleep and get up and do it all over again. We are part of this nature. We came from the very dust of it. We should always have some of it under our fingernails. This technology takes it out of our hands.”

Pete often felt like shouting “Yeah” when Barry was going off like this but too many times he had felt like saying “huh” after whatever came next out of Barry’s mouth. He learned to control that urge. Today, he was just enjoying the feeling of satisfaction of pulling off his mission and the camaraderie around this table.

Barry continued without waiting for interjections, “And where do you think the fruit of our labor goes? Before the aliens it went to mansions on tropical islands, now it literally is gone, off the planet. We are exchanging our freedom for these gadgets that are making life easier. It’s the religion of complexity, the myth that if something is new and different and has more buttons and integrated moving parts, then it must be progress.”

One of the other strong silent types at the table finally had to break in, “But, Barry. They are bringing metals from asteroids. We were a hundred years from being able to do that. And it’s costing us nothing. They don’t even use money. And some of those mansions are empty now.”

This just kicked Barry into high gear, “Oh come on Jimbo. What the Orions did was try to tell us that we were headed for a collapse, that we were destroying the planet. That just played into the hands of the elites of this world, the ones who were getting all that grant money to do their research in Antarctica, but how could any of them really know? How can you make predictions like that, 100 years out? Predictions of disaster and collapses of civilization have failed so many times. They drew up their plans based on science, or so they say, but it looks like the same old oppression dressed up with rational sounding arguments to me. The Orions don’t care about us, to them, we are Species Two. You know what Species One is?”

Everyone at the table knew. One looked at their beer. One rolled their eyes so much their head went with it. One mouthed along with Barry’s next word, “Whales. Whales are more important than us.” A ten thousand year old report had nothing to do with their importance on Earth or any other planet, but no one bothered to say that to Barry. He had heard it a hundred times and had not changed his mind yet.

Jimbo leaned forward and ducked his head below the partial wall of their booth. He kept one eye searching out to the rest of the tavern while the other maintained contact with Barry, “Look man, I don’t like the Orions any more than you do, but,” and held up a finger to be sure Barry knew more was coming, “one, be cool.” Across the tavern, someone seemed more interested in a man whispering than in some drunk going on about aliens oppressing them, “Two, if you want anyone joining us in our little escapades, you don’t start right in with the ‘bringing down the machinery’ stuff. I just want to sell my corn to the same elevator that my daddy did and put my kids through school and retire in Florida.”

He caught his own mistake in that last statement. He pulled his fingers back into tightly crossed arms and hunched his shoulders practically up to his ears. It looked like he was trying to pull his head into the shell of his body, but he wasn’t built correctly to do that. Barry took great pleasure in this, but he did take his friend’s advice and lowered his voice, “yeah, there you go Jimbo, another thing they took away from us. The Keys and the Everglades are just alligators and manatees now.”

Larry, who had been sipping a Diet Coke and fiddling with a handful of arrowheads on the table in front of him, spoke without looking up, “Florida was always alligators and manatees Barry.”

“Go back to your rocks,” was Barry’s witty retort.

Larry knew better than to explain that they were not rocks, “I found these yesterday. Someone was making them just about the time the first Orion mission got here to observe this planet. I always wonder if they looked up and saw that weird wandering star moving across their night sky. Our human ancestors were moving north after the glaciers receded. They didn’t know anything about glacial history. They were just finding better farmland than the hilly, limestone in south, that the glaciers had not flattened…”

Barry made a circular motion with his hand and put on his best bored face, “Yeah, we’ve heard it all before Larry. Are you done?”

“No,” was all Larry needed to say to get the attention of the others, “What happened in Florida is, it became impossible to maintain an industry based on cheap labor. If I was working a job cleaning the toilets for people in terry cloth shirts and flip flops, I’d take the first spaceship off of here too. You gotta admit the reaction of the rich people who didn’t get the early tickets was pretty funny.”

“It was,” Barry didn’t miss the opportunity to comment, “I was watching the financial news and all their indices were showing negatives, it was economic decline. They thought it was a disaster. But I’m looking out the window of my tractor and the world looked just fine.”

“And in Florida,” Larry’s eyes were still on his arrowheads, “busy streets emptied, there was less garbage. With fewer people on the beaches, sea turtles nested again. Fewer boats in the swamps meant more healthy manatees. The GNP was down, but I was watching the Gross National Happiness long before 1999, and it has been going up since then.”

“Happy for who?” Barry challenged, “They’re still working, just on another planet.”

“We all work Barry. We happen to love our work because we love the land in the place that we happened to be born. Our work used to be the engine of the economy, but those days are long gone, or maybe they are coming back, who knows. Anyway, we never had to choose between poverty and working our fingers to the bone. No one has come back from the Orion home planet or from Lepus and reported the kind of slave like conditions we have had here. They work, but they aren’t building homes for rich people or fast food restaurants that their children then work in. They aren’t offered a job that destroys their own backyard or fouls their own air.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Barry was running out of arguments but not out of breath.

“Right. Barry. I know where you get your information.”

Pete was not in the business of defending Barry, but he had something to say, “All I know is, I was happy with the world before they showed up. We were already doing our part to keep this planet healthy. We were helping starving children and farmers on other continents, which I never quite understood, but now we’re building communities on other planets? Will I be needed in whatever’s coming next? I haven’t lost my home, yet, but where is my place in history? Something’s wrong about all this.”

Barry didn’t have a comeback for that. Jimbo took the opening, “They didn’t take Florida away from us Barry. You can still drive to Key West. You know, when you’re there, you cross over Rock Reef Pass, which is not some scenic overlook with snow covered mountains, it’s 3 feet above sea level. Maybe they were right that melting glaciers would have wiped all that out. I’m not sure how it matters to me, I never bothered much with international affairs and I’m not sure why I should care about intergalactic or interplanetary stuff.”

“Well, you’ll see. You’ll see what happens when you let someone else run your planet,” Barry said smugly. He surveyed the table, waiting for any objections, then shifted to a cheerier attitude and asked, “Everyone coming to the talk tomorrow?”

“Who is this guy again? Where’s he from?” Pete asked.

“I only know his first name, John. He’s from down around Columbus somewhere. Hay farmer mostly, on the same land his grandfather worked 100 years ago. He talks about where we’re headed, us people who want to live here and who have lived here. He’s great, you’ll like him.”

“You goin’?” Pete gave a light backhand slap on his friend Chuck’s shoulder. Chuck had his eyes on the device in his hand that was a phone, a camera, a connection to libraries around the world, and a source of news and information, but he spent most of his time with it playing games.

