Money Makes the World Go Round

Well not quite. It should be made clear from that start that, in this post-apocalyptic world riddled with magic and mayhem that we experience in Sojourners in Shadow, there is no global currency. There is nothing that everyone uses. People barter, that happens everywhere. If you want to trade then you need to be able to give up something yourself. But the world contains patches of civilisation, and in those money has taken some form. So here I’ll explain them: each place, each type, and give some kind of context and history about them.

The first place to start has to be Trade Island. As the name suggests, trade is the main aim, and while you can barter and swap goods, a form of money had to come about. Now if you’re a high up and wealthy member of a business family, then a credit note is all you need. These are worth whatever is written on them, because everyone knows you have that money, so if words say you’re giving that to someone else, you are. It also helps that the families all keep their main wealth in the same bank, the Vault, so dealing with each other is literally no more than moving numbers about. Others can use credit notes too, but you had better be someone of worth, otherwise you could end up eating that note. Or worse.

As for a more menial form of money, something that looks pretty but is not really valuable, then people use gems. These are small crystals, not like anything of this world as we know it today, and that’s because gleaners make them. Literally. Gems are gleaner shit. They often leave their, well, leavings about their caves and tunnels to give off a small glimmer of reflected light. Gleaners see better in the dark than most monsters but they don’t fully see in it. Whatever their cause and use, the people of Trade Island handle these daily, buying goods. Some know where they came from. Most don’t. Most don’t want to know nor care to. In Trade Island, handling gems is the least of the dirty tasks you’ll have to do to get by.

In many places money has developed where humans are maintaining communities, especially small forms of civilisation. In essence, if things are in order and people are trying to trade and grow, then a currency is created.

In Central Asia, across the steppes, where many tribes and gatherings have merged, the people have developed coins. At first, they were made of precious metals, but over time they used cheaper things and were pledges, as in I don’t have this money to buy, but if you give this to someone else in my tribe, they will give you something. Tribes and groups had coins that had the names of their leaders on, as a sign or promise that they were supporting this pledge. You would use a coin to buy something and any problems later on could be taken to the leader himself and he might pay up, or at least see recompense made. This gave the leaders more prestige, and also more power. This led to a counter move by certain richer people, who began to make their own coins and give them out, and people used them as they knew these had the wealth to back up the offer. These people were also looking for a currency that could be used beyond each tribe, as more and more were moving closer together to avoid enemies, and more were trading together. This is what led to the rise of the kulaks, the merchant class that now has power without being leaders or elders. By now, most coins are cheap metal with kulak family names on, and are handed about and taken as worth, and so, while people still barter, the wealthy have a form of power over others.

The Deliverer is a ship, stranded in the Pacific Ocean. To be honest, it is three ships, but they have been fixed together so long the humans living there see it as one. They are a practical people, surviving by working together, so for them, you mainly get what your role earns. Everyone is meant to contribute. Yet some tokens were made long ago, small bits of scrap metal cut and stamped by machinery. There’s nothing fancy about them, they have numbers for value on, and marks from the machines down below to prove they’re authentic. You have any and you can hand them over to buy yourself something special once in a while, to get a bit more than your role in the ship earns you. Some frown on them, wondering why they’re still around when they haven’t been made in a long time. In a way, it is an expression of individuality within the community. Most likely that’s why their production was ceased.

The Northern Federation, because it has had to grow, regrow and develop, has dabbled in money a few times before now. At one point wooden tokens were currency, once you had etched your name and debt on. Some still use these, mostly in the villages. In the cities they have gone back to coins and notes. Oddly enough, there is a direct parallel with the market towns of Europe across the sea. While the Northern Federation are together, the cities themselves tend to compete. Each produces money with their name on. They are all acceptable across the region, but it has become a matter of pride for each city. Carthage was the first to make coins with its name on. It pushed them to the other cities with a passion, seeking its place as first city, which it gained. After a while, the other cities fought back with their own coins, but this had to be negotiated. Basically, the coins, and later the paper notes, had to be the same value across the Federation, and all were to be accepted. Money could be used to promote pride in your home city, but it couldn’t actually become an act of independence. Also, while it was never made official, the Carthaginian coinage was favoured. By now, notes and coins are commonplace, the first called dollars, the latter, which are bronze metal, are pennies.

The Mediterranean market towns are developing money. At first people made coins to try and pay for things, but as market towns grew and became known settlements, they were able to make their own coins. People in those places were commanded to accept them as money, and so others began to do so, knowing they can be used there. Barter still goes on, but more towns are producing coins and as their trade and influence spreads, so does the coins. Funnily, pirates have been a big boost in this. By robbing the merchants of the Mediterranean, they’re the ones first responsible for taking coins to other places, and exchanging them with other coins.

The Coalition of the South has money that harks back to the era before the Shadow World. Back then, the region was an important trading nation and it did well, the perfectly placed go-between for other countries. In that time, the rand and cents were currency, and the people today remember such things, and more. They use paper notes, called rand but sometimes dollars too, and cents are the coins, which look gold, hearkening back to the glorious trade era. The cities of the Coalition are more inland and secluded, unlike those of the Northern Federation, so their money has yet to be taken abroad. Perhaps soon.

