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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

On the fifth day after his accident, Herzer rebelled.

For two days after his head cleared up, Dr. Daneh had refused to let him get up and move around more than to the bathroom. But the fifth day he could make it that far just fine and felt more or less recovered. Rather less than more if pressed, he was still dreadfully weak, but that wasn't going to get better by lying in bed.

In the afternoon, after one of Daneh's "nurses" had left with his lunch, he was alone and apparently unguarded. Getting up he retrieved his mended clothes from the cupboard and went to find out what the repetitive banging sound was from behind the house.

He could hear clattering from the kitchen so he stepped out a side door and snuck around to the shed at the rear. He had expected to find one of the smith apprentices, even hopefully someone from his apprentice class, but it was Master Talbot himself standing at the anvil, hammering out a piece of bar-steel with a furious expression on his face.

Herzer started to step back but as he did Edmund looked up and nodded, distantly.

"I didn't think you were supposed to be out of bed," Talbot said, setting down the hammer and slipping the steel back into the coals in the forge.

"I suppose I'm AWOL," Herzer replied, stepping into the shed. It was less crowded than he expected, containing not much more than a table, some buckets, the forge and the anvil. There were a few tools but not many. After a moment he took in bare patches on the floor and some recent wood work and realized that much of its contents had recently been removed. Down to the town and the growing smithies he supposed.

Despite the relative cool of the afternoon, it was hot as . . . well as a forge inside. He could feel sweat beading on his brow immediately and Edmund was drenched.

The smith nodded in understanding and took a drink of water from a jug, handing it over to the boy. "Well, if you think you're recovered enough, you can work the bellows," he said, nodding to the apparatus. "Put on an apron, though, or you'll get sparks all in your clothes."

Herzer felt that was within his capability. He grabbed a leather apron and examined the bellows. There was a convenient stool so he sat down and started pumping.

"Not so hard," Edmund muttered, turning the steel. "You'll get the fire too hot."

Herzer slowed down the rhythm until he saw the smith nod, then stopped when Talbot pulled the steel, now glowing a low cherry-red, from the fire.

"Different types of steel form at different temperatures," Edmund explained. "Right now, I'm just working the surface carbon into the bar."

Herzer nodded as if he understood, wiping his face with his hands. Edmund wordlessly passed him a cloth and the jug.

"What are you making?" Herzer asked, drinking deeply. The water was cut with wine, very lightly, just enough to give it a bite. It felt refreshing after the plain water he'd been given for the last few days.

"Just a knife," Edmund replied, an irritable expression on his face again. "It was come out here and bang on some metal or take the hammer and bang heads."

Herzer watched in companionable silence as the smith hammered the metal out and then thrust it back in the fire.

"Pump," Edmund said, glancing at him. "Although you look as if you're already tiring out."

"I am," Herzer admitted. "But I don't know why. All I've been doing is lying around."

"A hard blow like that takes it right out of you," the smith replied, turning the metal in the coals. "Daneh thought you should lie abed for another three or four days. I disagreed, but I wasn't going to tell her."

"I think at this point I need exercise more than rest," Herzer gasped. The bellows were strongly sprung and his arm was already growing tired.

"Enough," Talbot grunted, pulling the steel back out. "Do you know why the apprentice pumps the bellows?"

"No."

"Pumping bellows is a very similar motion to hammering. It builds up the apprentice's strength in specific muscle groups. Besides just being weak from your injury, you're not used to using those muscles."

"Well, great, another group to work out," Herzer said with a wry grin, and took another sip of water. "So is the knife to stick in anyone in particular?"

"No," Edmund said with a chuckle. "Although I can think of a few I wouldn't mind handing it to point first."

Herzer recognized it as an oblique negative reference, but not anything specific.

"Although," Talbot said after a moment, banging on the steel a trifle harder, "most of them wouldn't get the hint."

Herzer nodded, not admitting that he didn't either.

"Pump," the smith said. "So, you heard we're speeding up the deployment of the guard force?"

"Dr. Daneh told me," Herzer said. He had caught his wind and in a way it was getting easier to pump than it had been at first. It was still hot as hell, though. "She said something about Fredar?"

"A group of brigands, I suppose you'd call them, hit it. I'd been out there just a couple of weeks ago. They had gotten the preliminary pronouncement of the Norau reformation and were making noises about the 'violent nature' of the proposals."

"The defense requirement?" Herzer asked, stopping the bellows as the smith drew the steel out.

"Aye," the smith admitted. "Their town council had taken a strictly nonviolent position; some of the reenactors who had stopped there moved when they did that and told me. I went over and tried to talk them out of it, the fools." He slammed the hammer down twice, hard then stopped, setting it down and putting the steel back in the fire. "Get some more charcoal, would you?" he said, gesturing with his chin at a bucket in the corner.

