This is the place, I think, not for the first time. This is the place, this is the place, this is…
My ancestors are, I'm sure, rejoicing in whatever way they have, because, after six generations of wandering, I have found my way back to the Great Salt Lake, and I've led my people here. I've even shot a good handful of seagulls along the way, and the most watertight structure we've found so far is here in the Beehive House. God knows why (maybe literally; my ancestors were more sure of that than I am), but that's how we found it. Someone bombed the Temple, because of course someone made time to do that, wouldn't want to miss the chance to stick it to the perceived authorities, but the city itself, while leaky when it rains, is remarkably intact, maybe even miraculously intact. I'm not writing off the possibility, anyway.
There are a few things I know.
First, this place stayed inhabited long after a lot of the cities were deserted. My great-grandmother's grandmother was born here, and she told stories to her children, who told them to theirs, and so on. It's nearly living memory. The battles came through, and yes, there are a lot of battle scars, but a stubborn core remained in the city for a long time, repairing damage and even getting the power going again from time to time. It was missed in the air raids that took out a lot of western cities, and fallout from the California nukes blew the other direction. The volcanic blasts to the north -- probably brought on by the same seismic weapons that devastated southern Europe -- were just far enough away that the direct impact was minimal (though of course, the environmental impact all over the planet was as devastating here as anywhere else). The weather is largely agreeable here, and there was a long standing culture of communal hard work, so the people created greenhouses and farms, and managed to maintain a community of a few thousand for two centuries after the catastrophes hit.
The biggest danger would have been in the first few years, though those stories haven't come down. When the governments started falling, bands of violent raiders roamed through the surviving cities, destroying things and killing people. That was when most city-dwellers took to the traveling caravans -- fast moving communities that could escape quickly and defend themselves. Most standing communities that hadn't been bombed to rubble or swallowed by the sea were left to rot. The landscape is now full of overgrown ruins where towns and cities one stood. How and why Salt Lake was different, I don't know.
After a while, the new world started to emerge. There were a few trading posts, but for the most part, people continued to roam out of habit, and it became almost mythical. People started trickling out of Salt Lake, because that wasn't the way the world worked anymore. The tales of adventure on the road -- not to mention, the chance to meet new people and marry outside of the increasing small community -- drew out the young people, and after a while, it was only a little cadre of elders, and there weren't enough people left to keep the farms and greenhouses going. My family was among the last to leave, when a caravan of traders came through and warned them of an oncoming trade war. (Which did happen, but because the city was deserted, it didn't happen here.) We always swore we'd come back, but it took six generations for one of us to be chosen as leader. As soon as I was elected, I held a council and proposed returning to a settlement. It wasn't an easy fight, but I finally won them over on the idea of having a steady food supply and solid housing, and maybe learning to use the old technology again.
What my ancestors would make of my companions, I'm not altogether sure, but I have a feeling that they'd worry about getting everyone fed and clothed and housed before checking their moral bona fides. To do otherwise would have called their own moral bona fides into question. I know I have a good handful of amoral utilitarians in my little band -- it's become a well-developed philosophical school in the last few centuries -- and maybe we even need them for a while. Maybe when we no longer need that hard streak, it will evolve out of us. That would be nice.
Of course, if we're going to get any evolution, we'd better get to the business of re-populating. And if we're going to do that, if we're going to get past our bottleneck population, we're going to need a stable world to do it in, someplace where we can raise a lot of children and expect most of them to grow up.
That hasn’t been the world we've had, to put it mildly.
Someone knocks on the door frame, and I turn around. Aaron James leans in, covered in dust and grime, his tool belt askew, and a huge smile on his face.
"Mama Layla," he says, his voice lilting. "You look tired."
"A little bit. I was hunting this morning. Early."
"Why would you do that? We have enough."
I smile. "Enough for today. I'm drying meat for next week, and when I go out next, I'll be drying it for next month. Maybe I'll set up a proper curing shed, go after some of the hogs that have run wild, and set us up bacon."
"I've never had it. Is it good?"
