Hollow Men: Eight
We began again down the road in our former configuration, two lead bikes, then ourselves. And as the adrenalin drained off, our lights occasionally revealed rabbits or deer, each time making us start and our hearts pound. But each time it was just plain fur, actual flesh and bones. The rest of the landscape changed subtly, more extreme expressions of the previous and a little colder, as if nature were being reduced down to minimal expressions. Tree. Rock. Deer.
Mount Babel is on an island in the center of a lake. I knew that much. Once called the "Eye Of Quebec" because from space it's obvious the area was created from the impact of a meteor forever ago. It looks like a giant green eyeball swimming in blue. After war and the collapse of nations and the rise of pure consumer regions and some southern reactionary ethno-states, the northern territory saw it not just as a feature of the landscape but suddenly as an appropriate center because of the power infrastructure and dams and farming under climate change. New France was not part of the CorpLand demographic. And the area was defensively interesting, in a medieval kind of way, if CorpLand ever came looking for a hostile takeover. I mean, the island is essentially surrounded by a huge moat of fresh water.
There weren't many indications we were getting closer to a population center, if you can call it this, other than we passed two caravans in short order. Refuges of one kind or another tend to clump up. They were on their way to a hard life I guess. Then I flushed and choked on my own thoughts. We're refuges too. We're actually part of this caravan. And then I was confronted with things I was avoiding thinking about. On the trail I'd found every reason not to, mostly to just keep going. But now, as we were close to Babel, I had to decide, was I going to Greenland, or was I going to stay in New France. Maybe I could be a farm hand for Adam and learn all those God songs and eat pie. No, that seemed unrealistic. Most scenarios I pulled out of the brain bag seemed unrealistic.
I would return to my place. Naomi would go to Free Greenland. Adam would return to his farm. If there were consequences for me because of this, then there just was. I would figure it out. Maybe my farm wasn't even there anymore, maybe it'd been overrun by robotic dogs and robotic sheep and robotic bees and the whole thing just operating like clockwork and there's a robotic me living there too overseeing the whole thing via my own rotating hexagonal stump head and input slot, jangling in a jerky metal stick motions across the landscape in Teflon overalls.
At last we pulled up to a checkpoint manned by a couple bored looking armed guards who were wearing a hodgepodge of vintage military gear, nothing consistent enough to be a uniform, although they both had armbands with the same logo. I immediately conceived this as their brand but remembered they'd formally eschewed this linguistic prepositional, so it probably was something historical. Some logo with a bird and lightening bolts, I dunno, I can't recall the specifics but if it was on packaging it would frighten consumers.
Adam stepped up and spoke with them. Unfortunately they'd almost instantly taken an interest. After some poorly chosen youthful pretensions I've tried to avoid being interesting in any way. But they glanced over to us, with eyes I could see shine a little, a glint that was sharp and thankfully maybe not mean and stupid, but definitely hesitant. Adam was talking, and being charismatic, and occasionally pointing to Naomi, and the guards shifted their weight and looked at one another and looked at the other two Neo-Amish. Then they inspected the bikes and the buggy. Adam proudly showed off a feature or two. The guards made some complaint about the guns and Adam & Co. handed them over, the guns were politely and ceremoniously placed into a big locked box. Receipts and other papers were written. Then the mood lifted, there were a couple smiles of relief that nobody wanted to kill anybody here, a couple of back slaps, and we drove away evidently temporary citizens of the principality of New France and subject to all its laws.
They presented the receipts at the bridge over the thinnest part of the lake. The bridge was likewise manned by some ad hoc or voluntary military and there was a barricade made from whatever they must've had. Big heavy things, metal things.
Driving onto the island we saw small clusters of boxy utilitarian houses, a few painted brightly maybe to offset the aesthetics of packs of skinny angry dogs roaming around the rough divot peppered dirt roads. I had to thwart Dog's innate desire to join or fight them, Dog has no in-between reactions. We pulled up to the center of town and to the lodge, which was a geometric structure made from welding together shipping containers. There was a totem pole in front. Here's where we talk to the elders of Babel, says Adam.
Adam and his men and Dog waited outside. The interior of the lodge was larger and more open than I'd imagined from its disjointed exterior. Also, messy. Whatever functions the elders oversaw, it did not involve organization or cleaning. We saw the white hair of a man beyond the stacks of what once were sewing machines, old photocopiers, a manual typewriter, a pile of toasters, several steering wheels, books, and many other things. We wound our way through the tight foot path. The man stood in front of a table with an early century laptop, squinting at a slightly flickering screen. "These things have always given me headaches," he said to us, "I'd just assume have everything on paper." Then he turned and really gave us a look, discounting me quickly and training his glare onto Naomi. "I'm guessing you came a long way," he said to her. Then to me, "are you her father?"
"No," I said.
"If you'd give us a few moments alone."
As I turned to leave I saw him reach into a drawer and pull out what looked like an ear tag remover, the kind I'd use on my sheep.
Outside Adam and the other two guys were chatting, I only could catch a couple words, those in Englisch. What I gathered was they were eager to get back.
A half hour later Naomi and the elder walked out of the lodge.
"3y3m goin on t3 n3xt convoy 2 t3 coazt."
"When does it leave?"
"In t3 morning."
Then the pause, nothing painful, more of a generator, a spinning of brain gears as I realized this was it, she'd made it and her life was going to change and she had all of that to look forward to. And I would go back. For me likely nothing would change, I would go back with Dog and someday not that far off die on the farm, maybe as I chopped wood or maybe in front of the stove, but her escape was also just as likely a signpost of my decline. This is how greedy people are, I thought, I'm thinking of myself and my own condition and how her event will impact me instead of the other way around. My sudden self disgust was sobering.
"You made it. I hope Free Greenland isn't too muddy for you."
"Thnkz f3r 3v3rythng." And we hugged, me awkwardly as I involuntarily thought of how skinny she was and how her skeleton was right there and how long should we hug anyway is this too long or...
Then she hugged Dog and she giggled as he got all slobbery.
"You're welcome," I said. And I meant it.