This disgression should appear on Page 324 of the hardcover version of Semiosis. It illustrates an ongoing difficulty on Pax and the rights its Constitution grants children. This little bit (in blue) about them from the final chapter about Bartholomew was cut because the book was getting too long, but I enjoyed writing it, and it might amuse you. A team including Bartholomew is deciding how to cut down the orange trees.
“Fire,” Erasmus said. “Not a bad idea, and I like the sentiment. The thing is, the fire would hurt other trees, like that ponytail over there next to the oranges, those pines, even these friendly little palms. No, wouldn’t be right. Good thinking, though.”
People nodded. It wouldn’t be the Pax way.
Piotr stood next to me. The downy hairs on his upper lip had darkened in the last year. He had loved Lucille and he would have been blind not to, the only grown woman in Generation 7. She had been his future, and she died before his eyes, and his heart broke. Could it heal, or could he replace it? If I talked about Bess, would he understand?
“Did you paint your face green to be like Lucille’s?” I asked.
He looked away, fumbling with something in his pockets. “No.” Then, “Yes,” in a louder but not stronger voice on the edge of a squeak.
“That’s a nice gesture,” I said. He nodded and tried to smile and failed utterly.
Maybe we could have saved Lucille. Did he need to know that? Cedar had refused to act, but then Pacifists arrived, fought and almost won. Almost. If the fighting had started a minute earlier, maybe. . . . No. The orphans already had the acetone, they already had a plan to burn the women to distract us.
But Cedar hadn’t known that. Could I forgive her? Would that be good for Pax? Would that be just?
Piotr was suddenly hugging me. “Take care of yourself,” he said, as if I were the one needing care. He turned and left down a path, whistling in something like Glassmade, and two Glassmade majors followed him.
Six of Lucille’s students were coming toward us down another path, the six most boisterous children in all Pax, painted and ready to get in the way.
Erasmus started muttering, and when they got closer, he said, “Listen, kids, this isn’t a good place for you. Cutting down trees is dangerous work.”
“They’re bad trees,” said a little boy with a face painted with blue stripes.
“But you’re a 4. We’re 7s. You can’t tell us what to do.”
The old lumberjack looked at me. Age didn’t matter, according to the Constitution, a flawed document, so what could we do? The Parents who wrote it on Earth never thought about four-year-olds who would want to wield axes.
“But he’s the team leader,” I said. Erasmus smiled at me, then at the children.
The boy lost his bravado. “Can we be on the team?”
“Yes, and it’s like this.” Erasmus dropped to one knee to talk face-to-painted-face. “There’s some saplings near the dominant locustwood. You know which one that is, right kids? Really big and tall, off that way. It told its saplings to help us out. If we plant them where the orange trees were, the little locustwoods will be sure the oranges don’t grow back in case we miss some roots. All right, what we need are people to go dig up the saplings. Piotr’s already going with the Glassmakers and he needs some helpers. How about it, kids? You and the Glassmakers. You’re great at digging, aren’t you? A pack of birds, that’s what you are. Owls, real owls.”
The proposal interested them. Flattered them. They began barking. “I’m not a owl, I’m a eagle.” “I’m a tree. Trees are better. They can do more.” Boisterous, they followed Piotr and the majors.
We adults fetched ladders and got to work, one tree at a time. I held the ladder for Fabio’s father, trying to hold it steady, but he chopped wildly, long swings with more force than precision, almost knocking himself off the ladder, though he didn’t seem to notice. He couldn’t notice. He was attacking in his own private battle, and how could I not sympathize for the loss of a son? Tears or sweat filled the fine lines around his eyes. I kept my feet planted firm, my eyes on his swinging arm to know when to tense, listening to the rhythm of seven other axes and the crunch and crackle of live wood yielding to steady assault, and to sniffs and sobs and relentless progress, making way for good trees.