"It's excellent, though I think a few folk in our group can't eat it, so maybe I'll let that idea pass for now. Better to stick to what we can do together. We need a farm, too. For now, we should send out foraging parties, get stocked up for the winter."
"Right, I've been looking at the buildings up the street, like you said. I can shore up a food storage area in the cellar a few doors down from here. It's huge. Looks like the building was apartments, too, or offices, or something. Enough for everyone we've got, once I fix the damage."
"Hopefully, by the time you fix the damage, more people will come in."
He frowns. "Come in from where? Don't you want to… I don't know. I thought you wanted this to be our place. Remember Boise…"
"I remember. But we don't really know what happened there."
"Marilla says -- "
"I know what Marilla says." I'm a little sharper than I intend, because Marilla Dodd has been against settlement since I first brought it up. They attempted a settlement in Boise, but the city was more or less destroyed by the volcanic ash, and the group was living hand to mouth -- more like a stalled caravan than a city -- when another group came in and declared war on them. That's not what I intend Salt Lake to be.
"Well, she was there. It's… lived experience."
"Lived experience isn't necessarily the same thing as reality. She was a little kid when it all burned. She knows what everyone was saying, but was that true?" I sigh and look out the window. "Maybe it was. Any time you get a lot of people gathering up, you're raising the potential for conflicts. Maybe it was when the new group came in. Maybe they tried to take over from Marilla's parents. Or maybe they were just trying to settle in and no one would let them have a say, and it got bloody. I bet even adults couldn't give us a straight answer on why they were fighting. Why were any of us fighting?"
"Does it matter?" Aaron sits down across from me. The sunny grin he usually gives people is gone, and suddenly, he's a scholar again, the boy whose parents dragged our caravan to every archive we passed. "I mean it, Layla. It's the fact that we mostly don't know why we fight that's the problem. We have something pretty good here. Dad's blind now, but he remembers more than most people can read. He's talking Laurie Tanaka through the power plant. And you know about feeding people, and I can get these buildings back together. Sheldon Shaw's been working a good law for us. If we let other people in, they might not respect that. Especially if they have better weapons than we do. That's all Marilla's saying about putting up guards."
"There are only sixty of us," I say.
"That's a pretty big band. Most bands split up at twenty."
"And then they wander around, and we have bands of brigands on the old streets, and no one is accomplishing anything. No one is building schools. Everyone's just fighting to survive. We need a city, Aaron. A place to gather, and share and differentiate our roles, so we can do more. And a city of sixty people will die out in two generations, tops. You know that."
"The age of the city is over."
"You may as well say that the age of humans is over." I hold up my hand. "I don't mean that humans can only be happy in cities. That's ridiculous. But the city is what allows us to start dividing up tasks, to free up time to do more than survive. And, not be crude, but it brings in enough genetic diversity to keep us from being wiped out by a stray mutation. We know that's happened in a few bands."
He's quiet for a minute, then he says, "That's not all, though, is it? You didn't really get on this until we went east."
"I always meant to come back here."
"But it was Kearney that decided you. The commune."
I nod reluctantly. "They've already colonized the coal mines. I don't know when that happened. And I think that settlement down south is a prison colony. They didn't say it, but… well, I don't think anyone's allowed to leave. They're growing an empire over there, and sooner or later, they'll look west of the Mississippi. When we were trading, they were already talking about how unfortunate we were, not to have a civilization anymore. I think they'd be all too happy to impose one on us."
"So you're going to do it instead?" He gives me a humorless little smile.
I return it. "It's going to happen, Aaron. People can't live the way we've been living. And I'd rather it's on our chosen terms than someone else's. The caravans have their own ways of doing things, their own style of thinking. Do you really think they'll get along well handing everything up to Kearney to have it carefully doled out by the government?"
"Which would mean another bloody war, which we can't afford." I sigh. "So get the farms set up, and the power on. And a trading post will be the first order of business after that. And a school to teach the kids how to run the power plants and the farms. And then…"
"And the kids will want to stay, because they'll meet people, and then we'll need more housing that doesn't leak." He nods and stands up, tucking his hammer into his belt. "I guess I better get back to work then."
