Monday, January 31, 2011

Red, Part Nine - half burned gasoline

Joe took me to the camps to give me a feel for how the operation was run.

 Perhaps the greatest initial impression was one of how haphazard it all was.

It was a vast expanse of tents with unpaved paths between them. Varied tents of all sizes and configurations, some made of canvas, others from animal skin, others again from what looked like parachute material.

The alleyways were filled with puppets and humans, immature puppets following the horses to scoop up great streams of shit. Small carts pulled by puppets, mixes of wood and metal, cut off One World logos occasionally visible. Some of them powered by electric motors or inefficient internal combustion engines.

Under the smell of dung and half burned gasoline was the ubiquitous reek of vinegar and incense that puppets exude. As always they burned herbs to cover the smell, half aware of its offensiveness. The tiny sparkle of the flames, thousands of them everywhere one looked, lent the night a marvelous feel, a noisy fairyland.

"Who's in charge?" I asked Joe.

"No-one," he replied. "We gave them a few simple instructions and the ordered complexity you see is the result. Who would have thought war could be an emergent behavior?"

He grinned at me as though he'd imparted some great secret.

"They come off the convoy from the West and immediately settle in. They use the metal and wood in their road machines to build what they need and as soon as they have everything sorted out they report to the recruiting office. All very neat and tidy."

As we walked by a primitive blacksmith who was using what looked like a military laser to cut a sheet of metal, I thought about fear.

I was very afraid of course. Joe had given me some idea of what I was expected to do and the thought of it made my knees weak. It seemed that if I ever expected to get West again I would have to do it.

In general, however, we fear what is closest to us but has changed into something we don't understand.

It informs our desire to understand what happened to the shape of our world when Red came. The new, huge distances available to us. The possibility that we now live on and infinite surface.

It makes us lie awake at night wondering about the changes in ourselves, the great strength, the biological immortality, the control of Red at a very basic level.

Above all we fear the puppets. Those whom Red rejected became the strange slaves that we can control with a gesture or a thought. They are numerous enough and strong enough to overpower us whenever they wish and we live our lives in shadow because of this. Autonomous puppets could hardly help but be filled with justified rage towards us.

In this camp, according to Joe, there were over a million puppets. The idea of that many armed puppets in one place made me feel sick.

"What do they eat and drink?"

"There are springs of natural Red all over the place. They boil it down and make cakes of the stuff. Also the convoy brings in thousands of tonnes of grain every day. They drink Red."

I stared in incomprehension at him.

"Yes, it's risky," he said. "It brings them close to breaking through but they need intelligence and initiative where they're going. It can lead to difficult operations for the police."

"And the police are puppets as well?"

"Of course. Who else. After all, there's only three humans here at the front."
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