Plan E

# # #

All the villagers gathered on the green hills surrounding Plan village.  It was a stupid thing to celebrate — ten years on Plan — but Charlie went along and had fun despite himself.

Boswell and Heckle made barbeque.  They were famous for it now, fashioning the sauce from a mix of herbs they kept secret.  The mayor gave a speech, assuring everyone that the work to send them home progressed well everyday, to the relief of some and scorn of others.

Several people had built kites from lambskin and flew them on woolen strings.  The smell of Plan-grown apples, baked in honey, fried chicken, and skewers of sizzling meat mixed to form the most delicious scent.

It was a grand, sad day.

“Why so glum?” asked Lucy as she lay on one elbow, the sun sparkling in her blonde hair.

“Ten years on this planet, that’s why.  We should have gone home by now.”

Eddie, who sat cross-legged beside Lucy shared a knowing look with her.

Charlie shook his head.  “Don’t worry, I’m not going into a lets-get-home-already speech.  Just feeling like I’m missing out on life while I wait here.”

“You are,” said Eddie simply.

Charlie tore a piece of chicken leg off with his teeth.  It had lots of skin.  All the flavor was in the skin.  Yes, it also carried far too much cholesterol to be healthy, but who cared?  He was going back to a younger Charlie one day — a Charlie who both had and hadn’t eaten this chicken, but nevertheless wouldn’t suffer the consequences.

“If I’m missing out, then we all are,” he said around his food.

“Damn right,” said Eddie.  He munched a cookie that didn’t seem to satisfy him.  Plan sugar substitutes were hideous.  “But we’re doing something about it.”

“What?”

Lucy blushed.  Eddie looked at her, seeming to ask a question with his eyes.  She nodded.

“I’ve asked Lucy to marry me.  We thought you should be the first to know.”

“Oh.”

“Charlie, we don’t. . . you’re not –”

“No, no, not at all,” said Charlie.  “I’m over that.  It’s been years you guys.  I’m a grown man.”  With every reassuring remark, Charlie knew more surely that he was not over that.  Despite five years and a strong friendship with both of them, he still felt a twinge of jealousy.  He could at least admit it to himself.

“What do you think?” asked Eddied.

“That’s wonderful, I guess,” he said.

“You guess?”

“Well, I mean, really what’s the point of getting married here on Plan?  When we go back, it’s going to be a war.  You don’t even know if you’ll ever see one another again.”  Charlie made this up on the spot and instantly felt petty for it.

“The point is, we love each other.  If we do get back to earth, we’ll find one anther there too.  But you know our views on that question,” said Eddie.

“Yes.”

“Who’s going to marry you?”

“The mayor.”

“You already asked her?

“Said she’d be honored to do it.”

Charlie was quiet a long moment.  Would this start a trend?  Would other couples want to marry, rather than just follow the common-law system that had served their community these last ten years?  Charlie could feel social change brewing like a storm.

“Aren’t you happy for us?” asked Lucy, breaking the silence.

“Of course I am.  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to question you like that.”  Yes, he had.  It was cruel, but at least he felt bad for having suggested it.  Still, he could not control his mouth.  “What about children?”

Again something nonverbal passed between them.  Charlie saw it and knew that he had lost Lucy forever.  She and Eddie had a closeness he had never known with her — had never known with anyone.

“That’s not a problem.  Married people can use contraceptives too, you know,” said Lucy with a chuckle.

She was hiding something, but Charlie didn’t pursue it.  Knowing might hurt.

# # #

The council consisted of thirty members chosen by popular vote.

In last month’s election — they took a new vote every year — Charlie had been elected to join.  It must have been because he saved Bruce Youngman’s goat herd three months before by ushering the stinking things into his house during a surprise storm that spawned a tornado.  Charlie, and the goats, had survived and no one else was hurt, though much of the east field was demolished.  After that, Charlie had seen a dramatic upswing in his popularity.  Before the great goat rescue of year nine, few people had even known Charlie’s name.

No house among them, not even the mayor’s mansion, could fit the thirty council members, mayor, and all those who wished to attend the session, so they convened in the shade of the Terry trees on the grass-covered hillside north of the village proper, where, only three months before, the people had gathered to celebrate ten years on Plan.  The red-barked trees grew in a long chain, one parent tree’s seed-laden branches bending to the ground until, when the seeds reached soil, they took root and began growing, still attached to the parent.  Some of the chains were hundreds of miles long and many stories high.

