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Authors: Harold Johnson

Tags: #Fiction, #FIC019000, #General, #Literary, #Indigenous Peoples, #FIC029000, #FIC016000

The Cast Stone (7 page)

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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“It's warm,” Ben agreed. “Do you really worry about satellites, or are you just caught up in the hype?”

“No, no it's not just hype for me. It really makes me nervous out there. Ever since Lac La Biche.” Monica leaned forward on the bench. Ben leaned back and gently pushed with his feet. The twin benches of the yard swing eased into motion. “Did you ever see any pictures of that?”

“No.” Ben shook his head.

“Doesn't matter. They couldn't do it justice. The hole is fifty feet deep. It's not like a bomb. The dirt isn't thrown out. It's gone, vaporized, what's left is turned into glass. The house was gone, the people were gone, everything. Imagine being here one second, the next second you're not. So simple, so efficient, drop a tungsten rod from outer space, the rest is gravity and friction. By the time it hits the earth it isn't even metal anymore. It's vapour, and that's what our friends are now, vapour, nothing to bury, nothing to say good-bye to.”

“Even in a bunker.” Ben kept pushing and relaxing, the swing to- and fro-ed.

“There was no fucking bunker. They dropped that thing because they could, or they just wanted to play with their fucking toys. I don't know. Maybe the bastards believe their Bolts From Heaven are the equivalent of biblical brimstones.
Shit.
” She leaned back hard into the bench and jerked the smooth sway of the swing. “They weren't in a bunker. They were meeting in a house, just a house; they weren't even in the basement. Betsy said she went out to pick up KFC. She was telling me that she was a little pissed that they sent her, a woman. That's what she was thinking as she walked back, that she was being discriminated against because she was a woman, when she thought she saw a falling star during the day.” Monica relaxed, the swing flowed and ebbed.

“There were no bunkers; there were no terrorists. They picketed the highway to Fort McMurray. They walked in front of semi-trucks with signs that said “Yankee Go Home.”

“What about the burning trucks, the roadside bombs?”

“That wasn't us. I don't know who was doing that. Maybe the bastards themselves.”

“That's too hard to believe, that they're killing their own presumably to justify attacking innocent people. It's too much of a stretch. Sorry, Monica, even if it's true, it's too much.”

“It's easier to believe the media is it?”

The swing stopped, stood silent. Ben and Monica both leaned back into their respective benches, distance between them. The moment stretched out, waiting for Ben's answer. He dodged the question.

“There was nothing else going on? Just peaceful picketing? Nothing else?”

“Not the violence that was reported. No burning trucks. Oh, there might have been a few flat tires, sugar in the fuel tanks, things like that. We don't have the money for explosives. N75 is expensive.”

“You'll have to excuse my ignorance. But what is N75.”

“Synthetic nitroglycerine. N75 is seventy-five times more powerful than the old traditional stuff.”

“Seventy-five times the power of nitroglycerine, that boggles the mind.” Ben started the swing moving again. “And where would you get it from?”

“From them.” Monica pushed a little to contribute to the swing.

“From them?”

“Of course. The world's biggest armaments dealer, who else? Want an assault rifle, a detonator, poison gas, whatever — you buy it from the masters of war.”

“You just go up to Homeland Security and put in an order, or what?”

“It's about that easy, except you need a lot of money. The people dealing are probably HS during the day, at night they look after themselves. Steal a bit of technology and put it on the street. Take a nice little bundle home to retire on, part of the benefits package.”

“You've got to be kidding.”

“No I'm not. The only people making N75 anywhere in the world are the Americans. If you want it, you have to buy it from them.” Monica looked away toward the distant dry field of wheat struggling in the baked earth to grow. “How much?”

“How much what?”

“How much do you have to pay for N75?”

“Oh that, last I heard you could get a kilo for about ten thousand Ameros.”

“Expensive.”

“Depends what you're buying it for, and hey, when you consider its power it's really seventy-five kilos, right.”

On the way back to the barn Monica took Ben's hand. He cringed, not outwardly, as he let her hold his calloused fist; he was twenty-five years older than her. Even a short ten years ago would have been different. But now, now he was nearly to the end wasn't he? It would be good for him to have company into these years. But what about her? She would be left alone again. Better she found someone else. Someone a little closer to her age.

When they re-entered the loft Joan Lightning had replaced Mary Wiens in front of the open doors.

“Those stacks either have to come down or they have to find some way of removing all the sulphur. They represent the greatest ecological disturbance ever experienced in Canada.”

The sun behind her highlighted the silver in Joan's otherwise long loose black hair. “The price you are paying for your cheap gas, and some of you might not think your gas is cheap at over five Ameros a litre, but it is — the price you are paying does not come close to the cost to the environment. Tons of sulphur and nitrogen are pumped into the atmosphere every day through those stacks, tons that precipitate out over what we used to call Saskatchewan and Manitoba all the way to Labrador. We once had viable fisheries in the north. Well, viable for the families who fished, maybe not so viable when we had to sell through government-run marketing agencies, but viable for many families.

Joan spoke quickly, though not out of any nervousness. She spoke at the speed her mind worked, the way her mind worked, all in a tumble, a rush. Her hands flashed around her body, indicating directions, wind patterns, and precipitation “When sulphur connects with moisture, and there is still moisture coming over the mountains, it might not seem like it on days like today, but there is still moisture up there. The sulphur connects with H
2
O, add a little heat and we have H
2
SO
4
, sulphuric acid. It's not so much what comes out the exhaust pipe of your car as you burn their product, though that's still a problem, it's what comes out the stacks at Fort McMurray. Those refineries, and I don't care that they cost billions of Ameros each, I don't care that Wright makes a big deal out of their investments in the North Division, I don't care about the employment lies — Fort Mac is automated to the point where there aren't that many jobs anyway. With the unions broken, those jobs don't pay more than subsistence.

