Excerpt from Chapter 10
Marto glided through a perfectly opaque fog. Looking down, he could barely make out his skates powering up the hill. Local near-field repeaters showed him a safe route ahead, winding left to right across the old parkway. His visualizer highlighted the new path, re-enforced by a carbon honeycomb with a graphene web overlay. Other obstacles showed in a red outline. On the road there were few people, carts, cargo-bot caravans, and implanted animals. The Merritt was far from level. Hills propelled him to a frightening speed during the descent, and slowed him to a crawl on the ascent, where the path zigzagged to save energy for travelers and automata alike. For this reason, both lanes of the Merritt had been preserved and improved.
The skates had been a gift given to him in Waveny by some fans who were upset by the theft of his unicycle. They had printed their components in short order as soon as they had learned of the crime. Accurately predicting his arrival they stopped him by the side of the parkway. He had stayed with them a day while they finished assembling the skates. Each had six wheels, two of which were powered, engaging on either side of the foot when needed to overcome gravity or to steady the rider. The other four wheels ran inline down the center. The skates bulged outward from his feet and took only a little time to master. They would need charging every couple of days, but they reclaimed energy on the downhills of the Merritt. Breaking was thankfully accomplished by a neural interface, saving Marto from many a potential collision. The longer he used them, the more he found he loved the feeling of gliding from foot to foot. In the fog, he felt as if he were flying.
Waveny tribe was unusual. They were tree dwellers, living in an old arboretum, dedicated to maintaining the health of the foliage in the new drier climate of the NorthEast. The onslaught of damaging insects to local species had been curtailed by some of the tribe’s efforts. They specialized in modifying and upgrading hunter-bots that attacked various beetles and moths. Much of their water tech was devoted to feeding the roots of the great woods in which they dwelled. Homes were printed to fit around the trunks of the trees, some as high as 20 meters above ground. At the center of the tribal community was an old manor house, very like the Lester Sunshine Inn, but unused and unmaintained. There was talk of tearing it down to make room for more trees. The local garments were almost all green and adorned with leaves.
All of the food in Waveny was printed. Everything tasted like a different kind of cracker. Much of their protein came from insects and sheep’s milk. Sheep roamed freely around the grounds, all implanted to keep them from eating anything that might be a new sapling. Only their farms and gardens were grounded. There was talk of moving them up into the trees, but declined by popular vote. The tribe didn’t want any competition for sunlight with the impressive arbor array. Marto was given a variety of light and nutritious snacks for the next leg of his journey. The canister that held the painting by Bruce Ng now had grown to accommodate pockets in which the printed food was stored. Water was too heavy to take with him, but there were plenty of water stops on the Merritt, so Marto did not worry.
Marto’s followers thought that the members of Waveny tribe were suicidally irrational. They were referred to as The Elves or as Huggers, and not in a kind way. Living in trees was all well and good until a serious storm came through, which was far from uncommon. One good tornado could wipe most of them out. Rather than seek protection from these storms inside of a dome or bunker, the tribal members chose to die with the trees. Their devotion bordered on fanaticism. They had thus far been lucky.
The fog lifted, leaving white tendrils of moisture trailing upwards. Marto was approaching a roadside gathering. A series of popup stops had been compiled near Roosevelt along the great bridge. The sparsely populated Merritt became crowded with people, walking, biking or otherwise traveling to and from the open air bazaar.
One of these people caught Marto's eye. She was skating as well, down the opposite side of the parkway. She was smiling at him purposefully. Marto smiled back, thinking maybe she was a fan of his work and sent a ping to get her name.
Before he knew what was happening he was in a red cushioned tent full of incense with hands over his eyes. He heard her whisper in his ear, [“you'd better steer for the grass. I've caught you.”] His physical eyes were still open and with part of his awareness he guided his skates towards a soft landing nearby. His body lay there while he felt her hand rub his chest in a tight circle over his heart. Desire rose in his blood, so suddenly he could feel himself gasp. He turned and kissed her. She appeared here much as she had on the road but covered in feathers instead of clothes. She was small and fierce with a tangle of auburn hair, full lips, thick eyebrows and a long neck leading down towards curves covered in white down. Marto looked down at himself and saw that he had no such creative adornment. This was forgivable, since he had been surprised. She kissed back, denying him the knowledge of her name. She was playful and energetic. Their hands moved. Their knees touched. Feathers floated off her breasts as Marto reached down to touch them. They floated up between their two faces and dissipated like smoke. She had a hold of him now, by the horn, her face a wide open smile as she pushed him backwards. [“There's something you need to know about me.”] he said. [“I have a lot of friends.”]
His followers began to appear around them in the tent. The tent grew larger to accommodate them. Marto did not check to see how many or who or what they were up to. He concentrated on the woman who had pulled him over. The tent transformed into a lusty sort of dimly lit circus, with Marto and his new friend in the center ring. Two of his followers composed and performed a soundtrack for the roadside attraction. The music had a low pounding bass line beneath a high wandering sine wave. Two more followers began a live commentary. His feathered seductress shrieked with surprise and excitement. She spun around to observe the growing audience, feathers flying away into smoke. Then she leaped upon her prey. The crowd cheered.
Much refreshed, Marto picked himself off the ground, and gazed across the Merritt to see his new friend wave once, and skate away. No names. Few words. His followers were overjoyed. Marto took his time getting back on the road. He was thankful for the diversion and profoundly becalmed. His skates rearranged themselves to allow for a walk into the woods in search of a tree.