Once all the councilmen had gathered, Mayor Ortiz stood and said, “You all know what’s at issue here, but it’s their right to bring it before the council.  So I’ll just turn things over to Eddie and Lucy and they can tell their side.  Then the council has three days to vote on a final decision.”

“I don’t see why we need a final decision.  We made rules about this before we ever came here,” said Choi.  She had been a captain in the Earth Army, the only organized military group the Warrels allowed humans to have.  She didn’t like changing rules.  Ever.

“Choi Sing, I’ve asked you time and again not to talk out of turn at council.  Now if you do that again, I’ll have you escorted away from here,” said Mayor Ortiz.

Charlie expected Choi to challenge the mayor’s threat, because there wasn’t a man among them — or three together for that matter — who could remove Choi if she wanted to stay.

But the ex-captain only shook her head and sat down.

“Lucy?” said the Mayor by way of introducing her to the council.

Lucy wore a hand-sewn dress long to her ankles, dyed dark blue with indigo and fiber sandals.

“I’m not going to waste words, you all know me better than that,” she smiled as she spoke, looking each of them in the eye as her gaze moved steadily over the thirty people who would decide her fate.  “I’m married to Eddie and I want to have his baby.”

Charlie flinched inwardly, but thought he kept his face placid.

Greta Weller, a former school teacher and the oldest member of the colony at fifty-six, raised her hand.

“Honey, what happens when we return to earth?  You have no way to take a child with you.”

“Mrs. Weller, I truly believe that if I hold my baby close when we leave, I’ll be able to take him with me.”

“Dr. Coalman says we’re going to be here at least five more years.  And the projections keep getting longer and longer.  Would you really gamble your child’s life on a hunch.  He might be five, six, even ten years old by the time we leave?  What if it doesn’t work?  What if you return and the child remains here on Plan?  Alone forever.”

“I think your hunch is ludicrous,” said Martin.  The fat man had lost no weight despite his toils in the field these last ten years.  His face was patchy red and slick with sweat.  “The child would remain behind, Lucy.  You must see that.”

Now Eddie stood and took Lucy’s hand.

“If we have any doubts, we’ll stay here when the rest of you go.”

“Out of the question,” said Mayor Ortiz.  “We are all going home once the ship is converted.

“Then we must figure out a way to take our children.”

“Why?” asked Martin.  “Dr. Jackson and I have been able to produce contraceptive drugs since our second week on this planet.  There’s no need –”

Lucy shook her head emphatically.

“That’s not it, Dr. Martin.  Don’t you understand?  We want to have a child.”

“Then you’re damn fools,” said Gretta.

Lucy took the rebuke gracefully, saying nothing.

“If you had a child, Lucy, that child would be bound to Plan.  There is no way for us to create a timetag, let alone attach it to a child in a time before she was born,” said Dr. Illias, an engineer ten years ago, now a farmer practicing science on the side.

“Then we’re staying,” said Lucy, gripping Eddie’s hand in both her own. “I’m already pregnant.”

Silence fell among the council members, but those gathered outside the circle began to whisper, passing the revelation to those who hadn’t heard.

“Goddamit,” hissed Dr. Illias.  “You’ve condemned yourselves to remain here.”

“We knew what we were doing,” said Eddie.  He stood tall beside his wife.  Despite the twinge of jealousy in his guts, Charlie felt proud of them both.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to do this,” said Gretta.

“What do you expect us to do?” asked Choi.  “Forced abortion?  Death penalty for getting pregnant?”

“Could we accomplish an abortion?” asked the older woman, as if she hadn’t heard Choi’s incredulous tone.

Martin said, “Yes.  We have the means to induce –”

Eddie stepped towards the gathered council members, a taint of hatred so clear in his eyes that several of them made to scoot away as he drew near.

“No one is going to touch my wife,” he said in a low, icy whisper.  “First man that comes near us, I’ll kill him.”

Mayor Ortiz stood.  “There’s no need for threats, Eddie.”  She turned her gaze to the council.  “From either side.  No one is forcing an abortion on this woman or any woman.  Not while I’m mayor.  I won’t stand for it.”

