This is the seventh section of the sixth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
Malka looked around at the inside of Dirk’s house. It hadn’t been quite what she had been expecting. A large structure prefabricated out of dozens of smaller units as if it had been salvaged from smaller units pulled together, The entire structure gave the impression of dozens of houses snuggling together for mutual warmth and protection. Entering the house was the first time she had been cool all day. Wherever they were had very effective air conditioning. She sighed unzipping her jacket and slung it under her arm.
Looking around at the decorations like the rest of the house the impression was of old equipment salvaged. This started to get her concerned, the reports they’d had of the local barons had described this behaviour, of magpies harvesting the best from the local population. however if this was the best of the local region then she could understand some of the behaviour, the question was why were they down here? Their beliefs their tradition? Suspicion?
She watched Dirk’s family run up and fuss about him. As he answered their questions and told the story she watched their faces turn from relief and acceptance at this person who had brought their injured family member home to one of suspicion and distrust as he got to the point where she had been the one to attack him. Eventually he reached then end and instructed them to be kind, but it was clear that they were not happy.
“I suppose” said Dirk approaching Malka having finished his explanations “That I should introduce you to the family”
“It’s okay I can tell when I’m not welcome. It’s best I leave”
“No, it is good discipline for them.”
“So I’m an exercise for them”
“Exactly, the fine art of diplomacy”
“I never thought you were a diplomat”
“I’m not, no more than any person, but all human relationships are based on compromise. Unless you want to base them on war.”
“What is war but the failure of diplomacy?”
“Diplomacy can only exist with the threat of war.”
“War is the ultimate pursuit of man.”
“And you would know that?”
“I am a soldier”
“And what else?”
“I’m sorry?” Malka asked
“Think hard. Describe yourself, not as your job, not as your name, not as your aims, not as your relationship to other people, not as your history, what are you, who are you?”
Malka blinked for a few seconds. “Exactly” continued Dirk “You think like a military grunt. Lines on a map, not the qualities of the place or the person.”
“So who are you then?”
“Good” laughed Dirk “Trying to get the upper hand and put me on the defensive. I’ll tell you who I am. I’m a man devoted to peace. I’m a man trying to make this abandoned world a better place again.”
“Those are your aims, you’re not allowed them”
“No, but when I say I am diplomat amongst the tattered remains of Earth when the nations have failed us. When I am the leader of the anarchy, the heart of the heartless. The unifier the separator, a man of order and a man of peace a man of change and a man of the long past to bring a new future does that help?”
“You’ve still not answered your own question.”
“You really don’t get it do you.”
“No, I really don’t.”
“It can’t be answered that’s the point. It’s the search, it’s the intentions and the desires that define us. You have none of that. No mission of your own, no desire or cause you would stand up for except that which is given to you”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t need to your silence earlier said it.”
Malka thought for a few minutes “So what do you suggest?”
“That we eat and you think.”
“I think of what?”
“The world and your situation. Come on, supper will be ready soon.” he motioned her through to another room.
The room was basic in its decorations, just a plain long table running the length of the room with a few lights along the ceiling and seats around it enough for a dozen or so people.
“Very traditional” commented Malka.
“Really?” asked Dirk, “It’s just a table”
“How do you get everyone to sit together? Why aren’t they off doing their own things.”
“Because I ask them.”
“That’s all it takes?”
“Not really” he replied, “But that’s all it takes today. I think you will be the star attraction. They’ll want to talk to the person who has caused this trouble.”
“Think they’ll have a grudge?”
“Why with you is it always about the threat? No never mind, forget I asked that, let me ask a different question but don’t feel you have to answer it.”
“How long since you were with someone?”
“I’m with you now.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes I think so, but if you can’t ask a question correctly and can’t ask the question you mean then don’t be surprised if you don’t get the answer you want.”
“Fine how long since you last had sex?”
“If by biological sex, which is defined by the mixing of chromosomes from two members of the same species to produce an offspring then I can say I have never done that.”
“How long since you were last in love?”
“I still love my parents and talk to them frequently.” she paused for a moment to smile “If not regularly.”
“What the hell happened in your life to turn you into this? Fine how long since you shared intimate personal time with someone where you pleasured each other?”
“Isn’t conversation and most social interaction pleasurable? Aren’t some of these questions you’re asking quite intimate?”
“You’re loving this aren’t you?”
“Yes, go on carry on.”
“How long since you had someone inside your genital regions?”
“My gynaecologist's appointment was last month.”
“For none medical reasons.”
“Well never then.”
“You mean you’re a virgin?”
“No I mean that sexual intercourse has been proved to have positive effects on both physical and mental health so you could argue it was all for medical reasons.”
“Ah ha!” he sounded triumphant “How long since you last had sexual intercourse?”
“None of your business.”
“After all that you won’t answer?”
“Well my route was more fun wasn’t it? Besides why do you want to know”
“Sexual health says a large part about your character. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about someone from sleeping with them.”
“Is this a proposal?” her eyes flicked to look at the far end of the room “I don’t think you should do that thing in front of your family”
Dirk span around, looking at three young people stood in the corner looking like they were trying not to laugh “No”
“Oh so it’s your method of diplomacy then. That’s how you unite the local factions.”
Dirk started to look uncomfortable and she was clearly enjoying this “Good” she laughed “Time for you to be uncomfortable.” her eyes flicked down to his plastered leg “Sorry” she apologised.
