Excerpts from “A Brief History of Bloodstones”
In the realm of world building, one is always asking why. In The Black Bead Chronicles, the big why at the core of the domes is this: What inspired the rabid need for isolation between the domes and the Lowlands, creating a line across which no man might step on pain of death?
They were family once, long ago — when they came out of deep space and made planetfall. What would drive such a divisive wedge between a close-knit group of humans, separating the witch-scientists from the other colonists like cream rising to the top? Why would the women create a society in which ownership of anything –including children — is abolished, where marriages are polygamous, and where a human — man or woman — is judged not by who they are, but by the value their skills add to the quality of life for everyone under the domes.
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… A Gael colony ship landed upon one of those remote blue planets. The governor, William Orion O’Connor, called the world Occonomara, after his seven-year-old daughter Mary.
… Upon landfall, the colonists set to work. The scientists unpacked their labs. Their first order of business was to determine if agriculture was possible. Soil and vegetation went to every lab where they were analyzed down to the atomic level. Cryogenics wanted to know if they could start unthawing the embryos. The salt marsh grass was too toxic but the meadows above the sea-dunes showed promise. The first of the embryos were thawed: two dogs, 400 cattle, 100 pigs, and a couple dozen sheep. This was a third of the stock in the cryo-tanks. They meant to keep the others in reserve in case the first batches died.
The biochemists and genetisists came up with a gut microbe that would help the cattle digest the tough sedges and grasses and aid in the expression of the heavy metals in their waste. The animals thrived. Sperm was unthawed and soon the first calves and lambs were gestating. The mood in the dome grew less tense, their survival becoming less tenuous.
Then the animals began to disappear one by one. The governor sent the Gaffer’s union out to follow the tracks of the wandering cows. The search party stumbled upon the den of a giant lizard busy making a meal of their best cow. No one bothered to question the randomness of a cow walking right into the jaws of death. The Gaffer’s came back to the dome and unpacked one of their few weapons, a phase rifle. The lizard was killed. The chemists and the biologists fell upon this new creature with great zeal, studying it, taking samples, eviscerating it to study it’s innards. History says they did not dig deep enough.
The meat was tested. An apex predator, the lizard was toxic with the heavy metals it gathered from the giant elk and the grunters – rodents, the size of ponies who got named for the sound they made as they nosed around the roots of the bushes looking for root nodes and grubs. The lizard body was left where it died. The Gaffers buried the mouth of the den to keep the dogs out of it.
The geneticists and the chemists went back to their labs and came up with a slightly different gut bacteria for the dogs that would help express out the heavy metals in case they ate toxic meat. When the dogs did not die, the colonists were inoculated with something similar.
… Meanwhile, the women had been gathering pretty stones off the beach in their spare time and began trading them among themselves based on the color and clarity of the stones. The most coveted stones were scarlet. The women called them bloodstones.
… Governor O’Connor noted the pleasure and interest of the women and it perhaps occurred to him that this was an opportunity for profit. Promises had been made to him back at Ramses Four: Take the ship out, whip the people into shape, get a functioning village up and running, and he would be richly rewarded. The colony was a for-profit enterprise and he had been promised a cut. But It became apparent to William O’Connor soon after landing that he had been lied to. No one could make a fortune taxing cattle farmers. Frustrated at his lack of wealth, the governor began hoarding bloodstones. Technically, they were outside any agreement he had with the CPC. His councilors agreed. Dreams of infinite profit danced in his head. He formed work details and forced everyone to work double shifts, one to do their daily work , the other to gather stones. The skppercraft were commandeered to ferry harvesting parties up and down the coast. He filled a warehouse with barrels of bloodstones of every color and size imaginable, hoping to create a market for them as jewelry when he went “back to the world”.
The first resupply ship came as promised. It brought more people and more supplies to feed them. The newcomers were not Gael and did not fit in. William O’Connor used this fact to his own advantage. The newcomers were trained in crowd control and became the gubernatorial security force.
Thousands of boxes of bloodstones were packed into shipping containers and loaded onto the resupply ship. The ship’s manifest showed only that the William O’Connor sent items marked personal to his business manager with instructions to store them until his return. The space station above Ramses Four now contained the only bloodstones in the universe outside of the planet called Occonomara.
A glowing report about the success of the colony found its way to the Prince Regent. Nothing William O’Connor said in his reports was true. Things were spiraling out of control and had been since the first day.
… Anna McBride, wife to Horace McBride, lover to Jerrod Grith, the very first Fist Mother to the Highland tribes, began to have black outs while wearing a necklace made of scarlet bloodstones. Thinking she was having a psychotic break, she consulted a med-robot. The machine found nothing physically wrong with her. Anna was a scientist, a physicist, first and foremost. She did not consider the robots findings pertinent. Something was wrong. She meant to find out what. Then Anna made the connection between her mental health and wearing the stones. She ran a battery of tests on her necklace and discovered the stones had amazing electromagnetic properties.