Several women in the crowd cheered.  Mayor Ortiz silenced them with a gesture.

“These two have made our job easy.  They took the decision out of our hands, but now they have to live with that decision.  I purpose that they not be allowed to participate in any attempt to activate the timetags.  I don’t want any chance of Lucy’s child being left here to die.”

“Nor do I,” said Lucy.  “I’ll gladly stay here.  We both will.”

“All those in favor of denying Eddie and Lucy the right to travel back make it known with an uplifted hand.”  Ortiz made a show of counting the hands, but only Charlie and one other woman hadn’t agreed.

“That’s fine, but they still broke the law,” said Gretta in her wheezy, old woman’s voice.

“There should be a punishment,” said Martin.

The Mayor looked very tired at that moment.  She said, “We’ll adjourn for three days so the council members can deliberate on whether a punishment is necessary and if so, what might be just in this case.  We’ll reconvene here in the morning three days hence.”

# # #

“We’re not going home,” said Ted.  “God dammit, home is a hundred and twenty light years away.  Not to mention a hundred and thirty-five years in the past.”  He took a sip of moonshine and leaned his head back on a Terry tree trunk.

“The engineers say it’s possible.  The ship’s in good order.  They’ve been refitting it for years,” said Charlie.  They had just finished a new batch of shine.  Charlie held a clay mug of it in his cupped hands.  It was a good hot.

“That’s just the point, isn’t it?” said Eddie.  “They’ve been working on that thing for years and what have we got to show for it?  Fewer hands in the fields and that’s about it.”

“And all this training General Sing has us doing –” Ted began.

“– Captain Sing,” said Charlie.

“What the hell ever.  All this fight training and stick battle.  It’s stupid.  We were fools to join this whole resistance business, but it turned out okay, ya’know.  I mean, none of us was born to be farmers, but things aren’t so bad here and the planet is ours, such as it is.”

Someone approached.  The men turned to face the sound of footsteps coming through the forest.

Little Lucy, now five, ran to her father and sat in his lap, causing him to slosh moonshine.  Eddie smiled and hugged her close.

She was a beautiful girl; the image of her mother — fair-skinned, eyes of blue, and blonde hair to her waist.

“Can I have a drink, daddy?”

Eddie winked at Charlie, “No, honey, this is big people’s drink.”

“Oh, okay.”

No one said what Charlie assumed they were all thinking, what he thought every time he saw the girl.  She was either a beautiful mistake or all the adults on plan besides her parents were fools.

I’m forty-three years old and I’ve got no wife and no children and no plans for either, he thought.

No, only one plan; the single driving goal that had brought them here through death and light-years of sleep and fifteen more waking years of hard labor.

And for the last five years Little Lucy had danced among them, reminding them daily of the choice they had made, to keep the law.  No one lived on Plan that didn’t love Little Lucy.

“Daddy says you’re going to take out the big stumps tomorrow, uncle Charlie,” said the girl.

“Yep, I want to clear out a patch for a garden on that side of my cabin.”

“Can I help you?”

“If your daddy comes and brings his axe and shovel,” said Charlie, smiling.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Eddie, lifting his wooden mug.

The council had taken months to decide on a punishment for Eddie and Lucy.  By that time, Lucy had begun to show — the only pregnant woman on the planet.  Charlie remembered how many women had looked on her with envious stares.

But what punishment could the council mete out for two people doing what every deer and bird in the forest did every year?

Some again suggested a forced abortion, but that idea was quickly forestalled.  Too many among their number had opposed the Warrels for religious reasons, and they wouldn’t abandon those ideals, not even here in the wilderness.

By the time they reached a hotly contested decision, Lucy was six months pregnant.  The councilors knew they couldn’t punish her for fear of harming the child, so they had settled on a corporal punishment for Eddie: five lashes with a whip — an item Eugene Reynolds, who was good at working deerskin leather much to his own surprise, had to fashion.

They bound his hands to a post in the center of the village.  Shirtless, he bent his head and let them do it.

Eddie chose Charlie for the task.

“Ed, I won’t do this.  You’re a friend,” Charlie had said the night before in Eddie’s and Lucy’s house.

“You’ll do it because you’re a friend.  I don’t want some stranger giving me lashes.”

“I didn’t vote for this beating.  I think it’s barbaric,” said Charlie.