"I guess we'd all better."
How about one of young Teddy's dreams in which he interacts with his parents? for Anon 6
"This is dead?" Teddy asked, looking down at Quaffle, who wasn't batting at a string or purring or doing anything. He didn't push up and give a kitty smile when Teddy petted him on the head, or touch Granny's nose when she wrapped him in his favorite blanket. "This is what dead is?"
"Yes," Granny said. Her voice was tight and quiet. "I have to bury him now. He'll be with Snitch and Dodger and Granny."
"Granny?" Teddy repeated.
Granny smiled wearily. "It was what your mum named her cat."
"Yes." Granny closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, and said, "Teddy, go on inside and take your nap."
"I don't need naps anymore. I'm five."
"You need your nap, Teddy. And I need to take care of this. Do you want me to call Uncle Harry?"
Teddy shook his head. Uncle Harry was living somewhere else now, and he would probably never come home again. He had got married, and now he didn't want to live with Teddy anymore. For a little while, before he came back from his trip, Teddy had wondered if this was what "dead" meant -- his parents were gone and not coming back as well -- but Uncle Harry had at least been by a few times. And he wasn't like Quaffle was now.
This was dead.
This was what his mum and daddy were. Dead.
He went inside and up to his room, lay down on his bed, and watched the pictures moving on the ceiling above him. Daddy had made the pictures, and Daddy was dead. His hand wouldn't move now, like Quaffle's paws didn’t move. Mummy had made the cot that stood in the corner now. There were pictures of her on the wall, laughing, but she wouldn't laugh anymore, because she was also dead, and that meant no laughing. She was still and stiff like Quaffle. She was underground, like Quaffle would be soon.
Uncle Harry had once told him that his parents watched over him now, but Teddy coulnd't see how. Quaffle's eyes hadn’t been working.
He lay awake for a few minutes, thinking about this, about Mummy and Daddy being dead and cold and underground. It made him very tired to think of it. His eyelids felt heavy, and then somehow, he was back in the garden again. Granny had Quaffle in his blanket, and she was kneeling by the graves, but now Quaffle was beside her, and he was bouncing around, not tired and sick like he was for the last few months.
"I've almost got it," someone said.
Teddy turned around. Granny didn't seem to hear anyone talking, but it sounded to him like it was from just behind the ivy on the garden wall. That was silly, as there was just a brick wall, and then someone else's land on the other side of the ivy, but he was still pretty sure that's what he heard. He went over to listen more.
"Just a smidge," a lady said. "Yes, that's it, I can…"
Teddy touched the ivy and lifted it up. He saw something very pink. Quaffle wound around his ankles and begged to be picked up.
Teddy picked him up and held him toward the hole in the ivy.
The pink thing moved, and he realized it was the back of someone's head, because she turned around, and it was Mummy, just like in the pictures.
"Wotcher, sweetheart," she said. "Oh, goodness, you've grown so much!"
"I'm five," Teddy said, holding up his fingers. Quaffle tried to wriggle away, so he had to put his hand back quickly. "You're Mummy."
"Yes, sweetheart. I'm Mummy." She bit her lip and smiled around it, and Teddy thought she might be crying.
"Did you come to play? Is Daddy there?"
"I'm here!" someone else said, and a nice-looking man in the robes he was wearing in Teddy's favorite picture appeared beside Mummy, smiling. He looked over his shoulder and said, "Just a few minutes."
"This isn't easy," someone else muttered, but Teddy couldn't see who.
He hugged the cat tighter. "You're dead. Like Quaffle."
Quaffle nudged against his chin and purred very loudly.
"Why don't you let Quaffle come over to me?" Daddy said. "He'll be fine."
Teddy shook his head.
"We've got him now," Mummy said. "See, he wants to come over."
Quaffle was indeed, squirming for the gap in the ivy. Teddy handed him though. Daddy took him and set him down, saying, "That's a good kitty. Go play with your sister."
