102 Chapter One Hundred and One - New Connections and Considerations

    Following Autumn's return, everyone not already feeling down, came to be affected by her low mood.  This was not helped by the fact that they could not find anyone selling ordinary salt, black pepper nor any type of sugar.  They did find a few bottles of honey in the army's shop, it was slightly crystallised hinting at its age and had likely been found originally on a supermarket shelf.  However the price was eye-watering, one bottle could completely wipe out the points they'd earned this day.

    On a more positive note, Winston had met a woman who'd been selling scarves, hats and jumpers that she'd knitted herself.  Although the few jumpers meant for men were a bit pricey, the scarves and hats were a good deal and so Winston had purchased a few for the children.  He'd also discussed the fact that there was the possibility of providing her with wool, just that it wasn't woven.  The woman didn't know how to do this, nor did she know anyone who could, but she did say she would naturally be happy to trade if they were able to spin it or find spun wool in the future.  Her former hobby was now her livelihood, she'd feared that it was a finite one.  Winston gave her hope.  A pity she could give Winston nothing in return; she was his senior with almost twice his years and the mother of two adopted, older teenaged boys, who'd enrolled into the army's ranks.  She wasn't about to leave them.

    Eraj also had met with a woman, one with impressively large eyes upon her otherwise ordinary face.  She'd also turned her former hobby into her livelihood; making soaps.  She'd not been the only woman to do so, forming a rivalry between that person and herself, but her competition had strong backup; her man was the leader of a civilian squad.  While he was out scavenging, he would try to bring back all types of soap; decorative ones to small, half-used portions.  His woman would reform and reshape it into small bars of soap and sell them on.

    Her rival, the woman before Eraj, was different.  She made soap using old methods, from scratch, the theory she had learned long before the end, even while using modern methods in actuality.  Now her soaps were often a little oily, not sweet smelling and the colours were not crisp, but ugly shades of brown.  But they still worked well and she had hope to improve them over time, even hoped to be able to harvest flowers to provide scent and a better appearance.  But currently, they did not sell as well as the other woman's, who enjoyed reminding her often.

    Eraj jumped on the chance to invite her to return with him to their base where her skills would be greatly appreciated.

    The woman had blushed before confessing; "Well, if you'd asked me a month a go, I might have honestly be willing.  But now... I collect ash from our base's charcoal maker to make a caustic agent for the soap, I came to know him quite well and we decided to try making a go of things..."

    Dumped before he could reach first base, Eraj withdrew with a few soaps in hand.  He didn't speak of his failure to attract the woman, just mentioned that she'd been on the look out for scented flowers to his squad mates.  They translated for themselves his downcast body language and could only shake their heads.  Able to find a good, single woman in this age was not easy.

    They packed up to return home with the leftover apple oil and apple butter.  Trying to sell these items hadn't proved to be a successful venture, unlike the fresh apples and dried apple slices, this time.  But they weren't overly perturbed about that, knowing they could be used by themselves.

    In the future, though, the situation would drastically reverse; the apple oil was proven by the base's scientists to be edible and a reasonable substitute for other oils.  Though the flavour was a little sweeter than other oil, it did not detract from the flavour of fried vegetables and with the right spice, could even enhance them.  This reduced the pressure on the base to grow sunflowers for their seed oil, freeing room for other bulk crops.  Sunflower seeds were then sold whole for purchases to eat as snacks or even grow themselves in their own homes.

    Autumn and Logan also discovered that the 'butter' or mutant apple pulp had enough sugar to help in sustaining pickles when added to the vinegar and salt brine, lessening the need for the small white and brown crystal grains.  It was no help in making any jams though, but when mixed with mashed ordinary apple, made a rather tart but acceptable apple sauce substitute.

    But all of this was quite some time in the future, this wouldn't help them now.

    They went home with their small purchases, which included soft toys for the children and the collection of fresh spices.


    Driving through the gates of their own haven home was a kin to stepping through a warm waterfall, washing off the negative and all six visibly relaxed.

    Dexter kissed Autumn on the forehead, suggesting she go on ahead, while he helped the men unload the truck.  She gave a gentle nod and smiled.  There was a slight fatigue behind her eyes, but also she felt lighter than she had in many years.  There was a tiny part of her, she believed, that would always feel worried about her cousin.  It was branded in her DNA, just as birds let their chicks jump out of their nests to fall or fly, Autumn knew letting go of the burdens she'd placed upon herself thanks to her mother and cousin was for the best.

