The following is an excerpt from the first draft of a work-in-progress, a novel set several centuries into the future on an Earth that has undergone a severe deformation of climate and ecology. I started writing this thing over a year ago, long before the GreenPunk premise had been formulated, but I realize now that the settings and situations of the story fairly readily lend themselves to a GreenPunk mentality. So it may get more like that if it ever undergoes any revision. The following scene is not necessarily particularly greenpunkish but it takes a peek into what sort of economy this group of people has evolved in a world that is seriously messed up but which still has resource abundance if people can figure out how to repurpose and reuse and recycle.
…Though the old market was dauntingly huge, what always struck newcomers was how it felt both ancient as the city itself yet also new, as if it were in a constant state of renovation and repurposing. It was as old and scabrous as the most decayed city center on the planet, yet also fresh and bombastic and impromptu, like it had just opened for business for the very first time today.
Wandering through this place, Port of Providence’s open-air food market, Kai Jaxon felt entirely naked and ridiculous in the civilian togs with which he and Private Iapetus had been outfitted. Jaxon’s outfit included pants made from a thick-woven natural fabric, died a pale and streaky blue, stained badly and torn in so many places that the legs were about to separate at the knees. He also wore a similarly ragged button-down shirt made of a stiff gray fabric. Iapetus was wearing similar pants, but his shirt was a long-sleeved pullover, mustard yellow with a single thick brown strip encircling his abdomen. They both wore plastic sandals, Jaxon’s orange and Iapetus’s green.
Though these costumes would supposedly enable the Martian soldiers to blend unnoticed into the local population, Jaxon felt just as conspicuously foreign here as they would have been in their full-on Force Ares uniforms, complete with rifles and daggers. We don’t look anything like these people he thought, gazing at a short pale-faced young man in a silver shirt and black pants with many metal zippers and buttons. Jaxon noted, however, this one was also wearing the plastic sandals.
We won’t sound like them either. Jaxon listened to Silver Shirt’s accent as he bantered with a vendor over the price of what looked like some kind of dry-cured sausages. The local dialect wasn’t that much different from the Martians’ native tongue save for the expected localisms, but it was spoken with a lilting tone and somewhat more languorously than most Martian dialects. Jaxon decided that he would probably not succeed at plausibly imitating it and expected that he would feel quite foolish making the attempt. “We do not think,” Captain Ikeda had said, “that this town gets a lot of visitors from foreign places, and we would stand out a lot less if we could at least sound more like the locals when we speak to them.” He had encouraged all members of the unit to listen to recordings of local speech samples and try to imitate it as much as possible.
Jaxon listened to Iapetus gamely try the local patois, discussing the attributes of some tomato-like fruits with an elderly female vendor. Towering over her, the olive skinned, shock-haired young soldier, sounded more like he was making fun of her accent than sincerely speaking in it: “Tohhh-MAHto, ah inTEResting,” he exuded through his wide grin. Jaxon turned away and stifled a chuckle.
This was their third visit to this market in as many days. The first had been spent gathering a sense of how the place operates and what might be available for sale or barter. On the second day they had spent several hours trying to induce people to purchase some surplus items from their own supplies in an effort to gather samples of the local currency—tinny coins with numbers stamped on one side and, for some unknown reason, old Jando-era imperial crests on the other side. These they brought back to base and then put their little matter-compiler to work, doggedly forging a pile of counterfeit money with which they could then return to the market and buy food supplies. Many of the vendors preferred to barter goods rather than sell for cash but would, in the absence of an acceptable trade, take money (at what seemed to Jaxon extremely inflated rates—the cash price of Iapetus’s tomatoes, for example, appeared to have doubled just since yesterday).
Since Iapetus seemed to being enjoying the task of haggling with vendors, Jaxon contented himself to hang back with their little push-cart—another dubious fraud that they had made at base—gathering the Private’s purchases as they went. Iapetus dropped a thick bundle of greenery and woody stems into the cart. A rather intense aroma—not especially pleasant, rather like kerosene—wafted upward. Sniffing, Jaxon plucked a few tiny flat leaves and wondered what it was. “It’s either an herb or a salad green,” Iapetus said. “I don’t know: you’re the cook. It was dirty cheap though.” Jaxon smelled it again and thought it reminded him of epazote. I guess I’ll be making a pot of beans… “Hey, Jono,” he said as Iapetus walked toward the next vegetable stand. “Keep an eye out for dried beans!” Nodding, Iapetus wriggled his way in between some other shoppers and peered at a heap of what might have been some kind of citrus fruit, round and large as grapefruit, with pinkish, pebbled skins.