He responded as if he had been aroused for a nap, “What, yeah, well, I don’t know. I saw this recording of him once.” He flashed the face of his device toward Pete, then returned quickly to his game.

Barry interjected, “You should definitely go Chuck. This is one of the things John talks about, the difference between being there in person and just watching something on a little screen. And, I hope you’re not looking at the Orion Nebula, that will really rot your brain.”

“Nope, just the good old earthling AT&T network. I can’t even connect to that Nebula thing. Not with this.”, Chuck smiled.

“Alright. I suppose some of us have wives and family, huh?” Barry grabbed his hat and made motions as if he was standing up. Pete was on the end of the booth and rotated out. Others followed suit and they patted each on the back and slapped hands with others in the bar as they made their way out.

********************************************************

Chapter Three

 Perth

School time on the farm was a favorite time for many. The adults focused on their projects without needing to think about mentoring or filtering their language. The youngsters were with their friends and Professor Ernst made learning almost enjoyable. He moved through the middle of the gathering of children and said, “Okay, time for a tale.”

There were shouts of “Yay” and a few moans, depending on their age, their attitude or what they had for breakfast. The Professor, who really wasn’t a professor of anything, but no one had a broader knowledge set than him, pointed to one of the moaners, “what’s a tale, there, Chip?”

Chip was not one to be caught off guard, “It’s fiction, a story.”

Professor Ernst did not like to say anyone was wrong, “Sometimes. If it was purely fictional, I’d probably say a “tall tale”.

The open classroom did not require the raising of hands and being called on. One of the little ones called out, “What’s fistenal?”

“Good question.”  All questions were good to him and this was a good teachable moment. He looked around and found one of the older and quieter ones who was already thumbing through some Vonnegut. That wasn’t a problem. She had heard these tales before. This was just a teachable moment for the little one, and a moment for the older one to exercise her knowledge, “You wanna take that one.”

“Sure,” directing herself to the little one, “fiction is not real. It’s not something that really happened. Parts of it can be true, like Batman can live in a city that’s like a real city, but Batman is not real, he’s, fictional”, she made sure to pause and then enunciate the vocabulary word in question, maybe a little more than necessary.

 “Good example.” He gave a thankful nod to the Vonnegut reader who was mostly glad to be done for the moment then turned back to the little one. “So who is a real person that you know about?” He noticed she was looking around the room, “Not someone in this class right now, someone we learned about in one of our lessons.”

She held her chin with three fingers and tapped her lips with the fourth, as if this would help her think, “ummmm”, then the one finger pointed up enthusiastically, “George Washington!”

 “Excellent.” The teachable moment continued to go well. He found another older child, but not so much older this time. “Chrissy, did George Washington cut down a cherry tree?”

Chrissy squinted a bit at this. It seemed like a trick question, “He said he did. Because he was honest. But, I don’t really know.” She tried to add something but it was turning to mumbles.

“That’s fine Chrissy, there’s lots to know about George Washington. Some of it is too much to go into while the whole group is here. You need to know about the history of kings and slaves and war and ships carrying gold across the sea.” We waved his arms as if they were the sea and wavered his voice to go with it. “Each of you will learn all that in good time. We’re even lucky enough to have a descendant of Martha Washington right here. Aren’t we George?”

A boy with curly black hair and skin that could be mistaken for a very good tan on someone of European descent looked up from picking at the clover that he was sitting on. “That’s right.” He made eye contact with one eye but continued his investigation of the clover with the other. He knew he couldn’t just blurt out that his 8th great grandmother had been held captive and raped by one of Martha Washington’s sons. George’s mother had explained sex to him and explained why his skin was different than most of the other kids and kept track of his history homework and waited for the right time to tell him that. But, ‘in good time’, as the professor said.

The teachable moment had gone on for about as long as it could. It was time to wrap this up and get to the tale. Mr. Ernst made sure George was acknowledged. He said, “Thank You”, making sure he made a couple seconds of contact with at least the one eye that was being offered.

A couple more quick glances to those who were participating, and he began, “So, a tale, a tale about people from a long time ago on a planet far, far away.” He chuckled at the inside joke with himself. The Vonnegut reader shook her head. “Just like we have ancestors that created the world we live in, they have people like,” he slowed, giving those who had heard the tales before a moment to recall characters from Orion mythology, “Marcus and,” he paused longer for effect because the Orion matriarch was a popular character, “Perth!”

This brought out more “yays”, and much less moaning. So he began,

How to set this text off, since it’s a multi-page quote of the story telling

“Perth was spinning wool and writing down tales about herself when our ancestors here on Earth were just drawing figures on walls of caves.

“She had been spinning her wool for months. Outside her small home, the four-legged creatures that supplied that wool, the yeppers, were all trimmed and comfortable for the warmer days to come. The men in her life were shifting from keeping the buildings warm to trimming back springtime growth and watching for the fruit to appear on the trees and bushes. The younger ones were tagging along to whatever interested them. If they didn’t, they were being told to make themselves useful or else someone would tell them what interests them. Perth’s helper that day was a young boy, intently darning a wool knapsack. It was made from the same yeppers that were supplying the stack of spun wool.”

The pre-verbal kids were being shown pictures as the story went on. The yeppers looked a lot like the sheep they saw every day on the farm, a bit scragglier maybe. One of them whispered, “cheep”, and the one holding the picture book gently corrected, “yepper”. The first picture of Perth was mostly from behind, with a lot of woolen clothing covering her head to toe. She could have been any of the aunties or mothers, except a pale greenish, bluish hue to the side of her face that was showing under the hood. If she was one of those aunties and she turned, then you could find her nose but in the next picture she was facing one of the yeppers and there were nostrils but it was a pretty smooth transition from the top of her head past her large, slightly slanted eyes, a couple slight bumps for nostrils, then a dainty opening for a mouth. Her head narrowed before connecting to her shoulders but there was nothing you could call a chin.

The drawings were of Orion’s home planet, so you couldn’t tell from them that Perth was taller than anyone on the farm, and most people on Earth. You could see that she did not have to bend over to inspect the wool on the head of her yepper, so the kids were seeing those animals were bigger relative to Perth, than sheep were relative to them. That was enough information for now.

 “As Perth packed as much of that wool as she could hold on her back into more knapsacks, a man entered the one roomed home, ‘Hello mother,’ he said. She barely looked up but the warmth of her affection could be felt like the warm glow from the fire. She had given birth to him and could not be happier about the young Orion man he was becoming.

“The younger one was a bit more expressive in showing his warmth, ‘Hello brother’, he said as he jumped up and grabbed the man around the waist and held his head against his torso.