Herzer got the charcoal and then looked at his hands. Not only they but his arms were covered in soot. "Going to be hard to get past the doctor like this."

"We'll wash you up, don't worry," Edmund replied, taking another drink. "Anyway, the . . . brigands killed most of the men, including the few skilled artisans, damnit, ran off with most of the women and left the children behind. Oh, and they burned everything down on their way out."

"Rape, loot, pillage and burn," Herzer said with a frown.

"Oh, yeah, they got it in the right order," Edmund said, sticking the steel back in the fire. "Pump. It's actually odd. Quite often raiders got the order out of sequence. Burning things down is quite fun under the circumstances; it's keeping people from burning that is tough."

Herzer looked at him sideways his brow furrowing. "That sounds like the voice of experience."

"So we've moved up the schedule for the guard force," Edmund said, ignoring the implied question. "You going to go for soldier?"

"Yes," Herzer replied.

"Which kind?" Edmund asked.

"I don't know what there's going to be," Herzer admitted. "I have sort of been out of the loop."

"It's going to be small," Talbot replied. "We don't need much right now. But I want it to be a good cadre for a larger force, so it's going to be brutal training."

"I'm up for it," Herzer said as the smith paused.

"That's what you think now," Edmund snorted. "The main force will be two groups, archers and line infantry. The archers will use longbows and the line infantry will be modeled, lightly, on the Roman infantry."

"Legions?" Herzer said, with a grin. "Now that's more like it!"

"Well, with your arm you'd make a hell of a bowman." Edmund frowned.

"Fine, if they tell me I have to be an archer, I'll be an archer," Herzer replied. "But if I have the choice I'll take the legions, thanks just the same."

"Why?" Edmund set down the steel and really looked at the young man for the first time.

Herzer turned his face away from the regard and shrugged, his face hot. "I don't know," he temporized.

"Okay, tell me what you think."

Herzer hesitated for a moment then shrugged again. "Legions . . . well archers. Archers sit back and hit the enemy at a distance. They don't . . . close with them. They don't get a grip on them. I . . . I trained with a bow, and, yeah, I'm even pretty good, but I always preferred to close with cold steel. I call it 'iron hand.' It's just . . . my thing. Sometimes it was the wrong thing to do. But . . . it's what I preferred."

Edmund nodded again, an inscrutable expression on his face and picked up the steel. "Pump. The term you're groping for is 'shock infantry.' There's effectively two types, disciplined and undisciplined. Undisciplined is the Pict screaming forward with his axe raised overhead. That works, sometimes, against other undisciplined infantry. The other model is the phalanx, which advances in a steady force to take and hold ground. Iron hand . . . and I've heard the term before although you'd probably be surprised where it came from, iron hand is more about the screaming Pict. Can you grasp the difference?"

"Yes, sir," Herzer replied. "But I'd still prefer the legions. The legions . . . well . . ." He paused and shrugged.

Edmund smiled at him and nodded. "Again, I've got the advantage on you. I've had years of reading, consideration and studying to define what you're groping for. The legions are 'where the rubber meets the road,' another term that's hard to define. They are what will, ultimately, decide the tide of battle."

"Yeah," Herzer breathed, glad that someone could explain the . . . feeling that was in him. "I want to be where the rubber meets the road."

Edmund laughed at that and shook his head at the young man, who was looking embarrassed. "Don't worry, it's just . . . when you get out of basic, if you pass, I'm going to let you read a book. Hell, I'll make you read so many you'll hate me. Clausewitz, flawed as he is, Fusikawa, Keegan, Hanson. So you'll be able to define the terms. Knowing the lingo is half the battle in learning. But shock infantry isn't all that is needed. Long term I want a balanced combined arms force. Bow, ballista, legion, heavy and light cavalry."

"You're talking a big force," Herzer said, shaking his head. "Raven's Mill isn't going to support all that."

"Who's talking about just Raven's Mill?" Edmund chuckled. "That's what's getting me so upset with the council. They keep thinking just in terms of here and now."

"Do you always think about ten years down the road?" Herzer asked. "That's how long you have to be thinking. There's no way even to raise a full legion for . . . two years minimum."

"Why two?" Edmund asked, looking at him again.

"Stuff," Herzer shrugged. "Log . . . logistics?"

"You know some terms already."

"Just . . . I have no idea how many kilos of steel go into arming a legion of six thousand men . . ."

"Tons, go on."

"Tents, food. The tents were made from leather. We don't have enough cows to make the leather for that many tents!"

"And not enough men. Food."

"Preserved food," Herzer said, suddenly excited. "I mean . . . salt. It's what they paid the legions with . . ."

