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The First Train to Brotherhood

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The first train to Brotherhood arrived in the middle of the night, with the moon high and mottled overhead. Brotherhood did not, technically, exist yet, except as the terminus of the line, but the light mobile structures of the work-camp already suggested where the town would one day spring up. This platform would one day be a depot. That pavilion would one day be a dormitory. The only building already showing any degree of permanence was the communications building, as rain and dust would spoil computer equipment so much faster than they would spoil the bodies of the rail-laying crew. But exhaustion and companionship were – at least so far – as good as roof and walls for shelter against the cold and the solitude of the vast, empty, appalling desert night.  Indeed, exhaustion wrapped them so tightly that only about half of the thirty or so people living in Brotherhood came out to meet the train as it arrived that night. It was an idealistic name - the sort of name that might in future generations embarrass the children, or might simply pass without notice, as the way that things had always been.

 ‘Train’ was also a generous term for the vehicle that arrived, hissing and wheezing, at the end of the tracks. It was a snub-nosed engine hauling four mismatched cars, two obviously repurposed from materials from one of the colony ships in the yard at Abbenay, one a gleaming, perfect contraption with “A Gift From the People of Thu” emblazoned on the side, and one, constructed of a flat gray material, that looked like nothing at all – nothing but a train car. It was, in fact, one of the first products of the foundries at Hopewell, one of the first Anarres-built vehicles on the planet.

None of the cars were built to carry passengers, but a group of laughing young people came clambering off the top of the Thu-built car, and a smaller group descended from where they had been crammed into the engineer’s post in the front of the train.

Tvagot was waiting on the ersatz platform to meet them. The coordinator of the rail-laying project, she had seen the thin silver line snake over the flat barren plains to the foothills of the phosphate-rich hills that rose around them.  Though most of her work-crew had gone back to the less-idealistically-named Northwest Central for new assignments, she was staying on to see the establishment of Brotherhood.

“Tvagot,” she said, holding out her hands to the people descending from the engine-chamber. “Please, please say you’ve brought reprovisioning.”

“More extra!” The speaker was a young man, green and gray in the moonlight, his Pravic enthusiastic but awkward. “Another Settlement fleet comes in – came in - from the Old World.”  He jerked his head back across the plains, back toward the cities, though by rights he should have nodded toward the sky. “Extra rations here to Northrising, double for the towns that haven’t had the chance to start planting, which means us in Brotherhood.”

Her face closed. “I hope you didn’t bring any –“

“Why, a purist.” Another young man behind the first, this one lithe, with a serpent’s grace. “Don’t fear, sister, there’s no profiteers’ bread on this train. Though honestly, if you’re still turning up your nose at the food of our masterland, I don’t think you’ve studied hard enough at the desert school.”

Clot up, Eir.” His companion elbowed him in the ribs, speaking low and in Iotic, then looking up apologetically, at Tvagot. There was, between the three of them, that brief moment of tension that had become practically a greeting in itself among the Settlers. All of us speak Iotic. All of us speak educated Iotic. Do we labor out our meaning in inchoate Pravic, or do we slip back into the language we all know we all know?

The first young man decided the question – the slip had been his own,  the amendment would be as well. “Light and joy!” he said in Pravic. If this was a greeting, it was a new innovation; they had not been using this at the last post Tvagot had worked. He gestured to himself. “This one is Rooie –no! Pireg! Pireg!” he hastily corrected himself, at a glance from his companion. “And that one is Regeb.”

“Just so.” Regeb, who had been Eir Meddea on the world that was now shining down on them from the heavens, was clearly fluent and comfortable with their new language.

“Studied at the desert school.” Tvagot echoed his phrase, another unfamiliar construction. “Is that what they say now?”

“It is what that one says now,” said Rooie-no!-Pireg! “That one likes to think that-one-self a word artist.”

Oh, hell! Tvagot swallowed the Iotic expression of frustration that rose to her lips. “You are one of the anti-pro-nominialists.” She could not be at all sure she had constructed the expression properly, but both Regeb and Pireg seemed to know exactly what she meant. In those early days, where brotherhood blossomed at every meeting, it seemed that everyone knew the struggles of the young colony. And to them, idealists as they were, the struggles of the mind had as much reality, as much practical immediacy, as the scheduling of provision-trains and track-laying.

 

The language debates, conducted in Iotic and Niotic and Thuvian and Pravic, raged fiercely all through young Anarres. Pravic had become the de facto language of the revolution, the language that enabled the Odonians to communicate across the great barrier between A-Io and Thu without declaring the primacy of one or the other. Pamphlets were carefully translated into the new language, songs were composed to fit its clear, rational patterns. But the prospect of building a whole society upon it tested the limits of Odonianism itself. The language’s architect, Farigv, proved frustratingly principled, refusing to pronounce judgement on the disputes that arose about its usage and limitations, refusing to claim the language as his.