“The taller man would have hugged him but his hands were full. One hand held a knife blade and the other one a knife handle. He held them high to avoid any unpleasant contact. The younger one had seen the blade and he knew that meant an opportunity to learn about knives and carving and skinning had just come in the door. The woman who had given birth to him was on an overnight hunt which meant more time available to be with older men. He didn’t mind being with his mother, or someone else’s mother, and working with wool was fine but knives, he could be passionate about knives.

“So glad you’re here Slimba,” said Perth, still not looking at him but speaking as if she was a few inches from his face and holding it gently in her hands. “You’re going to keep an eye on this one, right?”

The little one heard himself being mentioned and he worried he had done something wrong, that there was some reason he needed to have an eye kept on him. He turned his head up to the eyes above him, then furtively over to Perth, who was busy preparing for a long journey. “Oh, I’ll take care of him all right.”

That they were agreeing was even more worrisome, but when Perth stood up, tightening her sacks as she did, her full smile let him in on the grown-up joke. He started laughing, a little uncomfortably at first, hoping they would join in. Happily his big brother let out a full belly laugh first, then Perth let go of a devilish giggle. The younger one then copied the laugh of the big brother.

The big brother had put down the parts of the knife and was now gently unfolding one of the small pouches he had hanging from his waist. The young eyes went wide again in anticipation, but it was just a little antapiller, something he used to squish until he learned not to. Big brother saw the disinterest, so he addressed himself to Perth, “I found this antapiller today. Pretty heavy on fur.”

“Yes” Perth responded, “it should be the perfect time for travel. The sky was orange this morning and the clouds are lifting. Don’t worry about me.”

With the antapiller now crawling on his fingers, he again drew the attention of the younger one, “See here,” he took two fingers and separated some of the hairs on the back of the many legged, fuzzy worm, “I can barely see through to his body. He’s expecting a cooler spring. He’ll need that to stay warm at night.”

Then turning back to the woman who had raised him as she made her way to the door, “I suspect you will do plenty of worrying for all us.” He held up the broken knife, “Don’t forget, get some good copper.”

Satisfied that her home was in good hands, she hugged each in turn and opened the door to the rising sun. As she stepped on the last stone leading out from her home, an older man crossed her path, “Hello brother”, she said.

“Hello mother”, he said, “how are the boys?” He nodded to the cabin. He was probably the father of the older one, but he took no less interest in the younger. Perth liked it when he called her ‘mother’ back when they lived together and were nurturing a baby together, but that part of their life was over and she preferred it when adults called each other by their names. Not everyone had her preferences however, and it didn’t really hurt to be reminded of those precious years they shared.

“Oh, they’re all set for a day of knife making then probably knife throwing and maybe they’ll kill something before it’s over. They couldn’t be happier I guess,” she said and rolled her eyes so far up that her head went with it and she even shuddered a bit at the thought.

He was proud of the boy he had helped become a man, and to honor the woman who had made that possible he said, “We’ll be sure they give proper thanks, whatever they do.”

“I know you will Harper.” With one look she let him know she was reassured and that she was happy with the life they lived together so far and that she needed to say goodbye before the sun got any higher. Harper continued along the stone covered path, greeting others in their morning routines. Perth headed down the dirt path into the denser forest.

The familiar sounds of home faded and were replaced by the songs of birds and the complaints of small animals that saw her as an intruder. The path was starting to fade in places but she kept an eye out for the remnants of the stone walls the giants had built. She didn’t believe they were really built by giants. Very few people did. The fauna couldn’t have supported them, and there was nothing else indicating a race of beings ever existed that looked like her but was just larger. But those walls were impressive. No one had improved on that stonework yet. Calling them giants was not completely inaccurate.

By time the sun was providing its full warmth, she was beyond her usual paths, the ones where she was familiar to the animals living there. The ones other people took to go foraging or out to the pastures. She began to make mental notes of the downed trees she was stepping over.  She would need to come back and do some clearing. After a while she stopped counting. She was too far from home and there was no more well worn path. In the less familiar territory, she followed a rivulet as a guide. ((It also provided a musical accompaniment.)) That led to a bridge. She stepped up on to that road and as she did she joined the world of traders and barterers.

For Perth, the forest was shelter. She was taught how to survive there, lessons from her ancestors. She was also told the stories of how people in this land of roads were losing their survival skills. When you had enough people to need wide roads, it was too many to keep track of. Perth knew who she owed favors to and she knew when others didn’t return the favors they owed. There were so many people out here in the flatter lands that they needed to make ledgers and assign a value to time. When that happened, the connections of family and neighbors loosened.

When she joined with the road, she also joined the world of thieves. Back home, Perth and her kin would gather around a fire, sharing food, sharing joys of milestones in their lives and concerns of those in need. Sometimes they would discover that someone was getting much more from their neighbors than they were giving. Simply becoming aware of it was usually all that was needed to bring things back in to balance. In the land of roads and markets, they couldn’t do that. Each was focused on their specialized work. Which meant a few of them could find ways to survive without doing any real work at all.

Not far from the bridge, the forest on her right side abruptly ended. She remembered trees being there back when her son was just a boy. Now it was full of grain that required regular tending. The forest on her left was still the forest she recognized, and she kept an eye out for hiding places that hopefully she could use and hopefully weren’t already being used. As she walked, there were fewer familiar old trees and more and more young trees and then just brush. Her sense of safety and security was no longer with her.

Perth busied her mind, trying to identify everything she saw. There were some good berries that she rarely saw in such abundance. She could fill her sacks with them after they had been emptied in town. She noticed some of that grain that people had purposely put in the open field had found its way to the other side of the road.

Ahead, far ahead, something large and lumbering appeared on the road. At first, she expected to be upon it fairly quickly, but as a few moments passed, she realized just how large it was and how that made it seem deceptively closer. At first she thought many people were working together to carry a rack of goods over their heads, but then the people started looking more like tree trunks, moving, hairy tree trunks.

The closer it came, the more dust she could see getting kicked up with each stomp of its feet. Its large nose was swinging back and forth, kicking up more dust with its long rhythmic breaths. It was as wide as 4 people and she wasn’t sure how tall because she couldn’t tell where it ended and the goods above it began. She couldn’t make out shoulders but there was a head taking up most of the space above the two front legs. No real ears she could distinguish. The head was bald, but matted hair hung around its sides randomly in places along its legs.

She slowed, assessing this situation, hoping it wouldn’t suddenly change for the worse. A man walked along side, tapping one leg with a stick now and then. It was too late to hide now. Her heart and breath stopped at the moment he finally noticed her. She could see him holding his hand up to shade the sun. She let the breath go and then took it back in quickly as the raised hand turned to a wave. He tapped the leg of the great beast a little more insistently and it stopped. She couldn’t quite make out what he was shouting, but from the hand gestures she was pretty sure it was a friendly greeting. She returned the gesture.