"Not strictly necessary as a payment method, but I get the point. It is necessary as a preservative, which is why we're having to eat this food so fast. It would have been better to wait until fall for a roundup, but we needed the food now. You remember what I said about 'cadre.' Do you know what it means?"

"The . . . core of a force?"

"We're at the tools to build the tools stage. The Raven's Mill defense force is designed to be the tools to build the tool. Can you get what that means?"

"Ouch," he said, looking at the hammer with a grin. "You want us to be a hammer?"

"And a hammer is heavier and harder than what it bangs," Edmund chuckled, nodding at the analogy. "You think you're heavy enough?"

"I don't know," Herzer admitted. "I hope I will be by the time you're finished. Are you the hammer that makes the hammer?"

"No," Edmund admitted. "I have someone better at it than I am. You'll find out. And I guarantee you'll hate it."

"Okay, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, I guess," Herzer said. "I wish we had guns, though. Try to let some brigands get though a volley of rifle fire."

"Expansion rate protocols," Edmund said with a shrug. "Won't work."

"It doesn't make any sense to me," the younger man said, shaking his head. "I mean, first of all, why outlaw explosives and second how in the hell does it actually work? Expansion rate conversion never made any sense."

"You want an answer?" Talbot said, setting down the steel again and then sitting on the anvil. "I've about got my mad worked out, we'll let the forge cool off now that . . . Well, don't worry about pumping. So you want the answer?"

"Yes, I wouldn't have asked the question if I didn't."

"I know you went to day-school with Rachel," the smith frowned. "And I know she knows this. So why do I have to explain it?"

"You don't if you don't want to," Herzer replied, standing up and stretching his legs. He felt better than he had all day. He really had needed some exercise. "But I took the preindustrial technologies track. I mean, it was covered in backgrounds to history, but that's all they said. And I never really cared before."

"Okay, but I'm not going to take fifty thousand words and if you don't understand it, you don't understand it. Got it?"

"Got it," Herzer said with a chuckle.

"The first thing is 'why?' " Talbot said. "The protocol got emplaced shortly after the AI war. You're up on that?"

"Somewhat. There was a class on it. I didn't sleep through it."

"So you know it was bad, bloody. Nearly as bad as this . . . shit we're in. There was a twenty-five percent die off in the first year of the war, some from fighting, most of it from starvation and other extermination programs of the AI's."

"Yes," Herzer said grimly. The Norau rump of the Council hadn't passed around current casualty estimates, but he'd seen the bodies by the tracks with his own eyes. If the human race had as little as a twenty-five percent die-off rate from this Dying Time he'd be very surprised.

"Anyway, the die-off and the war produced a great deal of pacifism in its wake. But at the same time it produced a lot of people who were pretty extreme. One group of them ambushed one of the members of the Council and wiped him and his bodyguards out. It wasn't easy. The 'assassins'—for want of a better word for a group of six hundred battle-armored infantry backed by AI tanks—were nearly wiped out by the bodyguards and the Council member, who for all his pacifism had gained it in the frontlines of the war.

"That really shook the Council. If Hollingsworth could be taken out, anyone could. The only thing that could prevent that was Mother."

"Ah."

"Now, no group of Council members had ever gotten large enough and unanimous enough to have Mother control crime or anything like that. That was so intrusive that they all recognized it would lead eventually to a revolt of one form or another. And most of them were against it in principle. On one level you know that Mother is always watching. But as long as you know, it doesn't matter . . . So, anyway, they decided that they could either violate that long-held prohibition against using Mother for surveillance purposes, or they could find some other way around it."

"Weapons controls?" Herzer asked. "But . . . But, I guess it sort of makes sense . . ."

"Sure, if you have no understanding of history," Talbot snarled. "Anything resembling universal suffrage is a postindustrial, postgunpowder concept. Gunpowder gave the Everyman a way to kill the Lord on his horse. Industry, by which I mean steam and internal combustion, removed the need for day-in, day-out muscle use! As long as their comfortable replication- and information-based society was stable and stagnant, everything was fine. But take that away and what do you have?"

"This," Herzer whispered, noticing how Edmund referred to the pre-Fall society as "theirs." "Okay. So, no internal combustion, but why no steam?"

"Low power steam works," Talbot said. "But when you build up really useable pressures it passes the point that Mother is programmed to find dangerous and . . . the heat just . . . goes away. Into the damned Net for Sheida to use, I suppose. It even interferes with high temperature forges; forming steel is a balancing act."

"Oh. Okay, that's the why. What's the 'how'?"

"Next you have to understand Mother."

"It's the central computer that runs the Web. So?"