Quaffle ran off into a kind of sunny garden.
"Is this dead?" Teddy asked.
"This is…" Daddy frowned. "I can't say what is. But you're all right. We're all right. We're here."
"Let me look at you," Mummy said.
"I can make my hair like yours!" Teddy concentrated, and turned his hair bright pink.
"Oh, that's wonderful! Can you do purple?" Mummy made her hair purple.
Teddy did the same. They did green next, then blue.
Daddy laughed. "I do love watching that," he said.
"I can do more!" Teddy offered. "I can make a bird. Or tiger."
"Really? That's more than I could do," Mummy said.
"Granny says so. She says it's because I have two Shape-sifters."
Daddy made a face. "Let's hope that's all you got from me on shapeshifting."
Teddy frowned, then pointed up at the triangle in his fringe that Granny called "widow's peep." "I have a point in my hair like you," he said. "Granny says so. And my hair's the same when I'm not making it colors."
"I can see that. And you smile like my mum."
"I do, really?"
"You really do."
"But you have a Black nose," Mummy said.
"Granny says that."
A heavy wind shook the ivy, and for a minute, the garden became dark and stormy, and the image flickered like it was caught in a guttering Floo call.
"Mummy?" Teddy called. "Daddy?" He reached out and touched the ivy, started to reach through it --
"No, Teddy, stay on that side!" Mummy called. "We're fine. Just… wake up now."
"I don't want to!"
But the hole in the ivy closed up, and Teddy felt a prick in his finger.
He opened his eyes.
Bludger, the last of the cats, had jumped up on to the bed and pounced on Teddy's waving hand.
He sat up, a blanket pooling around him. Granny must have put it over him without him waking up.
For a few minutes, he just sat in the shadows of the afternoon, not thinking.
Then he went downstairs for dinner.
Something from the Shifts-verse involving Dudley and Harry and/or Dudley and Lupin/Lewis Sarah 2
"This is a big moment for me," Ginny said. "I finally get to meet the family."
"Well, one of them, anyway." Harry checked his pocketwatch. Dudley wasn't late… yet. Of course, he and Ginny had started early, because he wasn't sure if he knew the Muggle underground well enough to get to the Tottenham, and Ginny had been keen to arrive at the Muggle pub in a Muggle way. As it turned out to be across the street from the station, they'd got here almost twenty minutes early. Ginny had picked up a tabloid ("Leda Strike Murder Trial Shocker!" the headline read. "Black Widower Claims Accident!"), and had been marveling at the still pictures inside.
"What's the murder?" he asked, nodding to the paper as she set it down.
"Oh, no," she said, rolling it up and putting in her bag. "You're off-duty, Harry. You are not solving Muggle murders."
"Leda Strike," Dudley said, coming up behind them. "She was famous for following famous singers around. You ought to hear Mum talk about it."
"What does she say?" Ginny asked.
"Boils down to 'The tarted up little hussy deserved it.'" Dudley sat down. "I'm Dudley Dursley. You're… Jenny?"
"Ginny," she said. "Close enough."
Harry pointed back and forth between them. "Dudley, this my girlfriend, Ginny Weasley. Ginny, my cousin Dudley."
Ginny stood up and offered her hand. "I've been looking forward to meeting you."
Dudley, bemused, shook it. "Er… you have? I mean… I don't reckon Harry's my biggest fan."
"You should hear the things I've said about my brothers. I've one name Percy, and… well, we're giving him another chance, so why shouldn't you have one?"
Harry put his hand on his face. Dudley, for all he knew, hadn't exactly come seeking "another chance." "Er, Ginny… I, er…"
"Thanks," Dudley said. "I could use one. I was a right prat to Harry when we were kids." He considered this. "Not just to Harry, either. Reckon I'm lucky no one murdered me," he said, nodding at the rolled up newspaper. "The Dementors had a try, but Harry stopped them."
