Words to Live By

Words

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by Sheryl Nantus

 

Ah, a visitor! No, no don’t be surprised. We get a lot of them about this time of year, when the freighters have room for tourists and family to visit. And I know you’re not family ’cause you’re looking at the statues.

Beautiful, hmm? I tell you, you won’t find workmanship that fine between here and Mars and Earth. And after all these years, as breathtaking as ever. That white granite just holds the eye so well… and if you’re interested, there’s a wee ’lil gift shop at the spaceport that sells miniatures for you to take on home.

I can tell that you’re confused. After all, who would put up two identical statues at opposite ends of the square? Don’t be embarrassed; you’re not the first nor will you be the last, I figure. We actually have a scoreboard back at the hotel. Really. And for a small fee we’ll take a pic of you standing right there with your own piece of local history. Oh, but I digress…

It all started decades ago when the first set of colonists came down here to try and scratch a living out of the soil at this edge of the continent. Well, that’s what the history books say but we know that the ground was so fertile that the first crop enabled them to sit back and enjoy a hearty feast much like your grand old Thanksgiving festival back home. But, like everyone else, leisure time leads to laziness and a lot of talking space garbage.

One fellow, Eric Bytoff was convinced that we needed more defenses against… well, nobody. The preliminary surveys had shown nothing larger than a whatterwhip for miles and that was hardly enough to build a fort for. Not when you can catch a dozen, roast them up and still have room left for a burkleberry pie. Oh, the gift shop also has jars of burkleberry jam for sale as well. Just don’t declare it to Customs.

But Eric, well… he was determined and eager to get this thing built. He even put together a little display in his house, calling everyone in to see it and sell them on the idea. It was a pretty thing, all made up of spare metal and wood and the cutest little stick men… oh, the original one’s in the Museum but there’s also kits you can buy and make up at home, of course. For ages 3 to 300; fun for all. Sales tax extra.

So, for the off-season he gathered some of the men around him and started to build the walls that used to surround this city. You can still see some of the original wall in the Museum—we had it transplanted when the city outgrew the walls, of course. Now, don’t get the idea that everyone was jumping at Eric’s idea—it was mostly out of boredom that the men started working for him. After all, with a full stomach and most of the women already expecting, you need to put that energy somewhere. Did I mention that we also have the best fertility clinics in the sector? Not that I think a manly man like yourself would need any help, but if you have any friends…

His main opponent was a quiet fellow called Chu, Yu Chu. Seriously, that was his name. Well, what was on the passenger roster at least. Rumor has it that he was a scientist or a librarian of some sort who just sought a quiet place to live out the rest of his life; atoning for some sin or other. Probably one of those religious things. Whatever you believe, he was definitely not a fighter and even less of a ditch digger, which is what Bytoff wanted.

And, as you can guess, there was a lot of yelling and a wee bit of pushing between the two factions—one wanting to build the fort during the downtime between harvests and the other wanting to build useful buildings like a school and library. No one was ever really hurt, but a lot of mouthwork, as you can guess.

It only took another season for both contigents to have what they wanted, in spite of themselves. Eric had his walls surrounding the colony and Yu had not only managed a library and a school, but also a general meeting hall for the democratic process to muddle through the banalities that every colony has to deal with. Oh, our first town meeting minutes are for sale at the shop as well—laminated and everything. Very nice for that person you want to give something to but not really anything expensive, if you get my drift.

The funniest thing was that Chu claimed to be descended from the Mongols—you know, those great warriors in the history books? And he turned out to be the most peaceful colonist around… but I digress.

Second year it hit the fan, so to speak. The harvest was great and once again the storage tanks were full, but word spreads when you get a good break. And the second colony that had come down on the other side of the continent hadn’t been so lucky.

It was nothing more than bad luck, sure of that. There was no big secret plan to put them into a bad harvest year, no conspiracy despite what the what-if historians want to say. Bad soil, bad farming, bad luck—whatever you wanted to blame it on, they had little to nothing and we had a lot here to spare.

I see you jumping ahead of me here—seeing a whole lot of fighting and yelling and dead bodies, hmm? Well, I hate to disappoint you and the rest of the tourists, but it didn’t work out that way. Good thing too, when you figure that our last two Planetary Governors can trace their ancestry back to the other colony.

When they came over the hill and saw the defenses put up by Bytoff, they backed off quickly. Even the most eager of them had no wish to die by another Earther’s hand, no matter how bad things were. So they sat down there at the top of the hill and wondered what to do, knowing their families were going to starve if they did nothing. But going back with nothing… well, it was a choice to starve here or starve there.

First one with a solution was our own “Khan” Chu. That was the nickname that he had picked up between his gentle ways and his heritage. Hey, I never said they had a great sense of humor, right? Well, he went up and out there all by his lonesome that same night and negotiated a way for them to save face and get some of our harvest. No one looked bad, no one looked like a hero—and it started a friendship between the two colonies that lasted to this day. And before you ask, Eric wasn’t that upset at all. Given a choice between killing fellow Earthers and not killing them, he would have rather not. Whatever you may read about him, Eric Bytoff wasn’t stupid. He knew blood spilt now would travel for generations, as we all know.

Actually, you can buy a reproduction of his original journal at the shop as well. Quotes lots of military men, Sun Tsu and the rest of them. Leather-bound. Well, not really leather, but the bark off the jukujub tree is just as good. And very reasonably priced.

Oh, I see you’re still confused. The two identical statues and all.

Well, of course everyone wanted to make a big event out of this. Some wanted to put Chu on the honor roll for his sweet talking ways; some heralded Bytoff for building the defenses that allowed Chu to get it done in the first place. Almost came to blows over that quite a few times as it was discussed and talked over both in and out of the meeting hall and the local bars. And let me tell you, a few glasses of the muskta and you’ll be arguing both sides of a double-sided coin. By the way, you’re allowed to take two bottles with you off-planet, but I know for a fact that three won’t be noticed and four, well… just make sure you have a little extra coin and all’ll be well.

Finally the agreement came down that both of them were heroes in their own way and had to both be commemorated. Remember, back then people everywhere, especially back home, were eager for a good story and getting the positive vibes that a story like this would give. No one likes to read about colonists killing each other when they can read about destroying ancient civilizations.

But then the fighting over the monuments started up—you know, what to make and how to make it and what to put on it… too many options, as you can imagine. Some wanted a kind of obelisk; some wanted their images engraved on the Tastala Cliffs… personally, I don’t think that would have looked too good with all the venctry crap on them, but no one asked me. And I wasn’t alive back then either, so…

Finally an agreement came down. Two identical statues at opposite ends of the Square so that both men could be equally honored for their individual skills and accomplishments. It was even put into the official City Charter than neither man would be exalted over the other in order to maintain a balance between physical force and mental prowess.

So it was written at the bottom of both statues and in our official Charter: Never Bytoff more than Yu “Khan” Chu.

Hey, where are you going?

Hey!

 

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