Smashweed is so called because it’s surrounded by grey colored weeds that are tough as wire. The people of Smashweed spend all day every day bending these weeds’ roots back and forth until they eventually break. If you’re good at it, doing this takes about twenty minutes. If you’re a little kid learning how to do it, it can take hours. Once the weed is broken, you harvest it and then you boil it in some kind of brown water for a couple days and then you can hammer it until it breaks open and you can eat it. This is the food that sustains all the people in the area. I guess it’s better than gathering mud all day in Bosstown but only by the slimmest of margins.
Unlike Bosstown where it seems people can breeze in and out as they wish, Smashweed is surrounded by a “wall” of smooth unbarked trees that look like they’re made of stone. I guess they’re petrified but I’ve seen petrified wood before and it didn’t look like that. The wall is heavily guarded (mostly by people with spears but still) on account of outsiders are not welcome in Smashweed. At all. They didn’t let us set one foot in the place. That’s how worried they are and how valuable this paste they hammer out of iron grasses is.
Also unlike Bosstown there’s no boss here, or maybe it’s more appropriate to say there’s a bunch of bosses. Smashweed is run by committee and it seems like a dozen different people came to talk to us as we cooled our heels outside with the vulture tribe. But in every group situation there’s always someone who’s the real power no matter how democratic you try to be. I identified two as the real leaders of the place. One of them was a little man (even by the standards of the day) with macular rashes all across the torso (no shirt for his fellow) and a kind of long twisted Mohawk. I think he’s the “we are all equal but some are more equal than others” of the group.
The other fellow was wearing a veil like a belly dancer and was swaddled in furs and robes that looked to be of decent material. He also had shinbones that were about twice the length that you would expect. He seemed to have a pretty difficult time getting around because of this. His job is to deal with traders that come by so that the rest of the folk don’t have to sully themselves by talking to outsiders. He’s the one who had the idea of hiring the vultures and I had him pegged pretty quickly – his thought process is if you need something dangerous done, have someone else do it because who cares if they die?
It was slow going to make any progress because the Smashweedian leaders would only come out to talk to me for a few minutes at a time. Longshanks would speak with us for longer than the others but even he acted like it was a real chore. It was like being out from behind their walls was like being underwater – you do it for a moment and then you need to pop back out. I suppose given all the dangerous shit out here I can’t blame them.
Rashy claims that Smashweed can trace its history back to my time. He claims that there was a flash-flood, followed by a monsoon that drove people to this place from Durham, Palermo, Sacramento, and other actual cities. The fact that he even knows the names makes me think his story has some merit. They were able to scavenge enough supplies from the ruins to start a farming community. He claims there were thousands of them in those early days. Two years later, ninety percent of them were dead. But the community survived. Later when the choking weeds took over their farms, two-thirds of them died again, but they adapted to be the “thriving” village they are now.
Of course they had no information about what caused the flood or why there would be a monsoon in northern California instead of India.
They claim that they hired the Vultures purely for self-defense because the Bosstowners would attack them to get the weed-mush if they didn’t give it to them, which they aren’t because of the filter situation. The one thing both sides agree on is that there was an earthquake and now the river is fucked. They are very bitter about how they feel Bosstown is not sharing their water filters.
When I pointed out rationally and attractively that it made no sense for Bosstown to hold out on them because they needed Smashweed’s smashed weeds, they were dubious.
“What’s their end game? If you guys all die there’s going to be no food for them right? Then they also die.”
They remained adamant that the Bosstowners were trying to destroy them by not sharing the filters. Putting on my best negotiator hat I asked them, just for the sake of argument, pretend that Bosstown actually doesn’t have any filters either – what would they do then? ‘Die’ was their answer. Everyone would die. They have a one track mind, these future people.
I persisted in badgering them about it. My point was clearly they didn’t make these filters because they suck (I said it nicer than that), so where did they come from? Eventually they grudgingly admitted that there was a place to the north where they had originally gotten the filters from the last time the river turned to poison but it was impossible for anything to go there now. And by impossible they meant that it was dangerous in some unspecified way. No matter how much I pried, they wouldn’t say what was so terrible about the path to the vague land of water filters.
When I suggested that what we should do, since this was a problem that affects everyone who needs the river to live, is gather a representative from each of the villages in the area to talk about potential solutions to the issue, they acted like that was the craziest thing they ever heard. “What if it’s a trap” they cried. “That’s why you send someone you don’t care about as a representative” I replied intelligently in a smooth sexily seductive voice. This they were intrigued by. Not so intrigued that they let us in their stupid honeycomb hideout for the night, but you can’t have everything.
The Vultures had moved on by that point so Martialla and I were left to camp out on our own once again. The bad news is that a snake jumped on me. The even worse news is that there’s jumping snakes now. The good news is that snake meat is by a wide margin the most palatable thing I’ve eaten since we woke up.
Martialla looked at me as she gnawed on a snake-scrap like a Neanderthal “You know we’re the ones who are going to get those filters right?”
I nibbled daintily and sedately “Of course, I’m the protagonist and you’re my loyal handmaiden, who else would go? But if we get everyone together to talk about it first maybe we’ll get some supplies, and perhaps they’ll send some extras with us to get killed in the final climatic battle.”
“Plus then everyone will know that you did it.”
“That too, how else will they know what to make the statue of me look like? Maybe they should call me Ela the Peacemaker instead of Ela the Savior.”
Martalla spit out a snake fang “Why not both?”
“Why not indeed?”