It was probably premature to be planning specific menus and recipes yet since the Doc AI would have to analyze samples and make pronouncements as to the edibility and safety of whatever they gathered. Today their goal was simply to gather as many different kinds of products as possible and get some kind of sense of what things cost here—though that would be difficult to keep up with if the economy was really as inflationary as it appeared to be so far. Well, the compiler would keep on making more money for them.
As much of a hassle as this attempt at using the local market for supplies was proving to be, Jaxon admitted to himself that it was much better than the alternative: running out what food stores they had salvaged from the Shadow followed by weeks of living off of pre-fab food rations and nutritional supplements. Captain Ikeda, in the grand tradition of many, many field commanders deployed to Earth before him, had nixed that idea upon arrival. “I’m not eating that shit,” had been his exact words to Jaxon upon Jaxon’s sudden appointment as provisions officer. Jaxon hadn’t recalled ever having told anyone on this mission that he had gone to culinary school before the Force Ares Academy, but he supposed it was in his record somewhere and that their new commander probably knew everything he could know about his men and women by now. “Set up the kitchen and find us some real food before we run out of the stuff we brought along.” It was so ordered, and now Jaxon was grocery shopping.
Also, it did not escape Jaxon’s awareness that his assignment to the food problem had the added bonus of excusing him from the tedious grunt work of securing and fortifying their new compound, a chore in which the rest of the unit was engaged. Yeah, I’ll finish this right about the same time they’re done with that!
Certainly it would have been possible for the Force Ares contingent to simply invade this market and commandeer what they needed, or even announce their presence cheerfully and offer a trade (one that couldn’t be reasonably refused). It was, however, the long-standing preference of the Martian military, when on Earth, to avoid disruptive interactions with local populations. These people aren’t the enemy, Jaxon knew, and there was no point in turning them into one. So the first step was the one they were on now: try to fit in and get what you need, hopefully without the locals even knowing who you are.
The morning cloud cover had parted, burned off by the rising sun and Jaxon felt uncomfortably hot. He removed the gray shirt leaving behind the olive-colored sleeveless undershirt from his uniform. Looking around, he decided that this didn’t look that strange as far as a thing for a man to be wearing here, and so he tossed the costume shirt into the cart and trundled it down to another stand, Iapetus leading the way.
“Hey you!” said a voice from nearby. “Ah, yo! Yes sir!” A short bald man of perhaps late middle age waved at Jaxon. “I want to ask you something!” Warily, Jaxon approached, leaving Iapetus to watch their cart. The man lifted a meter-long by half-meter wide cardboard flat of some sort of berries. To Jaxon, they looked like a lot like strawberries with their shiny, seed-pocked skins and bright green tops, but these were of a deep violet color and rather more squarish than a typical strawberry. “I’ll trade you these crewberries, young man, for that!” He pointed into their cart.
“Grueberries?” Jaxon wondered aloud and immediately kicked himself mentally for revealing his ignorance of what could very well be a commonplace fruit here.
“Crewberries,” the bald man repeated. “I’ll trade you these for that?”
“For what?” Jaxon said, looking at his cart. Something we have in our cart? The cart itself?
“Your shirt!” the man replied with a great broad smile, two large gaps in his front teeth.
Nonplussed, Jaxon looked at his shirt lying rumpled in the cart. “You would give me those berries in trade for that shirt?” He couldn’t really believe it. He looked at the price board hanging behind the man’s head. These crewberries, if they were to actually buy the entire flat, were so expensive that the purchase would wipe out most of their cache of coins. “How many berries for the shirt?”
“All of these!” the man said, again lifting the large flat.
“Hell yeah,” Jaxon said, imagining berry pies. “A deal is made.” He handed the shirt to the bald man who turned it over and over in his hands, feeling the fabric and grinning in admiration. “This is very nice! It’s so hard to find things this nice around here anymore!” Still grinning, the vendor passed the flat of berries to Jaxon who handed them over to Iapetus. “Enjoy your crewberries, young man! They are the best of the season. And I will certainly enjoy my new shirt.” And he put the shirt on and it was clearly several sizes too large for him. Not caring, he rolled up the sleeves and went happily back to work, chatting up the next customer.
Jaxon looked at Iapetus and said, “We need to bring lots more shirts next time.”—From Shame, an unfinished novel