Samantha had just finished writing her latest notes on John as he rested on the bench next to her. He looked relaxed, far more so than he had when she’d picked him up from Caleb just weeks ago. He had started to settle in, as they always did, and she was confident that John would make a good citizen here.
“How’s the new job?” she asked him, closing her notepad to signal that this was just a casual conversation rather than an interview.
John smiled wide. “Good! Who would have thought I’d be a writer?”
Samantha chuckled. “We all enjoyed the story of you correcting Olivia’s notes. She must have been very impressed with your work to make you her official correspondent.”
“It just felt natural,” he replied. “I’m glad she didn’t murder me.”
“Well, as I told you, everyone has a skill. Grammar has to fall on the shoulders of someone, so why not you?”
“Hey, I’m enjoying it. I think it’s working out well for Olivia too.”
“How about living arrangements?” Samantha asked now, pivoting the conversation.
“Chef Lafayette, I mean Oliver, is very kind. It’s working out well. Thank you again for getting it all arranged.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said cheerily. “I’m here to help.”
John nodded knowingly. “So, how much longer do we sync up like this?”
“As the town therapist, I’m always available, but if you’re asking how long we have to meet, then the answer is that we’re all done. You have a job and a new place to live. You seem to have settled into town and you’re doing well. I don’t see any reason to make you visit with me again unless you need it.”
“I’m glad to hear it. It’s meant a lot while I was getting things figured out, and you’ve taught me a lot about how things work in town. I owe you a great deal.”
“Think nothing of it,” she replied. “That’s my skill, remember?”
“Right. I suppose that makes sense,” he said, his eyes darting to the clock outside the nearby bank. “Well, I suppose that I should be on my way then. I’m supposed to meet up with Ruby for lunch today.”
“Of course, fly free,” Samantha said. “If you do ever need to talk, just reach out to me.”
“Thank you, I will!”
She watched him skip off and couldn’t help but enjoy it. She had seen young love sprouting before, and it was clear that there were the beginning of sparks between Ruby and John, even if they hadn’t noticed it yet.
Samantha stood from her bench and started walking toward Oliver’s. As she walked, she began to contemplate her time with John. It was hard for her to remember everyone’s names now. The town’s population had grown significantly over the last year and a half. In the beginning, they arrived slowly, with no more than one or two citizens a month, but over time the numbers increased. More recently, the Core had started to gift the town plenty of new arrivals. Everyone had been an adult, though the stages of adulthood sometimes varied. No one had seen a newborn yet, but Samantha expected that would change soon enough. The first couple to start a family in town was an inevitability. Caleb had already expressed his concerns on that matter, as he feared he wouldn’t know how to help with prenatal care. Samantha was confident things would work out. They always worked out here.
As she was walking in front of the bank, Samantha overheard the voice of Bryan Steeles from inside. She looked at the front doors, but they were closed. She looked up and noticed that one of the windows above was wide open.
Bryan Steeles. He had arrived a long time ago.
He was considered one of the “main six”. The first six that had established the town, the exploration missions, and most everything the citizens knew about their community. He had initially struggled to find his skillset, but eventually discovered he understood advanced mathematics. He had been put in charge of logistics since then, and had been given the bank as his base of operations. His knowledge of supplies and man hours spent at the Grid meant he was closely connected to Olivia, and Samantha was always eager to learn more about Olivia’s activities.
She was about to call up to him, but before she spoke, she realized that Bryan was having a conversation with someone. She fell silent and decided she might just listen in… at least a little bit.
“I understand your concerns, Olivia,” he was saying. “The truth of the matter is, however, this is happening whether we like it or not. We have a commodity market growing and if we don’t get control of it soon we might never get a chance.”
“We can’t just print money,” Olivia answered.
Samantha’s heart rate increased. This was a serious conversation.
“I understand that,” Bryan continued. “Fortunately, we already have the money printed. The bank is loaded with it and only I have access to the vault. It can be our basis.”
“It won’t work, Bryan. You’re trying to make sense of our situation. I get that, but—”
“It will work. It’ll take a little time to figure things out, but we need to at least consider it.”
Samantha understood what Bryan was talking about. She was this therapist, after all. He had confided in her his frustrations with the town functioning without a proper currency. From the beginning, the town has functioned closer to a communist situation, where everyone contributed everything they had to the group and the group succeeded or failed as a single unit. When there were only a few citizens, this had worked fairly well. Now that the town had hundreds of citizens, things were becoming more complex. Many of the established citizens had started their own farms and were sustaining themselves with their own food, while new arrivals were trying to figure out where they could live, much less how they could eat. People had already started assigning value to goods, and a barter system was forming that would, within a short window, lead to disparities between the established citizens and the newer ones. The last thing anyone needed here was class warfare.
“It would be a simple tax,” Bryan was explaining now. “Citizens can only pay the tax with currency; no food or goods. So, in order to cover the tax, they’ll have to get their hands on bank notes that we can distribute. That’s how we get started.”
“You keep talking about the town like it’s an established government, Bryan,” Olivia said, her voice sounding tired of the conversation. “We can’t effectively control a market if we can’t even organize leadership.”