“Not to worry, come on I should introduce you to the family.” he sat down in the nearest chair “Although given my current condition I’m going to have to let them come to us.” he waved to the three in the corner “Nestore here, is a big man in the water collector business. He redesigned the water collectors at the local solar collector farm completely; and Serafina here actually made them work.” He smiled seemingly proud of himself for the setting the two against each other.
“Solar farm?” asked Malka.
“Well solar tower actually.” replied Nestore
“Sorry?” she asked
“Take a big greenhouse. Many miles across. Build a chimney in the middle of it. You’ll find the rising hot air gives you constant wind day and night. We use that for local heat. It’s a very old idea.”
“And” chimed in Dirk “it has the added advantage of having a large greenhouse for crops if you have the water.”
“Which we don’t” continued Nestore seemingly happy to be talking about his work “Well the moist water from the greenhouse does cause a lot of precipitation in the chimney which we can collect and reuse, but there are no real sources of fresh water around here so you never make up for losses. However it’s long been known that you can use the cold water gathered from the lower sea currents to condense moisture out of the air.”
“That’s how we cool the house” interrupted Dirk.
“But” continued Nestore “That’s still not enough. Well you can never have enough fresh water around here. Fortunately I came across the plans for something they never got around to building down in Namibia, a solar tower on a salt flat but not trying to have a farm for food under the greenhouse, but having a farm for water.”
“You see”, Nestore carried on enthusiastically “They had salt water from the sea and a salt flat. So they planned to flood the salt flat with sea water. Then with a solar tower above it they would collect the precipitate that would form in the tower and there you had it a source of both electricity and fresh water and all they had to do was scarifice a lifeless inhosiptable salt flat”
“So why didn’t they build it.”
“No money, this was before the great exodus. Africa was just on the verge of becoming a super power and suddenly the rug was pulled from under our feet. The solar farms here were built to power Europe so they were built before the exodus, but down there would just have fed and brought modern civilisation to the locals so that wasn’t a priority. Anyway i stole their idea.”
“You water crops with salt water, have vats of it?”
“Almost, glass tubes with sprays inside them make sure that the water can evaporate without the salt escaping. The natural strong wind in the farm drags dry air through these tubes and the air comes out super saturated with moisture and the remaining water is supersaturated with salt.”
“Wouldn’t the glass get covered with salt”
“That’s part of the clever design you see vanes on the water pipes”
“That I designed and actually got working” interrupted Serafina
“Well yes it wouldn’t have worked without that “ he admitted almost grudgingly.
“Okay interrupted Dirk, you get the idea”
“I can see you’re very proud of them” commented Malka.
“Of course. Now you can see food is arriving. Ah, my wife Jacey.”
Malka waved politely at her. Dirk continued “and sister Elise.”
“Charmed. Mind if I ask?” Malka sounded hesitant “You’re all very European sounding, what are you doing in Africa?”
“You’re very Japanese sounding, what are you doing working where you work.”
“You don’t know where I work.”
“No but I can tell from your attitude you’ve not been based in Japan. So I ask again”
“I work for the military it takes you all over.”
“No doubt. And our family has been here for over a century. We came here for the new age that never was.”
“You know one day I’m going to meet someone on Earth that doesn’t hate the Habitat.”
“I wouldn’t say anyone hates it, it just changed things.”
Jacey interrupted “Surely no-one who loves the Earth can hate the Habitat. it freed Earth from humans.”
Malka tried to be diplomatic “That’s one way of putting it.”
“You don’t agree?” she asked.
“I was just brought up with the belief that things have to be observed to matter, without humans here Earth wouldn’t matter any more than any other star in the sky.”
“But we know from the habitat that others stars do have observers on them.”
“Yes but it’s not the same as humans.”
“Well so if a tree falls in a forest and a rabbit is there to hear it does it really make a noise.”
“Does it make a noise if the noise frightens the rabbit and it runs into that path of a hunter and he shoots it?”
“Anyway!” shouted Dirk “Let’s not argue.”
“If a conversation happens and no disagreement is had is it really a discussion, can it therefore have been said to have happened?” interjected Serafina.
“Anyway!” he shouted again “Stop trying to wind people up let’s just eat.”
“So” asked Nestore turning to Malka “Has it really been that long since you had sex then?”
“Nes!” objected Jacey.
“What? Dad was asking earlier, he was just trying to be polite, I know better.”
“It’s okay” reassured Malka “For me it’s a private issue, but I will answer and say this that it has been a long time since anyone Man or Woman roused my interest enough for me to open up and since this seems to be such a concern to your family in general then perhaps yes this is causing some of the uptight nature that your father has commented on. Rest assured I’ll keep my eyes open for anything interesting or distracting in the near future.”
“Nes!” objected Jacey again “We’re not on the Habitat.”
“It’s okay” replied Malka “I think the phrase here would be conflict of interest and it comes up too often in my life. Now that question is answered I think your family would like to change the subject.”
“Thank you” said Dirk. “So what are your plans now?”
“Well I’m still on leave. I’m supposed to be making my way across the continent according to some grand plan my superior drew up for me. I can’t imagine she planned this though so I’m happy to improvise. Besides I still feel a duty of care and I still haven’t established your place here. Why for example were you waiting by a roadside bomb when you could have diffused it if not to catch the survivors?”
“You’re right that is an interesting question.”
“Are you going to share?”
“All in good time. First eat. You’ll feel better for it.”