After the Storm: Part Twenty-Four

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Then

One of the first things Carl did once his granddaughter settled into her new home was enrol her in school. The Mingus Valley Primary School had finally been assigned another teacher after several years of sitting empty. Finding someone to teach the local children basic arithmetic and how to read and write was Carl’s biggest accomplishment as Head Ombudsmen so far.

The last 15 years had brought such unpredictable weather patterns that the population had fallen sharply and most of the surviving families were more concerned with their next meal than teaching their children to read, write, add, and subtract. With several years of good crops and a new alliance with Peoria Carl knew his community was headed for prosperity. If enough lambs survived the summer  he might even be able to bring home a kitten or puppy for Daphne the next time he went to market to barter for everything their little farm couldn’t produce.

She was such a quiet, timid little thing. It had been years since Carl had been so intimately involved with raising a child, but he didn’t remember Jose being this withdrawn when he was her age. Of course, her father had grown up with  half a dozen noisy siblings, a barn cat who produced kittens at an alarming rate, a rotating assortment of hunting dogs, and a mother who lived.

The house was so still now that  it only sheltered a tired old man and his youngest surviving grandchild. Carl had such high hopes when he sent Daphne off to school. In the few short weeks since she had come to live with him he had occasionally seen flashes of what her life must have been like before her mother died.

She knew how to light a fire, knead bread, and cook a simple stew. Once when she thought he had gone out to the shed to collect more fire wood he heard her sing softly as she chopped the vegetables.

Down in the valley, the valley so low

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow;

Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.

In thirty seconds he’d heard her say more than he did in the previous week, and as Carl listened stood in the entryway and listened to her sing even the verses no one understood and few bothered to memorize he wondered how she would react to learning something new. Most folks wouldn’t have bothered memorizing obscure stanzas about creatures few believed in and even fewer had heard of these days.

Which was why he was so surprised when her introduction to school was a disaster. Daphne lasted two hours the first morning before sneaking away on a bathroom break and running all the way back to her grandfather’s cottage. She liked running her fingers over the musty pages in the books the community had accumulated over the years but hated being separated from her grandfather all day almost as much as she did standing in front of a room full of strangers and answering questions about her lessons. The thought of being surrounded by that many people staring at her made Daphne’s teeth hurt. Their stares weren’t unfriendly so much as they were intrusive. Daphne felt like she walking down the road in bare feet in the middle of winter every time her teacher asked her to speak louder and enunciate her answers.

He walked her back to the school, of course, but when she proceeded to run away again every other day that week he relented. Carl had never enjoyed the prospect of being the centre of attention himself, and he thought that it was more important for the girl to learn than it was for her to conquer her fear of being noticed at such a young age. Under her grandfather’s quiet tutelage Daphne absorbed everything he could think to teach her except for geography.

She never did quite understand the importance of learning how all of the territories fit together now that people were remembering again, but eventually she learned everything he could remember from his own school days. For a few months a teenage Daphne even worked as a substitute teacher at the little school after her predecessor died and before it was shut down for another generation.

Now

Esther Penn

District 3

Arizona Terrority

1 August 2113

 

Highway Letter

District 6

Henderson, Nevada

 

Dear Esther:

Enclosed you will find a new batch of trackers for District 3. This version has been modified to require longer intervals between adjustments and the first round of testing has shown far fewer adverse outcomes than the first prototype.

Please submit your log at soon as each tray has been installed so that we can activate them ASAP.  I know your access to the cloud is spotty in such a remote location, but the success of this experiment relies on meticulous attention to detail before we begin stage 3. We must ensure it is safe before the legislature will officially approve human testing.

Yours, etc.,

Highway.

“So as you can see it’s very important that you agree to listen to the judge,” the woman said with a relaxed smile.

Daphne hadn’t recognized all of the words she’d read – spelling and vocabulary had always been more difficult to master than most other subjects for her-  but she understood enough to realize it was something other than a direct order.

“I ought to bring this up with the council first,” Daphne said as she slid the wrinkled, olive paper off of the table. Esther’s smile tightened as she slid the paper back over to her side of the table and tucked it into her pocket.

“That’s not necessary, our judge has jurisdiction over your affairs. It’s all here in the paperwork. ”

“I think the other Ombudsmen can help me figure out if that’s true.” Whatever a judge was or wherever jurisdiction might be found,  Daphne assumed they were something similar to the volunteers who metered out justice in her own community. And in Mingus Valley justice was decided by majority vote in a small group. It was nearly unthinkable for one single person to accumulate that much power over his or her neighbours.

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