Note: The following is an excerpt from my husband’s novel-in-progress.
To get started rebuilding machines, the first thing to do is find a clay source and start building pottery (See Volume 10 Ceramics). Next, use the pottery to create charcoal (See Volume 19 Chemistry). If you can find an old dump site, you can now start finding aluminum in the garbage, and melting that and casting it into the parts needed for a lathe, a shaper, a drill press and a milling machine (See later chapters in this volume). If there is no dump available, aluminum can also be created from bauxite, or clay with the silica leached out, or even the feldspar in granite (once the quartz and other minerals are removed). However, this is more complicated (See Volume 8 Mining and Volume 20 Metallurgy).
– The Practical Encyclopedia, Volume 26, Machining, AO 945 Ed.
There are man’s laws, and there are the overseers’ laws.
I first encountered man’s laws when I was so young I don’t remember the details. I took something small that wasn’t mine, I got caught, and I learned I was not to do that again.
I first heard of an overseers’ law when I was getting old enough to go to the wilderness. My father and I were going on a fishing trip into the wilderness south of our village.
My father told me:
“When we get to the wilderness, we will pass obelisks that are yellow on three sides and white on the fourth. After that we are in the wilderness, and we must not cut any trees down.”
“Why?” asked I.
“It is an overseers’ law, there is no why.”
I asked and was told the overseers’ laws:
Do not build roads or other surface transport networks more than 16 kilometers long. Trails and gravity fed canals are allowed.
Transport more than 16 kilometers shall only be powered by four footed hoofed animal, human, wind or gravity.
Do not build roads or buildings, farm, mine or chop trees in wilderness areas.
Do not split or join atoms.
Do not modify the instructions of life by unnatural methods.
Do not burn the rock coal.
Do not fly.
Do not fish or use other resources in the ocean farther than 16 kilometers from the regular shore.
Do not make machines with parts smaller than a micron.
Do not interfere with the overseers’ markers or machines.
Do not enter forbidden areas.
What strange rules. I had to talk to a village elder to even understand what some of them were forbidding. Burning rocks, splitting things to small to see, how would that even be possible, let alone why would anyone want to try? How does a human fly?
How would you make a machine that was smaller than a human hair? At the village machine shop, I could measure the thickness with a micrometer, and with a lathe make a shaft with a diameter accurate to a human hair, but how would you make a machine with parts more than a tenth that thickness? Wouldn’t they just fall apart?
The whole thing seemed fantastic to me, and I couldn’t believe it. I asked Master Zonder, the head of the village metal shop, where I was apprenticed, where the overseers laws came from, and he gave me a story.
Generations ago, people filled the Earth. They built towers to the sky. They flattened fields. They built wide roads. Their clamor went into the sky and the overseers heard. The overseers said: “We will wipe humans off the face of the Earth.” The humans said, “No, give us another chance.” The overseers replied, “Then there will be rules.” and so the rules came to be.
Rules are meant to be tested. Especially by teenage boys freshly out of their parents house and living in the boys’ bunk house. Our parents spent much more time telling us other rules. The obelisks should have told me the overseers were no fantasy, and had I thought about that, maybe what happened next might not have. Afterwards I remembered that our parents also didn’t spend much time telling us not to stick our hands in the flame of a fire.
1.1 Chopping to find out
Arthur, one of my friends and I decided that we needed a cabin in the wilderness, next to our favorite fishing stream. To get there we biked about twenty miles, left our bikes in the woods off the trail, screwed our aluminum tube walking sticks together,1 hoisted our backpacks and started hiking towards the stream.
As we walk thru the forest, we use the walking sticks to keep the spider webs out of our faces. The walking stick are also used for keeping our balance, and as an extra weapon to fight bears, wolves and mountain lions. The first weapon is the pepper spray. The weapon of last resort is a stainless steel knife using Natal’s second to last design2. My father told me when I was eight that humans are a very defenseless animal without a weapon, but with a weapon very dangerous. Every eight year old is given a knife, and it is carried everywhere at all times outside of town. Boys wear their knives even when skinny dipping in Hyalite reservoir, and from what we can see with binoculars, so do girls.
That afternoon we passed the overseers yellow and white obelisks marking the start of the wilderness. We camped that night by the stream. The next morning, we got out hand saws and started.
By noon we had a good start. We’d cut up a dozen trees (some standing) (first violation), and started placing them for the cabin (second violation).
My friend Arthur commented, “I told you the overseers don’t know and care about cutting down a few trees and making a cabin.”
A minute later, the machines came from the sky. We heard them first, sounding like a strange wind. We looked up and saw two fliers, each big enough to fit about a dozen humans inside. The fliers came down and hovered over the trees. By this time we had fled the unfinished cabin and were taking refuge in the woods.
A booming voice came from the fliers, saying: “Do not cut down trees in the wilderness. Do not build in the wilderness. Leave the building site.” Then some strange creatures leaped out of the fliers that looked sorta like a picture of a centaur I had seen in a mythology book. They look about like someone had grafted the top half of a person onto a horse, and shrunk them down to the size of a large dog, and made the whole thing out of aluminum. They had two hands and four feet, and a head attached to the front. There were maybe a dozen, and they moved fast. They threw all the trees that we had cut down into a pile on the cabin. Two of the centaurs sprayed some kind of bubbles that looked like frozen whitewater in a circle around the cabin.
The cabin burst into flames. I don’t know how, since most of the wood was green, but in five minutes all the logs were burned to ash. After the flames died out, a centaur pulled out a bag and filled it with water from the stream, and doused the ash thoroughly.
I felt a sharp stinging in my leg, like when I get a splinter from a piece of wood. Then the centaurs leaped up above the trees to get back in the door of the fliers. The booming voice said: “Do not cut down trees in the wilderness. Do not build in the wilderness. This is your warning.” The fliers left, and quiet returned to the forest.
Arther and I dug through the ash to find the partially melted ax head (paying for it would be months of allowance), and then headed home quietly in awe.
1.2 A Melted Ax
The day after we returned, I went to the metal shop to recast the ax head. Master Zonder saw me getting ready to melt the ax head.
“What happened to it?” he asked picking it up and looking at it.
“I accidentally melted it in a fire,” I lied.
“What kind of fire?” he asked.
“Just a campfire.” I answered.
“Do explain, truthfully,” he commanded with narrowed eyes.
“Just a campfire.” I lied again.
“No,” he said as he inspected the frozen drips, “a campfire would have just make it bend a little, and wreck the temper. Parts of this were liquid.”
I confessed what happened. Master Zonder looked amused, and said “Well, if the overseers already punished you, there is no point in me adding to it.”
1 It is rather hard to fit a full sized walking stick on a bicycle, and so like many things, they are made to be taken apart.
2 Thor Natal was a woodsman and hunter who lived by the Mackenzie river. His second to last design is the most widely used type. His last design failed testing and was buried with him.