… Things were going from bad to worse in the colony. The source of the unrest in the village dome could be traced back to one individual: Mary O’Connor, the governor’s daughter. As the years passed, Mary gradually became different. Fey, the colonists started to call her. In retrospect, it could be conjectured that the close proximity to so many bloodstones was having deleterious effects on her young, sensitive mind. She heard voices and had visions and was not shy about sharing her mental aberrations with any who would listen. William O’Connor, embarrassed or heart broken, tried to lock her away from public view but Mary, under the influence of her madness, became an escape artist. William always knew where to find her, though. Whenever Mary went missing, he would go to Anna McBride’s lab and Mary would invariable be crouched at the physicist’s feet, chatting about absolute nonsense.
… William began to notice that there was a group of women, Anna and Mary at their core, who gathered to discuss the current affairs and local gossip in the evenings after the work details were done. The group was made up almost exclusively of woman who had exhibited the same kind of psychotic break as Mary. The dome called them witches. It was not a pejorative term but one of amusement. The witches attracted lovers, some of whom were already married to the non-fey women. The division between camps became more and more contentious as the months progressed.
Governor O’Connor, neither amused nor forgiving and perhaps influenced by his proximity to the bloodstones, began to exhibit extreme paranoiac tendencies. He became convinced that the women were plotting against him, which of course, they were. He banned public gatherings of more than three women. Those who were not married, he mandated that they marry and bear children for the good of the colony. When they refuse, he chose husbands from his band of sycophants and the upper ranks of his security force and married them off. When they still remained intractable, he built a whorehouse for his security forces on the edge of the dome in which he locked the most stubborn women. Little was said in protest, perhaps because everyone feared for their safety if they spoke up. More than a few historical sources mention beatings administered by the security forces.
… The Governor, in order to cement a bargain he made with the Gaffer’s Union – whose chief was a man named Pierdon Wheelwright – arranged a marriage between Pierdon and Mary, now 11-years old. Pierdon was 37. Mary did not take this news well. She tried to drown herself in the sea. It was Anna who found her and brought her home. William O’Connor’s paranoia increased after this event. Anna McBride became the focus of his enmity.
O’Connor banned her experiments, declaring them no longer useful. Other sciences suffered as well. Astrophysics was a dead science that served no purpose among farmers and blue-collar laborers, he declared. Genetics, he declared, was also a dead science. Soon after, all the women were forbidden from practicing their professions. Their job, said the governor, was to bear children for their husbands. The security forces dismantled their labs and secreted the equipment into the warehouse alongside his cache of bloodstones.
Meanwhile, the governor continued the collection of bloodstones. Neither Mary nor Anna McBride bothered to tell him that the worth of his growing mountain of stones would never match the value of the few bloodstones Anna had sent on to her colleague at the University on Ramses Four. Their value lay in their quantum entanglement. Nor did she tell him about the other sets the women had reclaimed from the other dead lizard burrows. In order to keep them out of William O’Connor’s hands Anna made sure each returning starship was laden with not only the Governor’s personal cache of bloodstones but also any bloodstone set she could find, bound for the university labs at the University.
… On Occonomara, Anna enlisted the help of the computer specialists and the AI programmers. She handed them her set of linked stones and soon after it was discovered that linked stones increase the computational power of any machine they were installed in by a factor of 10,000, by connecting the machines in a matrix of power that crossed quantum boundaries. Anna devised a communication system that exploited this gift.
… The Spider War was fast approaching.
… Mary became pregnant at the age of 14. It can only be assumed that the Father was her husband, Pierdon Wheelwright. Less than a week after the med-robot gave her that news, the colony woke to find Anna, Mary, Jarrod, and all the other witches and their lovers gone. They had taken one of the skippercraft, half the frozen embryos in storage, and most of the lab equipment from the Governor’s warehouses, leaving his bloodstones untouched, as perhaps a final insult. The governor sent out search parties and put the last skippercraft in the air, looking as far north as the upthrust cliffs. No trace was ever found. They simply disappeared. The machine linked to the stones on Ramses Four disappeared along with the colonists. Quoatle Jones, Anna’s colleague, tried to contact Anna McBride. She never answered, though he kept trying until the day he died.
Two weeks after Mary and Anna disappeared, the first human starship was destroyed by a Spider ship in a solar system far out on the edges of human space. It would be 1500 years before a starship entered orbit around Occonomara again.
* * * *
Put Donald Trump’s face on Governor O’Connor’s body and imagine what you would do in Anna’s place. Would you allow yourself to be marginalized? Would you suffer under his misogynistic abuse? Would you sit idly by while he made you work harder and harder with each passing day so he could feed his lusts?
Would you not question a system that allows him to do that to you? Would you not wonder at the strange sickness that had infected his mind, making him want more and more, knowing he could consume the entire planet and yet it would still not be enough to shore up his monstrous ego? Would you not suspect him of being less than human because he values possessions over the well-being of his family? Would you not wonder at the definition of sociopath and psychopath and how you and your children and your family and all that you love could survive his attention?
Would you not set out to build a civilization in which all members are equal but uniquely different? Would you not teach your children to be fierce and then build a wall to keep out the zombies?