The Gleaner's ConcernAt the top of the cliff, Corr stowed his climbing pins, took a breath, and sprinted off along a stepping-stone path winding through oak brush and scattered juniper trees. As he ran, he reached over his left shoulder with his right hand, rotated his round, thin drahsalleh shield to release it from its clamp, and slid it around his shoulder to let its straps close on his left forearm. He reached over his right shoulder, grasped his bow, pushed down and twisted to release, and swung the weapon over into his left hand. Then he retrieved and knocked the arrow that popped up from the magazine on the back of his pack. Corr made these moves with the precision and speed gained from thousands of repetitions.
As he raced through the woodland, Corr practiced with his bow, formed a new stream of thoughts about Rhya, and sorted through story ideas. He stopped once to reset a tilted stepping stone, careful not to harm the tiny creatures living underneath.
Seven miles later, Corr stopped on a rocky hillock and gazed across a rolling plain of dry grass dotted by patches of shrubs surrounding piñon pines. He could see movements of hundreds of creatures on the ground, and in the shrubs and trees.
“Hi Illia,” said Corr, looking up at the leader of Wycliff's rock squirrel caucus. “Say, do these patches of piñon-oak grow in other districts?”
“Piñon and live oak often grow together, but I doubt they grow anywhere else with the same mix of shrubs.”
"What about the growth form, shrubs clustered like a cloud of rocket exhaust around each tall tree?"
"Probably. We plant them that way, but if we didn't, over time competitive stress might achieve the same thing. The clusters conserve heat and moisture. It's a common form in cool, dry climates with just enough rain and snow to support a few trees."
Illia gazed at the scene. "Can you see the pattern of the patches?"
"Yes. Maybe you can't tell, but it's almost even, not random. That's because of the homogenous soils in this area. We arrange the patches this way to give them equal shares of moisture and nutrients. It's something that might occur naturally if given enough time."
Corr had a good grasp of gleaning, the techniques used to tend the land—all Tsaeb did. “Illia, were you ever in the gleaner assembly?”
“Yes. I completed the training in record time and joined up. An honor for someone so young, but I didn't last. You see, each week the assembly gets together and updates plans. The members merge their sensory webs and start sharing information and ideas. Well, when they do this, everyone starts mumbling and swaying. I couldn't stay serious and had to quit. I liked the problems, though. Predicting and guiding productivity by thousands of interacting creatures makes a superb challenge. I'll probably join again someday. But for now, we need a sentry, don't we?”
Corr knew that as the district rock squirrel leader, Illia probably traveled too often to participate in the assembly.
Illia dropped to a lower boulder. Here it comes, thought Corr.
“Corr, we need to do something about the Danog. Combustion wastes in the air damage the plants and trap heat. All kinds of crap winds up in the water. Every week the assembly says it approaches the limits of its ability to keep up. Pretty soon they'll start mumbling all the time.”
“Head down, bumping into things?”
Illia grinned, but his expression tightened. “Corr, the council will listen to you. Tell them.”
“Illia, send someone to the next council meeting. Or come yourself. Korhonen and some of the other councilors agree with you. They all know what's happening. Tell them you want some action.”
A gentle breeze passed by. Corr looked around. The vegetation would change as the land and climate changed, but the morning activity of its protectors would not. Sapient species cared for the land just as they had for millions of years. They needed his help, but Corr didn't know what to do. He wished Illia wouldn't ask.
“I need to go. Why don’t you come to the Tavern tonight?”
“Stay at your place?”
Corr drew his swords and began practicing attacks and defenses as he ran into the wind flowing up from the valley to fill the void left by its rising sun-warmed higher self.
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Genre – Science Fiction
Rating – PG