Still, she took the escape route she had already scoped out across the ditch on the side of the road and into the field. She wasn’t hiding, that wasn’t possible, just giving whatever this was a wide berth. They both returned to moving as they had been before. The man continued to speak as if telling a story to a large audience, something about being humble and carrying a great burden. The story didn’t really go anywhere. When they were within speaking distance he gave the traditional greetings of respect and peace. Perth was only mildly comforted by this.

Before their progress put them past each other, the duo of man and beast came to a halt again, kicking up one last, big cloud of dust and giving the thing a chance to clear its nostrils he said, “You’re quite safe over there. She was moving at top speed, so really, you’re quite safe anywhere outside the range of her smell and expectorations.”

It had seemed like it was doing all it could just to keep up with the short steps of the man, “Peace on your heart. And thank you for the reassurances, but, just what is it?”

“’It’, as you say, is a pachtorom. I just call her Pachy.” It turned to look at Perth as if it had just been introduced. It threw its head up with another blow of the nose. Perth wasn’t sure if this was a nod of approval for her or just an annoyed reaction to the stack of boxes and bundles piled high on its back.

“She seems sweet. Hello Pachy.” This definitely drew the beast’s attention. Her large dark eyes were hard to read. She could have been pleased to hear her name, or frightened because of what usually happens when she hears it, like more work. Perth wanted to know much more about the relationship of these two, but knew better than to ask too many questions this far out on the road.

“I’ve never seen anything like her. Where did she come from?” Perth asked, thinking that was safe.

“From south of the Ungal mountains. Are you bringing wool down from the foothills?” An equally safe question considering her dress and her pack full of wool. But the probing still caught her off guard. Her hesitation and her open mouth with no words coming out made him realize that and he attempted to put her at ease, “I’m just wondering since you say you haven’t seen a pachtorom. We started trading for them last year.”

“She felt a bit yepperish,” Professor Ernst looked around quickly to see if anyone was confused about the translation from ‘sheepish’ but didn’t break the flow of his story telling, “and also felt like walking up and rubbing Pachy on that cute nose the size of a tree stump that was wiggling around while trying to make sense of the world through olfactory cues. Perth asked, “I see. So, how do you keep it? How do you stop it like you have been?” She had a hundred more questions.

“See that rope around her ankle?” That was one of the questions. The pachtorom was wearing a rope like a bracelet. “When they are young, they are tethered to a stake. They try to trot off but it keeps tripping them, pulling them down. They take it off and let them get exercise, but they learn that when it is on, they have to stay put. Then they teach them to walk with it, while several strong people are on the other end of it, guiding them, sometimes pulling on it to stop them, and using a stick like this.” He held up the stick he had been tapping her with and Perth could see a small barb attached to it, “As they get older, they can’t move as fast anyway, but after they learn to respond to the stick, the extra trainers are no longer needed. When the rope is on their ankle, they believe they are being restrained, so all you need is me and the stick.” He held it up, quite proud of his short introduction to pachtorom training.

Perth was horrified but in no position to respond with a lecture of her own. No point in giving that lecture to one man in the middle of a field anyway. She was the one who needed to learn today. Whatever she knew of how to treat a fellow living creature was not operating in the world this man came from, and that world was where she was headed. She thanked the stars that she had this encounter out here where she could absorb it and let it settle for a while before being engulfed by more people. She would reconnect with some distant friends but some of the people she would see would not be connected to much of anyone.

After a few more pleasantries, her new friend ambled its way down the road along with the man who was telling it to do so. Perth practiced some deep breathing as the first signs of a gathering of her own species could be seen on the horizon. She wondered what other new horrors they had summoned from the depths of darkness, what other gentle giants were being restrained or jabbed at with pointed sticks. Then she let those images go, worried her negative thoughts would just contribute to the darkness.

It was a beautiful thing after all, the market. A pillar stood in each of the four directions. Each one depicted people from long ago in ceremonial headgear brandishing weapons along with regalia that seemed to serve no purpose at all. Whatever those purposes were they had mostly been forgotten. At the time the regalia was being worn it mattered, if you wore the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could get you killed. The pillars though marked the place they came to talk instead of fight and to trade instead of pillage.

The history of who said what when was lost but what was remembered was that they found peace together. After they spent enough time together without trying to simply get something from each other, they found their stories had common threads. The characters in their stories had different names and different powers but the meanings behind them were not that different at all. The simple ideas of caring for a stranger, or love being found regardless of the circumstances of birth, or the peace found at the end of a life spent in labor, could be found by listening to these others, those people from the other directions. They began to invest more in passing on the ideas and less in the arcs of their storylines or the names of their mythical creatures. They saw that life would continue if the stories were lost, but their way of life would be in jeopardy if the ideas were lost.

Perth was lost in her reflections on the story about the stories as she passed the pillar of the West and didn’t notice the drummers lining the road until one hit a loud boom, boom and two more shrieked an excited intro then the rest settled into rhythmic beats and more spun around her with ribbons, nodding their heads rapidly. She always wondered how they did that without hurting themselves. They stopped as quickly as they began and offered her a cup of something brewed and a small bowl of those berries she had noticed. She had, now officially, made it to the market.”

 “All righty, who’s ready to dance?” Mr. Ernst cut his story short before anyone started slipping off into nap time. Out of his drab brown robe he produced several wands with ribbons flowing from the ends and spun around and waved one up and down then handed them to the eager little hands. The ones who had heard this story a few times had learned the music. They took the queue and found their instruments and handed out more ribbons. Just that quick, Orion mythology class was over and music class had begun.

The sound of the drums drifted over the farm, into the woods, to a cool spot where Dave was working on the door of the root cellar. He closed the door, inspected the edge where it met the jam, made a half turn or so on some screws on the hinges and stood back satisfied. He smiled at the sounds of drums in the distance mixed with some terrible singing by the newer voices. He turned his face to the sun and thought about how perfect the day was for a ride.

 **************************************************

For the third time that day, he missed mealtime and found himself alone with a cold meal. He sat outside with the stars as his companions. As darkness settled, he located the “wanderers”, the planets, low in the sky. They moved through the fixed background of stars. When enough stars could be seen to make constellations, he found the Big Dipper then held up his fist up to measure 30 degrees in the sky to find the constellation Bootes, the herdsman who drives the oxen in Ursa Major, keeping the sky in motion. Unlike the days of stargazing with his father, he couldn’t miss the little dots that passed quickly through all of this. It was a light show of ships whizzing overhead, some preparing to break orbit and head to the Orion home planet, some returning, maybe one or two that were heading out to further explore the Orion Arm.