“So we create a government. Vote for a mayor.”
“Opening a new can of worms to close the other?” Olivia countered.
“It isn’t perfect,” Bryan admitted. “It’s also better than doing nothing.”
“What does Rayland think?” Olivia asked.
“All six have to be on board,” Bryan replied. “He likes it.”
“Who else is holding out?”
“Oliver,” Bryan said flatly. “Caleb doesn’t care.”
“Until I’m done with our next mission, I don’t want to deal with it.”
“Fine, but this problem isn’t going away, Olivia. It will only get worse.”
“Optimistic as always,” she said. “We’ll revisit this next time I’m in town.”
There was a long moment of silence, and then Samantha saw movement in the lobby of the Bank. She realized the pair had finished their conversation and were now heading outside. In an attempt to not appear as though she had been spying, she turned away from the entrance and popped out a small container of makeup, pretending to apply it to her face.
The doors of the bank opened and Bryan stepped out with Olivia. They said their farewells and Olivia took off down the street, clearly set on her next destination. Samantha, taking the opportunity, spun to face Bryan and said, “Hello there stranger!”
He smiled warmly at the greeting and she shed any fear that she had been noticed.
“How are you today?” she asked, embracing him and giving a solid pat on the back. “It’s been several weeks since you came to talk with me.”
“I know,” he replied. “It’s been pretty busy for me lately.”
“Rayland told me Olivia has been keeping you at work with logistical reports.”
“Ah, it isn’t so bad.”
“Of course,” Samantha said with a smile. “It’s just difficult for you to negotiate your working conditions when we have no real… leadership.”
“Right?” Bryan replied, his voice elevating. “I was just talking about that. I think we’ve grown pretty large as a community. It’s probably time for us to consider some kind of structured roles here.”
“Well said,” Samantha said, raising a hand in a show of support. “We need to plan ahead. The town has always survived on us getting through one day at a time. Now it’s time to look at what comes next.”
Bryan was clearly bolstered by her words and stood straight. “I agree!”
“I mean, who wouldn’t want that?” Samantha asked, trying to turn Bryan, ever so slightly, against Olivia’s opinion. “We all want what’s best, right?”
He nodded, slowly at first, but then with more energy. “Yes. You’re right!”
After sending Bryan away fueled with the notion that Olivia didn’t know best, Samantha felt triumphant, but also hungry and tired. It was difficult work, tweaking someone’s thoughts ever so slightly. But, if it was Olivia she was dealing with, it was worth it. She didn’t like to think of herself as Olivia’s nemesis, but it was fairly safe to say that if Olivia wanted something, Samantha wanted to stop her from getting it. There was so much potential here in town that Olivia and her exploration missions impeded. Samantha just wanted to make sure that both sides were represented fairly, rather than one woman running the show.
When she arrived at Oliver Lafayette’s restaurant, she saw that it was closed for the day. Fortunately, she knew that Oliver lived in the upstairs of the restaurant and was almost always cooking something. She circled around to his door and gently tapped a few times.
It swung open and Lafayette’s face appeared, his cheeks red and his bushy mustache forming a frown. He looked like he might well have yelled at the intruder at his door… until he saw it was Samantha. His face relaxed, his stance drooped, and his mustache twisted into a smiling face. “How good to see you!” he exclaimed. “What brings you to my home?”
“If I am honest?” she lied. “Bryan Steeles.”
“What about him?”
“I’ve heard rumors,” she said. “I’d rather not share them… publicly.”
Lafayette nodded and gestured for her to enter. “I was just making some soup. You’re welcome to have some if you’re hungry.”
“I can always make room for your cooking,” she said kindly.
“You and everyone else in town,” Lafayette said, only half jokingly.
The soup was a vegetable broth with the rare, and highly sought after, addition of meat. She presumed it was beef, but honestly she didn’t care. It was so moist and delicious that she only cared she had access to it.
“Soup like this is hard to make,” Lafayette explained. “The meat is hard to get. We have only two citizens that are attempting to breed and grow cattle. I have to make hefty trades to get my hands on even a few pounds of good meat.”
“I am all the more grateful that you’d share it with me,” she said, taking another bite.
“I would like to share it with others, but the farmers tell me the cattle are difficult to care for as they themselves need to trade a great deal to get food for them. I doubt it will ever be sustainable.”
“It’s fascinating you’d mention that,” Samantha said, seizing the opportunity to shift the topic off of food. “You’ve clearly seen the danger that is emerging. The needs of the community are shifting from survival to enjoyment. There’s a growing market for soups like this, but you’ll never have a chance to make it as long as you’re forced to cook food for everyone.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Lafayette mused. “Is this related to Bryan?”
“Oliver,” Samantha used the Chef’s first name for emotional weight. “How would you like to cook whatever you want. Whenever you want?”
The Chef looked wary. “I’m not sure I could. There are so many—”
“Give me a chance to explain,” she pressed. “Five minutes is all I need.”
Lafayette looked like he might decline, which would make her plan more difficult, but not impossible. The silence lasted long enough to convince her he wasn’t interested, but when she shifted in her seat, he raised a hand to stay her.
“Tell me,” he said. “What needs to happen?”