“Really it’s not.  Every society either enforces the laws it sets, or it fails.”

“Listen to the history professor,” said Lucy, smiling. She sat before the fire, gently rolling back and forth in a rough-hewn rocker Eddie had fashioned her, hands resting on her prodigious belly.  She put up a brave front, but Charlie could see she was distressed, only hiding it well to avoid upsetting Eddie.
“I don’t care what you say, it’s stupid and I’ll have no part of it.”

“Listen, Charlie.  If I go through this punishment and the people see it — that it was real, not just a few slaps on my back — then they see me holding my child in a few months, it will get them thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

“About the next generation of human’s on this planet.”

Charlie shook his head.  “You know we don’t agree about this.  You know I’m. . . ”

“Disappointed?  Angry?” said Eddie.  “Charlie, it doesn’t matter what you think — you or the others.”

“Doesn’t matter?”

“No.  Not in the least, because in the end, people here are going to start having children.  They are going to raise families and teach them how to farm and how to live.  This is a whole new start for us.  Your hopeless plan won’t hold that back.  Not over time.”

Charlie looked at Lucy, then back at his friend.  “Part of me believes you’re wrong,” he said, “but part of me hopes to God you’re right.”

And so Charlie had taken the whip from Eugene Reynolds’s hands and beat his friend five hard licks, raising long stripes wet with blood.

The entire village must have rued that day when Lucy died on the birthing bed two months later.  But no one cried harder than Charlie Parkson.

# # #

Charlie had Choi lead the mayor of Lucy village to the mill.  It was a cramped space for the meeting, but the building had a powered ceiling fan run by waterwheel.  And besides, the visiting mayor’s entourage was small, just two people: his daughter and his scientist.

“They’ve arrived?” asked Charlie, when Choi showed up at his farmhouse.  He had already had a breakfast of oatmeal and water in preparation for the meeting.

The woman nodded her gray head.  She carried a long bo across one shoulder.  As always, her old-style weapons looked perfectly suited in her strong hands.  Choi was somewhere near sixty now, but she still had the body of a forty-something Olympian.

He followed her to the Star river where the mill’s waterwheel never ceased rolling.  Eddie, Little Lucy — now fourteen — and Martin waited inside.  They had brought no guard.

“It’s good to see you, Charlie,” said Eddie, offering his hand.

“And you,” said Charlie, taking it.  “You’ve got more gray than last we met.”

Eddie laughed and it sounded genuine.  “Least I’ve still got the same amount.”

“Hi Uncle Charlie,” said Lucy, smiling.  She looked so much like her mother that Charlie was momentarily stunned to silence.

“You’ve grown three inches since last I saw you,” he said after a moment.

She blushed.

Charlie shook hands with Martin and they all took seats at a small round table prepared for this occasion.  All the people of both Plan village and Lucy village knew of the meeting, but only Choi, as special guard to Plan’s mayor, stood in attendance.

They passed pleasantries for a time, reminiscing about the old days and catching up on what had transpired in their lives since last they’d met.  Charlie had not seen any of the people seated before him in over eight years.  And that meeting had been less than courteous on both sides.

“How do you like being mayor?” asked Eddie.

“I don’t,” said Charlie.  “But the people chose me, so I serve.”

Eddie smiled and said nothing.  Charlie could see the accusation on the other man’s face.  You have no flexibility, he was thinking.  You latch onto an idea and you follow it like a hound to the end, even if that end is over a cliff.

Charlie said, “How do you like it?”

“I like it fine.  Solving problems is what I do best.”

Charlie nodded, knowing this was Eddie’s way of putting aside the fluff.  He was ready to talk business.

“So what brings you to our side of the river?” asked Charlie, relieving Eddie of the wait.

“Sex.”

“Did you think someone had opened a brothel over here?”

Eddie laughed.  It was a high, natural laugh that made everyone at the table smile.  Same old Eddie.  His hair was gray, but his spirit was bright as ever.

“I would never think that,” he said.  “Far as I know, this is the most sex deprived group of adult humans in history.”

“Celibacy isn’t the law here, only childlessness.”

“Our generation is getting old, Charlie.  Most of your women are reaching menopause or else passed it years ago.”

“So nature favors our choice.”

“Nature will make you extinct because of your choice.”