The constellation Orion was on the other side of the planet that evening. Perhaps on another planet circling some star in that direction, some other distantly related creature also had that constellation on the other side of their planet and was looking back at the star that Dave called The Sun. The other patterns in the stars that Dave saw would look a little different from that far off vantage point.

He imagined that relative viewpoint fifty-two light years away, where the Orions were. He had some stories to help him remember when the various stars appear as the earth rotates but trying to include another world’s perspective just brought sleep on before he was ready. He shook his head to shift his thoughts. That nagging question about why they are called “Orions” popped into his head.

They didn’t really like being called “creatures” from another planet. They preferred to be called “people”. The Orions had their own word for themselves. It sounded like something from a song in a Latin mass when Dave heard them speak it. When they discovered the planet Dave was on and translated their word for themselves, they choose a word his planet already had. Many of the cultures and people of Earth had names for the stars that Dave knew as Orion; the Ojibwa had Kabibona'kan, to the Hindu it was Vishnu, to others it was Las tres Marías or The Slim One. All of these things referred to basically the same set of stars, so they could travel from culture to culture and use the different words that meant the same thing. If another planet was found with related creatures further out past Earth it would still be within what Earth astronomers called the Orion Arm. For all of us then, the name meant we are the people in this tiny corner of the universe.

When explaining these naming preferences, they used stories like the Nivkh people from Siberia, who lived near the Amur River, and once called themselves “the human beings”. When they found they were part of a larger world, they adjusted. Dave and everyone else on Earth had to adjust to “people” from another planet. The Earth tribe of Lakota had the phrase “Mitakuye Oyasin”, meaning “we are all related” in their language. For them adding Orions into their prayers of harmony was not a problem.

When Dave felt his conscious thoughts mixing with dream images of spaceships and tribal dances, he used the last of the day’s energy to get himself to his warm bed. He awoke in early light thinking about a hike in the Grand Canyon and touching sandstone that was 200 million years old. It wasn’t a hike he had taken, rather one written about by a man who hiked through that canyon and felt the cadence of geologic time. The dream was fading, but his waking memory could remember the words of that man, Colin Fletcher, “Everything we know is dancing, at its own tempo, to the same overriding rhythm. Mysteries remain, half seen, quarter understood, but they are necessary mysteries.”

Dave’s thoughts on the mysteries of the universe gave way to his basic survival needs. He felt the need to load up his carbohydrates before getting on his bike for 60 miles. The thought occurred to him that a little human interaction would probably be good for him too. After putting the final touches on packing up, he made his way to the dining hall. It was already full, the opposite of his preference for solitude. The laughing, shouting, and shoulders rubbing brought a little tension to his upper body as he entered. It was warmer inside but it looked like he was bracing from a chill in the air. This didn’t diminish the warm greetings he received, and the serving bowls were already being passed to him as he found a place on the end of a table. He found a spot with the ones who didn’t like to talk before coffee, his favored breakfast companions.

His thoughts were bouncing from sedimentary rock, planets floating in space, and his planned route for the day when he heard the familiar voice of Professor Ernst,

La araña pequeñita subio, subio, subio

cayo la lluvia y se la llevó

salio el sol y todo lo secó y

La araña pequeñita subio, subio, subio

 

The Itsy Bitsy Spider song was a way to teach some Spanish and, because it was a song that repeated, it could be used to get the attention of a group of children and whomever else might be with them. Ernst looked a little funny up there making finger motions that really didn’t look like a spider but as more and more children joined in and adults ended their conversations, his actions made complete sense. Even the visitors who didn’t know the song had no problem understanding that it was time to quiet their conversations.

When the children were singing along and other voices were silent, the song ended and the professor began, “Good morning everyone. Please, continue eating or drinking, and also please give a few of our younger friends a little of your attention. First, we’ll hear from Shelly who will tell us a bit of the story of Perth’s visit to the market in their year, one thousand and one.”

Shelly, a little girl with pigtails, could not have looked any more proud as she began to speak, “Perth returned from her trip to the market in the Orion year of one thousand and one. When she hugged her son he could feel something had disturbed her. He asked about the dances, about the bartering, about the old friends she saw, and she answered each with just a few words.

 He asked bluntly, ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Someone tried to sell me land’, she said, then looked to the far wall of her house.

‘Did you alert the Arbiter?’, said Slimba with alarm.

‘Of course I did.’ And they both let out a breath of laughter knowing each remembered the story of their cousin who had come home beaming that he owned the bridge on the edge of the forest.

‘But this was a real contract’, she said, her face twisting around the word ‘real’ with the unbelief that such a thing could be real.

Slimba mirrored the twisting and spoke what he now knew was troubling her, ‘How can land be owned by one person? Everything alive needs it to survive. It doesn’t belong to just one creature.’

‘The Arbiter said it is still part of the community, but the contract gives them rights over the land.’

‘Land is something we are responsible for, there aren’t rights for it that can be bought and sold. It is part of the community. It would be like selling a child. What are they going to do with it?’

Perth knew all of this. She had taught it to Slimba. She let him express what they both were thinking then explained, ‘The man with the contract said that if I bought it, I could design the landscape however I pleased. I looked at him and said the land won’t allow that. A river will go where it goes. The wind will shape it as it pleases. He stood back and looked at me like a naïve child at that point. Then moved on to find someone else with whom he could trade his paper for their goods.’

Slimba sat for a minute in the same slumped position his mother had been in during this conversation. He sat with the anger, knowing it wouldn’t help to express it. He looked at her eyes and said the thing they were both thinking, ‘We are going to have to learn about these contracts or one day we will have to buy our own home.’

The hall responded with a brief clap and pleasantries were addressed to Shelly’s parents. A small group of Quakers held their hands up and waved them like leaves on a tree in lieu of clapping.

Professor Ernst stepped up to make the transition comfortable for the young speaker and to introduce speaker number two, “Now, from Earth history, a quote from Jean Jacques Rosseau during the era of Enlightenment”.

A healthy young man stood up and enunciated perfectly while projecting the words from his diaphragm, “The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries, and horrors would the human race have spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!”

This drew a couple of cheers of “here, here” from older folks enjoying their breakfast and another round of clapping and waving.

“Thanks Stephen.” Professor Ernst was already up, “And finally, an excerpt from the Orion debate over the declaration of the Earth refuge. Read by, Antoine.”