“I don't believe I am about to say this.” Joan touched her face, ran dry fingers across her cheek, “I have spent my life caring about the Earth, about peaceful co-existence; I have never advocated violence. But when I see the pine trees all turning red, when I see withered birch, when I see mushroom pickers walking for miles looking for what used to be abundant, when I see fishers hang up their nets because there is nothing left to catch or going out on snow machines to spread lime on their lakes trying to counter the acidity, when we have winters without enough ice to go out on the lakes, then I have to side with the people who are fighting to stop the oil companies. Every day that production is stopped is a day when tons of sulphur are not pumped out onto the land.

“Keep it up, you guys, keep up the fight, keep hindering them.” Her hands were clenched into fists. “It might not seem like it, but every truck that you slow down, every person that you take out of production, everything that you do that slows them down has a very real effect on the land. Some days it might seem like we're losing. When we look at the McKenzie River and see the sheen of oil all the way to the Arctic, it might seem like it is too late, When we see the bare rocks of the Precambrian Shield, without even moss, let alone trees, you might think it's too late. But we have to do something, anything.” Joan's hands stopped, she stood outlined in the sunlight of the doors, solid, straight, her dark eyes stared ahead into the group, looked into their eyes, tried to look into their hearts. “Anything,” she concluded.

Ben took his coffee to the big doors that were open to the prairie, and just stood there and looked to a hazy horizon and let his thoughts flow outward across a parched earth. What was he going to say to this group? His lecture notes on supremacy were leftovers from a university and a life from before this rampant insanity.

A car rolled off the grid road and through the wire gate into the yard, crunched gravel in the drive and into the open space between the barn and the house. It was one of those newer models, with the oversize wheels that always made Ben think of Red River carts. He stepped back out of view as Abe crossed the yard to speak to the driver.

Roland Nataways stood where Ben had intended to go.

“Hey, Professor”

“Roland, right?” Ben stepped around him into the shade.

“Yeah, Roland, from your seminar class in '09.”

“Right. So how are you, Roland?”

“Good, good,” he shuffled until his back touched the wall.

“So what've you been doing recently?”

“Not much now, used to do a lot of work for NGOs, or Near Government Organizations as I liked to call them. First Nation stuff, even worked with the Metis for awhile, development work.”

“Not anymore?” Ben liked this young man. He wasn't that young, in his thirties probably. It was hard to tell. The face was of a person who had stood too close to suffering and the pain etched itself into lines.

“Not anymore. Not much you can do when they erase your bank accounts. The last place was an organization trying to feed city kids. I guess we weren't Christian enough or something. The virus not only took out the organization's accounts but nearly everybody who worked there. Some of us tried to keep going. I was hunting in the river valleys and bringing in deer meat. But after a while I just couldn't afford it. Not just the gas, ammunition was getting crazy even then. That's what I'm talking about next.” “The price of ammunition?”

“No, I did two-and-a-half years in Dakota Max for a break, enter and theft. I broke into a gun shop trying to get ammunition. Tell you something, Prof. It was some of your ideas about supremacy that got me through. I forced myself to remember that the reason they were treating me as lesser was because they needed to, that someone else was treating them as lesser. I wanted to thank you for that.”

What to say? Ben had no response. He nodded. Stood in front of someone he did not remember speaking to about an abstract subject and found his words returned to him in concrete, as solid as the prison walls of Dakota Max.

When it was Roland's turn to speak, he did not begin with his experiences in the ten-thousand inmate privately run prison. Instead he started by asking if anyone had heard the news this morning. People stirred, but no one answered.

“Well, Wright announced that Canada is a ticking bomb.” He paused, “Rhetoric? Not at all. The words were chosen and deliberate. Ticking bomb is a justification for torture. Of course it's never called torture. It's called aggressive interview. In American law, if you know that there is a ticking bomb, and you know that your prisoner knows when and where the bomb will explode, you can legally torture him in order to save lives. That is the first criteria in Homeland Security directive sixty-six. The second criteria is that only enough pain is inflicted that the prisoner responds. Other criteria in the directive include that the interviewer is supervised and decisions about the amount of pain, type of interview, and duration are decided separately. The directive also requires that a trained doctor be present. Note, that the directive does not stipulate the training, nor that the doctor be licensed. Most medical associations refuse to license anyone specializing in pain administration. You would think that any real doctor, someone dedicated to the alleviation of suffering, would refuse to participate, especially since they would have to give up their licence. But, with the amount these guys are getting paid there is no shortage. Nearly double your wage, and work less than half the amount of time. It's a gold mine.

So we have in one room the prisoner, the supervisor, the interviewers, and a medic and a book of guidelines. This is all designed to make torture as humane as possible. Only the amount of pain necessary is administered, taking into consideration the health of the prisoner, the prisoner's tolerance levels, and the permanence of the affects. Very clinical.” Roland's own words were clinical, precise. He spoke as though he was reciting, without feeling. “What it does, what all this procedure does is remove any emotion on the part of the interviewers. As long as they are within the guidelines, anything goes.

“Pain can be physical or psychological. Degradation is allowed in the guidelines, except that they cannot use the prisoner's religion, race, or nationality. Women cannot be degraded on the basis of being a woman. No homosexual forms of interview are allowed. The Christian right disallowed that after the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Neither can a person's age be used to administer degradation. These prisoner's rights are interpreted by the supervisor. The first target to maximize both physical and psychological pain is always, always the prisoner's testicles.”

BOOK: The Cast Stone
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