Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The moon picks out bright lines from the vegetation-shrouded hulks at the sides of the road. High above, our Night Ravens duel with watch drones. So high that any kills fall outside our ken, leaving the night undisturbed.
“A long time ago, they had names for every living thing.” Dappen nods as he works the wheel.
“Everything?” Graea’s unconvinced.
He nods: “Everything. Had a special language for it, too. Called it ‘Latin’. Never got on with it myself.”
“You learned Latin?” Too much!
He looks at me with a grin: “Never did. My grandma had a smatterin’, got it from her grandma. I sided with me mum; it’s past. Best let it go.”
Graea leans forward: “Everything? We still got that. I knows oaks and hornets and jackdaws an’ such.”
Dappen reaches back and ruffles her hair: “Not like that. This language told how things came to be and where they came from, making great big chains of what became what from where.”
He looks at me: “There’s the question. Hang on.”
The rig swings wide round the forested hill that sticks up from the centre of this expanse of cracked blacktop.
“Used to call this the A24, back when they named everything. Funny how the oldest bits last longer.”
He grins and reaches out to ruffle my hair, but I duck out of reach.
“Likely as any other theory.”
With a sigh, he brings the rig to a standstill. Midpoint. Letting the Night Ravens clear the skies for our run down to the coast.
“Right, while we wait. Why did they name everything? I don’t know. But I’ll guess what it did. Made them think they had a handle on everything, like the ancestors really did back in the times of power when naming something gave you control over it. Except, with these new names, it didn’t. All it did was give them a feeling of comfort, like when you collect stuff. Don’t do nothing but make you feel a little better.”
“Like Dee’s rocks-in-a-row?”
I feel myself blush.
“Just like them. But, for these folk, they were so sure they understood how everything worked they put names to all the stuff they couldn’t see as well, then pretended like they knew how it all worked together.”
“Don’t seem clever. Some of the stuff they guessed at might have turned out grimmer than they thought.”
He grins: “Why do you think we’re sitting in a century-old truck about to drive down a road that’s even older while our patched-up robot birds destroy the enemy clan’s noisy flying discs? All we got is what survived when them what gave the names ran out of words against the fury. Too many people, too few things to keep them alive. Nothing left but the children of the lucky and any technology that was useful. Everything else got left in the ashes.”
Graea leans on my shoulder: “So we’re the lucky and we don’t need to know the names of everything?”
I look across at Dappen: “Not quite. The lesson I get is that knowledge is pointless on its own.”
She claps her hands: “You got to do something with it, not just collect it.”
Dappen nods: “Close enough. Dee used her knowledge to find a possible orchard on an old map. Doing something with it means we now need to get this haul of apples home.”
He swings the wheel and the truck moves ahead. With a chuckle, he glances over at us: “One of you two needs to make tea for the driver. I know he’s parched.”