Antoine was taking his last step to the spot where Stephen had been when he began, “What good will this do, to arrive on a planet that is so primitive in its understanding of itself? There are a few who have claims to most of the land but they know very little about what is below the surface or how this or that square is dependent on everything surrounding it. Many more are standing in line, believing if they buy into the system of the landowners, they will one day own one of those squares and it will make them happier. They know even less. They don’t understand the land itself and they don’t understand how wanting to own it is harming it. They think their woes are due to not having it when really they are due to so many wanting it and no one taking care of it.

I don’t believe they will accept the idea of abandoning the economic system they have come to know and love. They call themselves kings of their castles and they are quite right. They live like their kings did just a few centuries earlier. Like those kings they depend on people living in squalid conditions and working themselves to death. But they don’t have to make decisions about individuals as their actual kings did or fight in the wars to protect them. Contracts are made for those protections and violence is delegated to just a few. Most of them don’t understand the sacrifices being made to enforce them.”

The applause was a bit more subdued for this last one. Mr. Ernst put his hand on the shoulder of the younger yet taller man. He thanked him and told him he had done well. He simply waved to the rest of the hall, letting them know the presentation was over. He knew it was better to let them absorb those words rather than add anything to or detract from them.

The lack of an enthusiastic response wasn’t due to the quality of the presentation but the content. The Professor knew this happens sometimes and chose one of his oldest readers and let them know it could happen. It’s hard to clap for something when it is directed against you and your core beliefs. The kids in the class were born into a world of increasing spaciousness and had trouble understanding how people acted before they were born. Some of the adults had trouble with what the children were being taught.

The older people in the room had spent their lives using their most significant possession, their home, as their primary vehicle for savings and as a sanctuary where they were most free to do as they pleased. Some of them understood that people on the other side of the world were affected by the choices they made. Many were vague on the details. For those who thought they should understand it all a little better, this little excerpt put a voice to the nagging of their conscience.

Dave maintained his rhythm of eating and tried to hide his glances at his breakfast neighbors. It didn’t really work. Dave didn’t recognize one of the faces. It was weathered from decades in the sun and had two days growth of gray hair. All of that stared at him. Dave figured the old guy had identified him as the youngest one near him. “You”, he said as if this was some dystopian detention center, not a breakfast hall.

“Dave,” Dave introduced himself flatly. He tried to recognize the man as part of his community and make a connection.

“Right,” his eyes said he was sorry for being abrupt, “William. Did you ever get the chance to own property?”

“Well. Sort of.” One of the other men knew this was a sensitive topic. Dave gave him a quick glance to let him know he was okay, “My father died when I was 13. My mother had left and gone to Texas a couple years before that. Our house was in a trust, so technically it was mine, but I couldn’t own things yet. I was sitting in some meeting that I didn’t understand with a lawyer and a social worker when the news came in, about,” Dave pointed his fork upward and spun it around, “whoosh, whoop, whoop, whir.”

William’s face looked stunned while he tried to process a boy losing his father just as contact with intelligent life from another planet was made.

“That’s right. The lawyer suddenly had better things to do. I just went home. Later a good friend of my dad’s signed some of the papers they had, saying he would look out for me. The social worker came by now and then, but I stayed out of trouble, so she didn’t bother me. I was on my own on an acre of land just 15 minutes out of Gary. I got SSI checks and had some really nice neighbors. I understood how my basic needs were taken care of, better than most kids my age, but things were changing and I didn’t know where I was going to fit in.”

“Well, you seemed to have turned out okay.” William did his best to smile and keep alert to any more turns this conversation might take.

“I guess. You’ll have to ask someone else about that. I muddled through like anyone else. I’m off to visit that old neighborhood right now actually, but I’d be happy to get together with you if you’re around in a couple weeks.”

“Yeah”, William looked relieved at Dave’s graciousness, “I’d like that.”

Dave began to collect his silverware. He didn’t want to leave without addressing the man’s question, “I remember reading those minutes myself,” he nodded in the direction of the young speakers, “when the Nebula first became available. I didn’t like some alien bureaucrat deciding my fate. Some of the men around me were angry about it and it was tempting to join in on those bitch sessions. They had achieved the goals in life that seemed perfectly natural and right with the world, now they were being called ‘primitive’ for doing it. I started bicycling long distances as a way to clear my head and think about it, or to not think about it. That’s how I found this place.”

William maintained eye contact as Dave got up and kept staring until he turned and then got in line to swipe his compostable material into the proper bin, then left his plate and utensils in another. He crossed from the hall into the kitchen area to prepare some fresh food that would get him through the first two days of his trip. The noise of many people in the hall faded into the background and the few voices cleaning up after this meal and preparing the next came to the foreground. Their nods and smiles welcomed him. One of them, Marjo, found something to do near Dave.

“I’ll be watching for messages from you. Don’t let me worry. You really should get one of those devices with the satellite connection and all that.”

“There will be plenty of stations to check-in and do anything else I need to. I don’t need another ‘thing’ in my packs. Plenty of other people on the paths too. Not to mention the damn drones everywhere. You can track the bike if it makes you feel better.”

“It’s not the bike I’m worried about.”

“It’s just a ride. I’ll give you daily updates and we’ll get together as soon as I get back.”

“I know we will,” Marjo relaxed from her big sister role and went back to straightening pots and pans. “Get out of here, have fun, say ‘hello’ to Old Dave.”

Dave kicked off his worn out running shoes as he crossed the threshold of his tiny cabin and slipped into lightweight biking shoes. He sighed as he looked across to the pair of bright yellow biking shorts. He knew they were more comfortable for his ass, but he was never comfortable when he met someone else on the trail while wearing them. He always felt they needed explaining. He had wind and water-resistant pants already on. He nodded to himself to end the discussion in his head and strapped down the legs to keep them out of the gears.

He walked the short-cut across grass from behind his cabin to the county road, conveniently avoiding anymore interactions with people and started rolling the bike with one foot on a pedal then swung the other over. He settled into an easy pace to warm up, matching his breathing to his pedal count, inhaling for three, exhaling for three. This was meditation to him. He had never quite mastered the sitting kind. For him, thinking about riding was a way of not thinking about everything else. There was a limit to that. He remained mindful that there were others on this road he was on.

As he approached Nashville he broke out of his riding crouch and reacquainted himself with the world of traffic lights and larger vehicles. Traffic control still meant something and had to be obeyed even though there was way too much of it now. Someone fought to get that signal put in decades ago when budgets had to be adjusted and work crews scheduled. It turned out to be even harder to get those projects undone. He looked over his shoulder and saw a car in the distance and went through the red light as if it wasn’t there.