    And speaking of chicks, the daughter of her heart could be once more found being circled by them.  When they'd hatched a few weeks ago, there had been much celebration.  Nine eggs had be warmed by the two broody hens, eight had hatched.  They hadn't been able to understand why the last one failed to, could only bury it outside the walls, where they now buried all of the meat and non-compostable waste.  Without the specialised feed that was developed in modern times before the end, they could only try make up a mix of tiny vegetable seeds and mix in a bit of grain here and there until the tiny yellow chicks grew into their feathers, following the instructions within the book they had found on a raid.

    The chicks grew surprisingly fast, not faster than what was written, but fast in the eyes of the inexperienced and clueless.  Their lack saw the loss of another two chicks, but although they were saddened, their brood had already doubled, with four new hens and two roosters.  At this time they were around six weeks old, able to eat some kitchen scraps with their elders, most of whom they now lived with.  One hen had become broody a couple of weeks ago and was sitting on a grand six eggs, trying to prove her ability.

    One thing that was different about the second generation to the first, they were quite attached to small Lucy and often followed her about the gardens when allowed to roam more freely.

    "Mummy!" Lucy caught sight of Autumn and ran over on short legs, her brood following closely at her heels.  Her infectious grin had Autumn automatically respond with a smile of her own and she hugged the child holding her thighs.  The noisy birds greeted the woman enthusiastically as well.

    "Have you been a good girl?"  Autumn asked her, knowing full well that the child was obedient and not overly mischievous.  Lucy nodded, happily and babbled on a bit about reading a book with Sienna, the girl-child from the second property.  Autumn helped her daughter put the chicks into the pen and guided her to wash her hands before they entered the kitchen together.

    There, Logan (from the second property) was stir frying vegetable ribbons with a little salt and pepper seasoning.  He'd also made a mixed tomato salad, taking advantage of the numerous varieties in Nathan's gardens.  Autumn thanked him; she'd really not been in the mood to cook that evening.  "It's fine for me to do this much," Logan waved away her gratitude, "Your people have already done and given so much for us.  After we lost our homes for the second time, we believed that we'd never have another chance to live.  If anything, we want to do more to protect this place."

    "Don't worry," Dexter said, appearing from behind Autumn, carrying a box of bottled and jarred oil, "we'll put you all to work so many times, you'll want to take back those words!"

    It would be soon time to harvest the corn in the two large beds allocated them.  The crop in Nathan's gardens was impressive and the second crop in the third property didn't lag behind too much.  Some other crops were nearing the end of their viability; the weather expected to move from summer to autumn with the rain and cooler temperatures to follow.  They needed to harvest everything before the rains became serious and they lost too much.  Fortunately, they'd only had short showers that didn't have any visible effect on the plants and vegetables this summer and one electrical storm, which did cause some damage here and there, reducing edible yields.  Anything grown outside of the first property had a shorter life expectancy thanks to this or higher mutation rates.  A portion of the corn in the third property had turned purple, their flowers black.  Ren Zexian had burned a dozen or so stalks to prevent any possible spread of the mutation.  Although the loss wasn't great, it still stabbed at their hearts each and every time such things occurred.

    This had led to discussions about growing more in greenhouses.  It was just that the summers were so very hot and Nathan sometimes watered the plants within the greenhouse twice a day to keep them vitalised.  With this and his water needed for the gardens, he was unable to help with other needs.  The soldier, Luke, had also returned to the base, so until late, Tyler had been the only one they could rely on.  So Ren Zexian informed them of his beloved's vision about the third property.  The rooms within a house were only exposed to the sun at certain times of the day and therefore only certain rooms, such as south facing ones and conservatories with glass roofs would heat up to nearly unbearable temperatures in the summer.

    The third property was a half of a shell, suitable to be used whichever way they wished.  Although it would take some preparation and deep understanding of plants individual needs and such, turning it into a sheltered farm was not impossible.  They could also move the hens and sheep into it during the winter...

    With this new project at hand, there was a buzz of excitement and anticipation in the air.  Dexter sought Nathan for his advice, but found that the youth had his thoughts on other matters.
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