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Waterman: a Turn-of-the-Century Toughs omnibus of historical fantasy and retrofuture science fiction
Meredith is from the Eastern Shore of the Bay. Carr is from the Western Shore. . . .
In an alternate universe where the New World was settled by the Old World in ancient times, by the twentieth century the Chesapeake Bay region has become a battleground for conflicting interests. Masters, liegemen, and servants struggle for identity in a society where every man and woman is born to an assigned rank. Their nation is divided uneasily between a 1910s culture and a futuristic 1960s culture filled with jet-cars, slidewalks, and holographic computers. Oystermen sailing to their harvests continue a long fight for control of fishing grounds, little aware that a greater danger is approaching the Bay.
Into this world arrive two young men, on opposite sides of the conflict. Their meeting and personal struggles will bring them allies and enemies as they enter into the heart of the danger.
This 160,000-word omnibus contains a novel and a piece of flash fiction in Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.
This is an expanded edition of an older collection.
"Master and Servant." Born into a society with a strictly ranked system of masters and servants, Carr has sought to tread his way delicately between the clashing values of the parents who raised him and the uncle whose household Carr will one day live in. Yet when he and other students at his boarding school become the latest participants in an ongoing battle between the oystermen of their Bay, Carr finds that his position of power may bring danger, not only to himself, but also to a schoolfellow he is drawn toward.
"Queue." What should a young servant do when his employer may fire him at any moment, his employer's beautiful daughter is absorbed with her high school textbook ("How to be Firm with Servants"), and he's blocked from carrying out a simple task by a snooty cyborg?
Meredith returned from the holidays to find his form much diminished. The Dozen Landsteads' universities all held entrance examinations during the autumn holidays; anyone who was eighteen sun-circuits by the beginning of the autumn term was eligible to sit exams. As a result, every lad in the seventh form who was eighteen by then left Narrows after the autumn term, other than Carruthers, who had missed his previous summer term and was still making up his studies.
Meredith's eighteenth birthday had come past the starting point for the autumn term, so he joined the students returning to school. The seventh form was always the smallest class, what with students dropping out after sixth form if they weren't planning to attend university, and a handful of students being sent down for violations of school rules. Now, with most of the six-tri-years students gone, so few seventh-formers were left that the Head Master erased the distinction between the Lower Seventh and the Upper Seventh, allowing third- and second-ranked students to attend lessons alongside first-ranked students.
The result of this was that Meredith found himself in all but one of the lessons that were attended by both Rudd and Carruthers.
To Meredith's great relief, Carruthers never looked his way. He sat in the front row in each class, industriously taking notes, as though his being Head Prefect and Captain of the Second House wouldn't be reason enough for the instructors to pass him with alacrity. Rudd, who had watched Meredith through narrowed eyes for the first week or two, gradually lost interest in scrutinizing the activities of his fag. After a while, Meredith managed to keep his mind on schoolwork during lesson-time, rather than on the explosive combination of himself and the two Heads.
The lesson that Meredith did not share with either Head was Astronomy, the closest that Narrows had to a science course. It was allowed onto the curriculum only because astronomical mathematics was mentioned by the ancient authors and was therefore deemed respectable. Most of the lesson-work consisted of mathematical proofs. Master Trundle, who taught Astronomy, would have considered actually looking at the stars to be an activity beneath notice, while news of the latest rocket ships being launched into orbit from Yclau would have fallen under the category of Foreign Heresies.
Meredith had no great interest in foreign activities himself, but he was passionately interested in the history of the Dozen Landsteads, and it was impossible to study the history of the First Landstead without stumbling across pages upon pages of references to scientific matters. He had assembled at home – under his father's proud eye – a respectable library of scientific textbooks, while the school library turned out to have a fairly good collection of scientifiction tucked away in the section for first-ranked students and their classmates. Since he had not previously studied alongside first-ranked students, Meredith had not been permitted to enter the first-ranked section before this term. Now he discovered, upon proudly presenting his Upper Seventh card to the librarian, that at least one other person at Narrows School shared his interest in scientifiction, for several of the books he had hoped to borrow were already off the shelves when he checked. All the other lads learning astronomy seemed to be sleeping through the proceedings, so Meredith assumed that one of the school masters had a taste for thrilling adventures in outer space.