The town of Nashville Indiana made the transition to the new post-arrival reality pretty well. A few buildings were empty but many of the people who lived there were doing what they had done before. The new world of spaceships and futuristic devices was much like the old world they had been attempting to preserve and emulate. They had been making artfully crafted products in the way their ancestors had made them for hundreds of years, using hand tools and looms and potter’s wheels. To make a living they sold them to tourists who put them on a shelf or hung them on walls or only brought them out for special occasions. The changes brought by the Orions created a world where the goods they made were used in the way they were intended; a saddle bag actually attached to a saddle or clothing made strong for farming was now used when planting wheat or gathering berries.

His stomach was full so he didn’t stop despite the smells of fresh baked goods and the warm smiles from familiar faces. He waved, but his fully loaded panniers let them know that he was going somewhere and had a schedule to keep.

He left Nashville and continued north gaining over 100 feet of elevation as he did. This took him along one of his favorite ridges. The world dropped off quickly in either direction into the valleys carved by glacier runoff. He imagined the cold coming off the wall of ice that once was there. When he came to the vista overlooking the rest of Indiana he stopped. The land ahead of him made for great farming. It fed the people who built the tribal mounds thousands of years ago and those who pushed west hundreds of year ago.

He thought of Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

 

He coasted down the ridge, imagining everything that had been there tens of thousands of years before and how it would have felt for them to be buried by a moving mountain. Would a tree have some sensation of it being crushed? Would a mastodon know it could not roam where its grandmother once had? Did the Shawnee story of The Great Deluge come from a glacial lake outburst that wiped out an ancient tribe?

Dave didn’t solve any of these mysteries but the hours on the bike passed easily and he arrived at the Delaware Lake campground on the edge of Indianapolis with plenty of time for a leisurely dinner. He had a moment of panic as he fumbled for his credit chip. He rarely needed it and did not triple check that he had it with him before he left that morning. It was buried in a pocket of his pack with bandages and personal items. He tapped the post by a spot with good shade and settled in for the evening.

******************************************

 Pete was more excited about going to Dr. Firkin’s old barn than he was about the speaker that was there that evening. The smell of this barn was not cow shit and hay silage. It had not been used for animals in a long time. It was one of the oldest barns around. Old enough that the town had grown out close to it. As he made his way in and up the stairs, he let his fingers glide along the weathered boards. He found a seat near one of the vents that went all the way down through the walls and below ground. They brought the cool subterranean air up to the loft. It wasn’t exactly air-conditioning, but it was pleasant.

Pete settled in one of the metal folding chairs in an aisle with open seats. He didn’t notice Chuck until he was plopping in the chair next to him. Pete twisted his chair to point toward the front and open a little space between him and his new neighbor.

Chuck looked around the room as if he had a reason to be doing that, then turned squarely to Pete and rapidly fired two questions, “So, who is this guy? Where is he from?”

“John.”, answered Pete, “that’s all I know.”

“Where is he from?” Chuck repeated in the same expectant and overly excited tone he used the first time.

“Columbus.” Pete did his best to indicate he was annoyed, given his previous answer, “I’m not sure really. I don’t think we’re supposed to know.”

“O-o-o-oh,” Chuck sang up and down the scale, “is he like, one of those connections to another cell that only one person knows, so they can’t break up the whole secret network?”

“If I knew that I couldn’t tell you could, could I?” Chuck’s face went blank, finally getting that Pete was trying to tell him.

Chuck went back to looking around the room. One hand absent-mindedly patted the empty hip pocket of his jeans. He turned to Pete, a little more sheepishly this time, “No phones allowed”, and shrugged his shoulders.

Mercifully, someone walked down the center aisle to the front. There was no podium, no backdrop other than the handmade drapery over the window. Lights in the back were dimmed to bring the focus forward. Pete saw it was Larry. He tried to respect the formality but when it was Larry, it reminded him of Red Green at the Possum Lodge.

“Welcome members and friends of Security for a Free State.” Larry spoke well enough to be heard throughout the room. He should have cleared his throat before he started. A couple people in the audience reflexively did it for him.

“Great to see so many of you here tonight. I’m sure it wasn’t to hear me.” He paused and no one laughed. He took the opportunity to get that frog out of his throat.

Larry went on to tell people where the bathrooms were, how the group consisted of volunteers, the projects they were doing like improving the park and the free auto repair clinics. Something was said about the main attraction for the evening. Pete had stopped listening and didn’t catch it.

By time Pete had brought his awareness back to the loft, Larry was in the “let’s give it up for” part of the introduction.

John was not overly tall, but his thin frame made him stand out in the crowd of husky men and women. He strode with purpose toward Larry, who realized he was standing in the speaker’s position. John didn’t falter or change his pace as Larry stuck one leg out then the rest of his body caught up and moved his mass to the side and out of the light.

John’s clothes were those of a working man. Sewing was apparently not one of his skills though as indicated by an uneven V shape stitched on one side. He hit the center front and pivoted to face his audience. His smile filled the room and managed to look like he was the boy next door. Pete was already liking the guy. As John thanked the organizers and said how happy he was to be there, Pete felt like John was talking to directly to him.

John took a crinkled piece of notebook paper from his back pocket and pressed it out on his thigh, then began to read, “In Anna Karenina, it has been said the character Konstantin Levin is a self-portrait of Tolstoy. He writes, ‘The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments.’

“This is something I think of when I’m working with my scything teams, harvesting my hay. If I think too much about what I’m doing, my scythe catches the ground and my error ripples through the team. They smile at me, knowing what just happened, and adjust their pace so I can get back in time with their swings and soon we are all back to the work accomplishing itself in those moments of oblivion.

“I know some of you are new tonight and might wonder why I use these ancient tools. It’s not just that feeling of magic that I get. It is quite simply, a better tool. Before we were given aluminum batteries from some other planet, the choice of a smelly, noisy engine that made you cough had obvious disadvantages to a hand tool.

“Not so obvious is the trap, the trap of progress. When people embrace a new technology, it is usually for the short-term benefits. It seems to save them some labor or get the job done quicker, but in the long run there are costs. By time these costs are realized, it is too late to go back. Our ancient ancestors were probably not even aware of these costs. We became great hunters in the Paleolithic era then we started wiping out wildlife on a continental scale. We turned to domesticating seeds and animals then we became weaker. We domesticated ourselves. We grew populations everywhere with farming. Then we started running out of land and people were dying of starvation around the globe, so we figured out how to get more from each acre. The soil couldn’t give anymore then we figured out how to enhance the soil.

“We were starting to realize we were in the next progress trap when we were given a way out of it. At least, that’s what they told us. They tell us their other worlds are utopias compared to ours, and I’m sure that’s true. They say they developed technology slowly while they were developing their agriculture.