Tvagot had been in the First Settlement Fleet with Farigv, though she had borne a different name then, a soft, oozing name, the name of an Iotic woman of the educated classes. She had been young and water-soft, her purposeless education fermented in her mind and turned to poison in her heart, longing only to be something real. The education of rich women was a private affair, an adornment that served no purpose, as beautiful and useless as the jewels set in the navel or the throat. She had torn off her jewels before taking ship, she had let her hair grow, and what had been a shadow under the skin of her shaven head was now a mane, wild and curly and dark.

She had been trained as a nurse. It was the only form of work open to women that was both intellectually demanding and socially rewarding, and she had no talent for it whatsoever. Those first years on Anarres she had been everywhere, rejoicing in the manifold, beautiful necessities of building a world, from establishing labor allocation databases to attempting to make algae palatable in the communal kitchens. Necessity had cleansed her of her uselessness, and to the end of her life, she would carry a gratitude toward privation. Even medicine lost its bitterness for her; she had helped to establish the first of the hospitals. But she had found herself a better administrator than practitioner, more interested in systems than in people.

She had attached herself to the group around Farigv, the group who took an interest in language as the primary form of social infrastructure. She had come to be a passionate, if ineloquent, advocate for Pravic as the language of the schools, and when the Second Settlement fleet arrived, as the language of the Integration Committees. But Farigv, the genius Farigv, though he was happy to teach the intricacies of theoretical linguistics to anyone who asked, refused to take central responsibility for the language he had created.

“Every language is an anarchy,” Farigv would declaim, looking at them looking to him. He would throw up his hands and pelt them with small rocks, indicating that they were completely off course. The young revolutionaries were reduced to debating the language between themselves, debating it in Pravic and new-Pravic and reformed-Pravic and Iotic – their despised past language sometimes the only thing they could agree on.

“I think that Pravic shouldn’t have the word ‘I’,” declared – what was his name? It was, though Tvagot would never admit it, hard to remember their Pravic names, those clattering, hard-syllabled meaningless words. No, not meaningless, but without meaning other than the meaning they brought to them.

“No you don’t. You couldn’t say that sentence if you thought that.” That was Sazach, beautiful Sazach, who never hesitated to speak her mind even when the words were inadequate to what she wished to say.

“Well, perhaps our children shouldn’t be able to say that sentence.”

“No, you are quite wrong. Odo never asked us to abandon the individual. We couldn’t translate the works she wrote without the word for I. What we should focus on is the possessive. I do wish you hadn’t created a possessive in Pravic, Farigv.”

Farigv, from behind his desk, threw another small rock at the speaker; she held up a hand and it glanced harmlessly off.

“It needn’t matter.” Tvagot rarely spoke up at these debates, but she had wanted to speak then. “There’s no point in trying to pretend possession isn’t part of our nature. If we try to pretend it isn’t there, it will only come in under a false name. Instead, why not try to, to...” She sought for the words in the new, hard-edged language. “To limit its influence. Keep the possessive to the things of the body. For the things of the...” She tried to remember the Pravic word for society; all she could think of was brotherhood. “For the things of the brotherhood – use. Not my tools, the tools I use.”

“There are plenty of things between the body and the brotherhood!” Sazach had snapped. She must have been Thuvian; her hair had been grown out before the Second Settlement Fleet had disgorged its contents onto the dust of the Moon, the soil of Annares. “What about family? What, do you expect me to say the beloved I use?”

“Why not say merely the beloved?” Tvagot had been not only contemplating, but using this form in her personal speech since arriving on the new world. “Yes, the beloved, the grandmother, the children. It’s obvious from context that you’d speak of the ones with special importance to you, and then it’s up to the listener to choose whether they will take part with you. Or not.”

 

The bonds formed in those times, those heady early days of the new world, were brief and intense. They were not unquestioned, but the questions themselves formed the substance of the bond. Anti-pronomialist though young Pireg may have been, later that night in the communications-house – the only private space in Brotherhood – she had found him repeating Fargiv’s own principles. “There is nothing as anarchic as language,” he said to her, as their bodies wound about each other under the light of the setting moon. “Language has no rulers, it is ruled by necessity and by beauty and by the people who use it and who love it. The state tries, from time to time, to seize it, but it will fail always, always...” It seemed that Pravic flowed more easily now, between the two of them.“No one can speak alone,” he said, “there is always the word as spoken and the word as heard, and it is the struggle between the two that creates the language."

“Struggle?” Tvagot said, her lips at his, her work-hardened, drought-strengthened hands tangled in his hair.

“Perhaps we should have one word for struggle and for love,” he said against her mouth, “as work and play are one word in Pravic now.”

The Iotic tasted odd against her tongue, work, play. She pulled back. He looked at her, thinking not of her but of the language that joined them, the language that they tended.

“But it’s not all the choice of these ones – our choice,” he said, “and there’s freedom in that, isn’t there? We set the seeds of the language. Our children will see them grow."

“The children.” Her word was gentle – a question rather than a correction.

The children,” he said. “Yes.”