Harry was surprised at how easily the word "Dementors" had come out, then he remembered that Dudley had spent the year in a safe house with witches and wizards around him. He must have got more used to it. "Er… how are Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon? Did they… are they… more used to…"
Dudley laughed. "They spent all year calling people freaks and screaming about wanting to be left alone. They're glad to be back on Privet Drive. Thanks for fixing it up. I'm not sure Mum knows how bad it was."
"Well, after eleven years of cleaning the place, I knew where everything belonged. If things had been in the wrong place -- "
"Mum would have screamed bloody murder."
"Can we have no more murder at the table?" Ginny asked. "I've had enough of it. Dudley, what do you do?"
"Huh?" Dudley blinked slowly, then said. "Oh, er. I finished school. Just took my A-levels."
"You did?" Harry asked. "Weren't you out of school the last year?"
"Er… Lupin arranged a school for us. In the safe house." He winced. "Sorry."
Harry still felt Lupin's name as a stab to the heart -- and felt an ugly surge of jealousy that Dudley had got to spend the past year with him -- but he didn't let it show. "Sorry for what? He got to teach. That's a good thing."
"Anyway," Dudley said after a minute, "I reckoned I ought to go to uni after he did all that for me."
"What will you read?" Harry asked.
"Dunno. Business. Grunnings says they'll hire me for sales. If I want."
"What's Grunnings?" Ginny asked.
"It's a drill company. My dad works for it."
"What's a drill?"
Harry looked around, but decided that the pub was loud enough not to hear that.
Dudley tried to explain what a drill was, exactly, and Ginny listened to it with the kind of fascination that Harry only would have expected out of Arthur. It had never occurred to him that Ginny might have picked up the interest, but she asked questions and listened to Dudley's answers for almost fifteen minutes before there was really nothing left to say on the subject.
"And that's what you want to do?" Harry asked. "Sell drills?"
"Maybe. Or maybe I'll do it for bit and then… I don't know. Build things. Maybe I could have a building company. What about you?"
"Oh, right. You can't talk about it."
Ginny rolled her eyes, put her hand into her jacket where her wand was, and said, "Muffliato." She shook her head. "Harry's been working with the Aurors. Mop-up after the war."
"So you're… a policeman?"
"Sort of. An inspector, I suppose you'd call it."
"Wow. That's important." Dudley cast around for something else to talk about. "What about the baby? Is he… I mean, the Lupins' baby. Is he all right?"
"Oh, now he'll never shut up," Ginny said fondly. "Go on, get the pictures, Harry."
Harry latched onto the topic gratefully, and took out an envelope full of pictures of Teddy -- Teddy with in his cot, Teddy with stuffed toys, Teddy with his face covered with dried milk, Teddy sleeping in Andromeda's arms. Teddy with blue hair, red hair, green hair, and yellow hair.
"He's fine," he said. "Up in the middle of the night all the time, of course. I swear I walked a mile around the house last night, giving him a bottle and trying to get him calmed down. But I did it. He finally went back to sleep."
Dudley raised his eyebrows. "You're actually… I mean, you… adopted him?"
"No. I'm his godfather. I moved in with Andromeda to help. But she's got custody."
"Oh. Well, I guess… you'd be… well, I don't reckon I'll be ready for babies for a long time."
"Harry's really good at it, actually," Ginny said cheerfully. "I always wonder what to say."
Harry found it much easier to talk to Teddy than to talk to Dudley, but decided it would be the better part of valor not to point that out. "You do fine with him," he told Ginny. "He likes you."
"Anyway," Dudley said, "I'm still living at home. I thought about getting a flat. But until I finish uni it doesn't make sense. So… you know. With Mum and Dad. Same old room." He bit his lip and cast around the room for something. "Mum's garden is planted again," he said. "It's doing well this summer."
"And, er… oh, Piers, do remember Piers?"
"Yeah. He's the one who punched me left handed."
"Yeah. He's going in the Army."
Harry did not like the idea of giving Dudley's friends weapons, but again, chose not to say it. "How's, er… Aunt Marge?"
"Same as ever."
Harry tried to think of anything else to say, but nothing came to mind.
A few minutes later, the waiter brought their lunch.