“If a technology was discovered that improved the quality of life for the living that had to borrow from those not yet born, they kept it in testing sites and in laboratories. If they couldn’t justify the cost to future generations, they didn’t take the immediate benefit. If it took more from the planet than the planet could absorb or replenish in one generation, they kept it only as alternative technology, for emergency use only. They did this with farming and millions of farmers from all over our planet have gone there and seen this in operation and studied their history, so I’m sure this is true.

“They tell us they did not make progress simply for the sake of progress but that they kept their eyes set to the widest angle. They “looked to the stars” as they like to say. They saw how the heavens moved and believed they would find something out there if they kept looking. And they did. They brought their message to everyone on their own planet then went on to convince another planet to do the same. They said, ‘Don’t work so hard or so fast. Don’t conquer your own domains. Don’t reach out into the wildest places on the edges of your land and tame them.’ Leaders from Earth have met with leaders from those other planets, and they have come back and shown us how this way is better, so I’m sure that’s true.

“The engines that we on this world know as progress, the ones that built railroads and skyscrapers, were slowed on their worlds. They say those engines just enslaved us, that we only modernized poverty, and I’m sure that’s true. It’s why I prefer my scythe. I’m not part of a machine. I don’t owe money to a bank so I can have a tool that I can’t repair and can’t tune myself. I am in control my life, autonomous, free. They say their technology does not ask us to give up anything, that we will live in harmony with our own planet when we learn their way, new and improved. They have machines too, but they tell us theirs won’t lead us into the trap. They say their machines aren’t the same as every machine we have known since the beginning of time.

“How do we know any of this? It takes 3 months to get there and I’m sure everyone was like me and very disappointed that Star Trek’s subspace communication wasn’t a real thing.”

John delivered that like a punch line, however the laughter was light and uncomfortable.

He continued, “We’ve relied on the reports from our own people who came back. We only know the technology that they have allowed us to see. It will be decades before we can confirm all of their stories and even begin to evaluate the decisions they made thousands of years ago. They say they opened their books to us, showed us the process they went through to decide to contact us, but how do we know if they are showing us everything?”

John had stopped looking at his notes. He had been stepping slightly from side to side, connecting with the whole room, but now he planted his feet like a fencer and his hand was the rapier. He moved on to his central theme, “And what have they told us that we didn’t know? Is it that much different from what we already knew? They painted an ugly picture of where we were headed; a sudden collapse in population, a loss of cultural history and connection to our past, large parts of the planet no longer arable, cities wiped out by environmental disasters. Some of us in this room were already predicting and preparing for events just like those. Some of us saw the trap coming and were fine using our grandparent’s tools and eating the same basic foods they ate. Living how they lived.

“We have been learning how we got here through centuries of discovery. Our awareness of who we are has caught up with what we are. We can choose our own path. I promise you, that is true. We can choose from the wisdom passed down to us. We can get back to a world that worked, that we worked, with our own hands.

“They say we can’t go backwards. That we must move forward with reason and logic. But is that what we are? I’m not going to argue with the story of our origins, that we came from cells, randomly reacting to the environment and developing mechanisms to survive. So, how do we know our logic is sound if we came from something that did not use logic?

“We got trapped in the cycle of solving problems caused by earlier solutions because we thought we could become something other than our nature. We became conscious beings, but it took millennia for us to even begin to understand what consciousness is. We compared ourselves to animals, but we had forgotten that we were just another animal.

“The way forward is not better technology or a better story of where we came from or who we are. There isn’t a next step to a greater embrace of humanity beyond our humanity.”

John was bringing this to a crescendo. His arms were waving above his head like a conductor of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, “I’m not here to offer you a better way or tell you to quit doing whatever you think is right for you. I’m telling you how I stepped out of the race that can’t be won. I was never interested in a trip on a gleaming spaceship. Instead, I reached down and got some earth under my fingernails.

“I know we have many farmers here tonight, but how often do you get down off your tractor and take some of that soil in your hand? If you don’t own acreage, find a little patch somewhere and stick a shovel in it, turn it over. The people who are leaving this planet are leaving something behind and they haven’t even experienced.

“The Orions say we are part of their family, related by some primordial bacteria, and we can find a place in that family. I want to claw my own way to my own destiny like our earth-bound ancestors who found their way out of the jungle, fighting for what was rightfully theirs, choosing freely, every step of the way. Don’t let the Orions tell you what to do with your life. Don’t let your government tell you, not even me.

“You might find something true in getting your hands dirty or you might find it in something less messy, like the stories from an ancient past or building something that enriches you, whatever the thing is that gets you out of bed in the morning, do it. You can join me in the fields or wherever you are, we can work together in this fight. And it is a fight. It’s a fight to keep alive the way of life that we built.”

The room was nearly silent. John’s hand was reaching up, his fingers clawed with every muscle in his body pulling down from them. He relaxed his chest, inhaling again after expending his breath on the climax of his speech. His leaning forward had brought many in the audience to the edge of their seats. As he balanced back on his heels they also relaxed. He then scanned around the room and slowly, deliberately, lowered his raised arm to his midriff. He didn’t bow, rather half-smiled and nodded. With one ‘woot’ from near the back of the room the rest erupted into applause and shouting.

John returned his notes to his back pocket and motioned to one of the people who had help organize the evening. Others jumped up and gathered around him for a chance to ask a question. Pete was not one to stand in line. He stood and checked the exit at the back. A few were already heading out of it.

Chuck quickly got back in Pete’s face, “Wow, amazing, huh? Like, the farming, it never seemed quite right to me that those aliens were so much better.” His hands spread out and he scoffed with a ‘pfft’, then added sarcastically, “I’m sure that’s true.”

Pete didn’t seem able to find a coherent conversation in Chuck’s words. He gave an agreeable yet disinterested, “yeah”, and shuffled his feet as if he were getting ready to move on. Chuck found another victim who responded with more enthusiasm. Pete noticed some others in the crowd repeating the tag lines from the speech. He made his way out, avoiding glances and stepping out of the way of anyone who might be approaching him.  

He reached the edge of the area illuminated by the bright lights around the barn and aimed his eyes to the lights that lit the sidewalk that would get him home, about a half mile down the road. The sidewalk lights were designed to allow for viewing of the night sky

Footsteps came up quickly behind him, seeming, apparently trying to catch him

Barry, “hey Pete, I saw you sneaking out.

“Not very good at sneaking, I guess.”

“Well, you are when you want to be. It looks like they haven’t figured what we were up to a couple days ago.”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t worry about that. So, looks like we got some bigger plans coming up.”

“Is that what this was really about?” Motions to the barn.

“Yeah, sort of. Again, not your worry. I just want to know if I can count on you.”

“Of course you can. Not sure why you’d even ask.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Pats him on the shoulder. “I know you’re our man.”