It was not until the second week of term that he came into the nook that held the scientifiction books and discovered Carruthers there, carefully examining each spine, with a stack of scientifiction books already tucked under one arm.
He looked up before Meredith could retreat. Meredith froze, staring at the book in Carruthers's hand, which Meredith had been planning to borrow. He blurted out, "You want to read Fantastic Voyages to the Moon and Beyond?" Then he felt himself turn crimson.
Carruthers said in an easy manner, "I've already read it, about twelve dozen times. Did you want to borrow it?" Before Meredith could think of what to say, Carruthers placed the book atop Meredith's stack of history books.
Meredith thought to himself that there must be a more graceful way of retreating than dropping his books and running. But every instinct in his body – the instincts that he had tried so hard to rid himself of – told him that he could not leave until Carruthers dismissed him.
The Head seemed to be expecting some sort of response. Groping for words, Meredith said, "Master Trundle mentioned that book in our lesson yesterday."
"Favorably?" Carruthers managed to hide any look of disgust at Meredith's inane remark.
"Er . . . no. He was making fun of it, actually. He said that it talked about planets around other stars, which Flaminius said couldn't exist."
Carruthers smiled. "And since Flaminius lived in the seventh tri-century, long before the invention of the telescope, of course he was the expert on such matters. . . . I wish my Government lesson wasn't at the same time as Master Trundle's lesson; I would have liked to have taken it, if only for Trundle's entertaining commentary. What topic is he covering this term?"
"Astronomy in the middle tri-centuries." It was becoming easier by the moment to talk to Carruthers; the Head Prefect seemed absorbed in the conversation, as patient as the Head Master would have been at what Meredith was saying.
"Is he, by all that is sacred? He'll never get the class to the twentieth tri-century at this rate."
"I don't think he wants to, sir," replied Meredith with a smile. "Then he might have to demonstrate actual knowledge of astronomy."
Carruthers actually laughed then; Meredith grinned, relieved. He had been sure, at the beginning of this meeting, that Carruthers was holding a grudge against him for never having turned up for the invited meeting, but now Meredith realized how ridiculous an idea that was. Carruthers had undoubtedly forgotten their conversation in the changing room within a day of its occurrence. No doubt, if Meredith had actually showed up at Carruthers's door, the Head would have found a way to politely quiz him as to his purpose there, and might even have humored Meredith by giving him . . . by giving him whatever it was that Carruthers had offered in the changing room. But the idea that the Head should care whether or not Meredith came to his rooms was patently absurd, as was the idea that Carruthers had been using Meredith as a tool in his war against Rudd. Meredith simply didn't matter that much.
Cheered by this thought, and warmed by Carruthers's politeness toward a third-ranker from a rival House, Meredith opened his mouth to make another light joke . . . and at that moment he heard Rudd, talking loudly as he entered the library, just to show that he could.
Carruthers's gaze flicked toward the door, where Rudd was continuing to raise his voice as he spoke with the second-ranked librarian, who was timidly suggesting that he speak in lower tones. Then Carruthers said quietly, "I'm heading over to the tuck shop to buy some sweets. Would you care to join me? The shop is usually deserted at this time of day, so we'd be able to hear ourselves speak for once." He gave a smile that did not quite reach his eyes.
That smile – the same one he had given in the changing room – made Meredith step backwards, as much as the vision of what Rudd would do if he discovered Meredith and Carruthers alone together in the tuck shop. "No," Meredith whispered. "Thank you. Sir. No."
He fled then, his instinct to avoid pain overcoming his instinct to await dismissal. Yet even as he fled, part of him whispered, Failed as a master, and you can't even succeed as a servant?
¶ Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Waterman.