"Oh, child," Edmund said with a grim chuckle. "Mother is not a computer. Mother is a program. Actually, an OS/P, an operating system/protocol. But Mother has become much more than that. Mother is connected to every single outlet of the Web. She sees through every nannite. She hears through every ear. Her sensors detect every shift of the wind, every change in kinetic energy, the potential of every raindrop, and have a very good idea where the individual molecules are going to end up. Have you ever heard that one about 'see every sparrow fall'?"

"Yeah," Herzer said, caught in the odd spell of words that Edmund seemed to be casting.

"Mother knows it before it starts to drop."

"So . . ." Herzer looked at the smith and shrugged. "Why doesn't she stop this war?"

"Because Mother doesn't care," Edmund replied with a grin. "She's not here to stop wars or start wars—wars are human things and it's not her job to tell humans how to be human. She just runs the Web and the various things that are attached to it. As long as the combatants don't do anything stupid to the actual information transfer architecture, Mother won't do anything to them."

"That is . . . weird."

"Mother was written by a guy who in retrospect turned out to be pretty damned weird. Name of Arthur King. Ever heard of him?"

"The name and that he was the founder of the Web."

"Not quite, he just wrote Mother. The Web existed before him, the only thing he really did was make the last major modification to its internal structure. And that was the last thing he did on this earth, apparently. Because he disappeared right afterwards. Vanished, without a trace."

"And this has what to do with the explosive protocols?"

"Remember, Mother knows all, Mother sees all. But the only time that Mother does things about it is if the Council tells her to. She's controlled by the Council members. They vote on what actions she should take outside of directly securing the Web. If enough of them told her to destroy the Earth, she would."

"What? How?" Herzer said.

"There are various ways that come to mind. It depends on if they just wanted the biosphere wiped out or really destroy the Earth. If they wanted the biosphere destroyed, she could probably just dump an enormous amount of power into the mantle and cause every volcano on Earth to erupt and keep erupting. That would wipe out everything but bacteria in time. She could wipe out any particular species simply by causing its chemical processes to stop. Are you feeling happier now?"

"That's crazy!" the boy said, shaking his head. "Since when?"

"Since looong before you were born, boy. Nobody talks about it and most people don't even think about it. Mother owns us, but we, in turn, own Mother, through the Council. There is a reason that I hate the Council, hated it long before this damned war, and thought that it needed far more oversight than it was getting."

"So you're saying that Mother stops explosions by knowing they are going to happen?"

"Partially. She also can sense that they have occurred. And while explosions propagate fast, they don't propagate faster than light or Mother's reactions. When one occurs, it gets surrounded by a force-field and 'damped' with the kinetic energy converted to electrical power then drained off into the power net. All you get is a sort of wet 'thump' and a lump of ash. I tried it with homemade gunpowder one time and got a nasty note from the Council for my troubles."

"But . . . there are explosions that occur in nature all the time. Lightning, volcanoes . . ."

"Like she can't tell the difference between a deliberately detonated chemical explosive and lightning?" Edmund laughed. "And chemical explosions don't happen in nature, at least not much. There are a few species that come damned near to having them, including plants. But Mother can filter for that. Chemical explosions have a very distinct signature. As to volcanoes, what makes you think she doesn't damp them?"

"Well, I've seen pictures . . ."

"Sure, plenty of pretty eruptions. Ever heard of Krakatoa?"

"No."

"Used to be an island. Then some salt water dropped into a magma chamber and blew it up. Big explosion, killed a lot of people, inundated islands, all the usual problems. With me?"

"Yeah."

"I mean big explosion. Ever heard of the Stone Lands?"

"I went there one time, it's . . . interesting. Geysers and hot vents and stuff."

"Yeah. Did you know it once blew the hell up?"

"What?"

"Heh. Shortly after the AI war. Caused a hell of a stink because there was a lot of suspicion that it had been done deliberately; there are ways if you have access to power fields and enough power. Anyway, it had always been really unstable and the explosion had been sort of a background worry for geologists for a long, long time, as long as they knew what was going on down there. Similar to Krakatoa in that there was a big hot spot and a lot of water in close proximity. If it went, though, it was estimated that it would blow out not only the Stone Lands but the area for several hundred kilometers in every direction. And I do mean 'blow out,' as in blow it into the stratosphere."

"Wow."

"The hot spot had been heating the water for a few hundred thousand years and it was hoped that it would never break down. Well, it did. Big time. Magma/steam explosion estimated at something like one hundred megatons, that's a really old expression to measure explosives."

"Okay."

"And what happened? Nada. Ground shook a bit, minor earthquake. That's exactly how powerful Mother is. So forget making up a bunch of gunpowder and turning this into the New Model Army."

"Okay," Herzer said. "Damn. But one other thing?"

"Sure."

"Why longbows, crossbows are easier to train on and . . ."

"Oh not you too!"

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