Charlie shook his head.  “I’ll not rehash this old argument.  If you came here to plead for us to abandon the plan again, then you’ve wasted a trip.”

“No.  I didn’t come here to ask that.  I came to make you an offer.”

“I’m listening.”

“What was the reason we made childbirth illegal?”

Charlie knew Eddie was baiting him.  But the man had come a long way.  He deserved to speak his say.

“We didn’t want the children abandoned when the machine is completed and we all return to Earth.”

Eddie nodded.  “There’d be no society for them.  No one to take care of them and no chance of a future since they’d have no mates even if they did survive.  But we were being shortsighted.  We were thinking of one or two children, not an entire generation.”

“Eddie, you don’t have a generation.  You have a few hundred people with families struggling to feed themselves as their needs grow larger and larger.”

“For now, yes.  But expansion is the answer to survival for any species in our situation.  This world isn’t going to fill up anytime soon.  We have plenty of land for cultivation and plenty of strong young hands growing to meet the challenge.”

“If you’re so well set, what do you need from us old Planners?”

Martin spoke up.  He had not aged well.  He was heavy as ever and ragged as if he hadn’t slept in years.  Worry lines crossed his face like tiny highways.

“We need your genes, Charlie.  You know that.  We’re only a few dozen families.  In three generations we’re going to start seeing abnormalities as the recessive genes become more dominate.”

Charlie remained impassive.

“We warned you of this,” he said.

“Don’t be smug, Charlie Parkson.  You’re not holding all the cards, no matter what you think,” said Eddie.

“From where I’m sitting, it looks like it’s my game, my cards and my deal.”

Eddie leaned back in his wooden chair.  Now he was the one that looked smug.

“Have you looked in a mirror lately, Mr. Mayor?  You’re old; older than me.  And what do you have to show for all the life you’ve spent here, not to mention what little you had in relative luxury on Earth?  Nothing.”

“And this is the part where you tell me how life isn’t worth living without children.”

“We both know that, so why should I say it?”

“You said you had an offer.”

“I have a solution.  At least a proposal that will be a solution if you and your people accept it.”

Eddie looked at Lucy who nodded.

“I’m here to represent the Birther women,” she said.  Charlie could see she was nervous.  The cadence of her voice said she had memorized this speech.  “When the villages split, we took most of the fertile women with us to Lucy.  A lot of them came alone or in groups of other women.  There were a few couples and a few more paired off over the years, but mostly we just have women and a handful of men.  We took a vote, us women that is, and we decided that Daddy’s plan is good and we’ll do it.  We, that is to say all of us who can, are willing to have a child by a Planner father with no strings attached.”

“No,” said Charlie.

“You haven’t even heard us out,” said Eddie.

“I’ve heard enough.”

“Let my daughter finish.”

“We want to stay on Plan and we want our children to be healthy, but the doctor says that won’t happen without new daddies to keep cousins from marrying too much.  The women in Lucy have decided that each of us will raise another man’s baby with our husbands, or even alone if there aren’t enough men.  This way, if the old people’s plan fails, you get to know that you had children who’ll survive you and if the plan works, you can go home knowing your children can grow up and have babies of their own someday.  If you get Earth back, then humans will have two planets in the end.  Isn’t that better than just having one?  And it’s certainly better than having no family to help populate Plan.”

“Life isn’t all about having children.”

“We’ll never agree on that, Charlie,” said Eddie.  He took his daughter’s hand and raised it up.  “This is the only reason for living.  Why do you think they call it the human race?  What are we racing for?  Or against?  Time, Charlie.  We’re racing to create and train the next generation before time can steal away our chance.”

“All your prepared speeches aren’t going to change my mind.  You’ve bound yourselves to Plan, but not us.  We are going home soon and –”

Eddie smirked.  “How soon?  How close is old Coalman to reengineering an accelerator?

“Close.”

“Doesn’t matter.  Even if you get back, what are you going to do?  We were fools, Charlie, all of us.  Three hundred against millions with technology beyond our comprehension?  We’re better off where the Warrels put us.  They gave us this planet and they gave us a promise.  We can stay here; our children can stay here and live lives worth the bother.  If you go on as you have, you will soon be dust and my children’s children will laugh at tales of the old ones who believed in some great plan to travel time.”

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