A final mention goes to Australasia, where they have notes and coins as well. When the nation was formed, including the Aussies, the Brits, the Americans and the Japanese, they had to agree to a currency to share, to include them all and maintain equality. The easiest thing to do was to stick with Aussie dollars and cents. They’re not the same as today, obviously, but called the same and used for the same purposes. Only in the wilder central areas would anyone think of bartering instead of just delving into their wallet. Oh, it should also be mentioned that some Americans and Brits use old slang for coins, such as dimes and shillings.

Those are the major realms and communities where money has emerged once again. New, and yet fulfilling an old purpose. The more humans spread and interact, the more they need stable forms of currency to work with. So far there is nothing that works around the world. It is too fractured a place. It can be pointed out that bullets, fuel or food are forms of currency, far more sought after than most coins on a global scale. But as time passes and more groups become organised, these forms of money can begin to overlap. Already Mediterranean settlements work with money from the Northern Federation, and vice versa. As the two sides get to know each other, it is possible the merchants will push for a common currency. Others might well oppose it.

Many places around the world have no need for money. Cyborg sects are fighting a constant war for the betterment of the human race, so getting paid or buying goods isn’t even considered, not even among the less united groups. When a power rules, there rarely develops a need for money so at Constantinople the military takes as it likes, although some settlements of mutants are beginning to trade secretly with other places. Eden is a place of science, faith and unity, so wealth is abhorrent, and in the religiously inspired Octagon State in Texas, the love of money is still seen as the root of all evil.

Perhaps those people are right, perhaps not. With money, people find themselves able to buy, to improve their lives, to provide for others. Yet there is no doubt that often, the creation of coins has been done as some seek to exercise power over others. By making a form of currency, not only can that be used to praise your greatness – bearing your name, perhaps even your image – it means you get to set the standards. Whether it be Carthage or the kulaks, the market towns or the business families, those with the wealth and the will seek to rule others via the power of the coin. The pen is claimed mightier than the sword, although others can argue the gun beats both. Yet to these people, the coin beats them all. As currencies develop and spread, we will see who is right.

Pirates of the Mediterranean

There are pirates in this world, here and there across the vast oceans. Yet in the Mediterranean, piracy is more than just a means to an end. Around the world, various beings raid at sea, but it can’t be said that there is a lot of traffic for them to prey on. In the Mediterranean, commerce is ongoing, flourishing in recent times, and pirates have been around for decades now. They have havens and hideouts, they have their own culture and hierarchy, so here I’ll discuss all of that.

To understand the pirates of this enclosed sea, you have to understand the land around it and those who live there. Across the north of Africa we have several cities, surrounded by numerous villages. This network is known as the Northern Federation. It has been a long struggle, yet these Africans have managed to raise their level of technology and civilisation to a point where they have ships ready to expand their influence. Many of these ships are steam powered, this has been their level for some time, but better craft have been made recently. Mainly warships.

To the east are the mutants. In Eastern Europe they are mostly mutts – the lesser, deformed types – but there are many super-soldiers who have organised the rest. An army is in charge, centralised at Constantinople. Villages and towns are scattered across this end of the Mediterranean, with military camps and bases among them, keeping everyone in check. The mutants don’t go out to sea, their objectives are all on land, but a good number of them are open to trade, as long as the soldiers don’t find out.

I should add when I say mutants, I don’t include the aquatics. These reside in the sea and are part of the reason why the mutant army don’t intrude on the water – the two groups have an understanding to not interfere with each other. But the aquatics here aren’t exactly the same as those elsewhere. Aquatics swim around the world, sharing everything with their own and supporting each other, while keeping the land races at a distance. But a certain number of them reside solely in the Mediterranean, and they have more contact with the land, and are more influenced by the people there.

Finally, across the European coast line, are human settlements, which have been trading with one another for a long time. A number of these have grown to be known as market towns. Trade has brought many things, including new resources, and also ambition and greed. Wooden ships sail along the coast, transporting goods and spreading the wealth. Everyone wants in on the action. Which returns us to the pirates.

They began as European humans. As trade spread along that coast, many who couldn’t afford to get involved found alternative methods. Grab a ship, bring some ruffians together, try and ambush a trade ship. Simple enough. Of course, this caused a reaction, and soon secrecy became more important to hide the whereabouts of the trading vessels, while fighters were hired to be onboard. Trading was never hindered enough to stop progress, which was good for the pirates as well. As the humans of the Iberian Peninsular got to know those of the Italian Peninsular, and in turn they began to deal with those from the Aegean Peninsular, word spread even further. The Northern Federation wanted to trade – sparsely at first but more as contacts and routes became established. They were also able to provide better ships to combat the pirates, although those kept to African waters unless provoked. Aquatics began helping out, usually for a fee, sometimes for knowledge. The mutants of Eastern Europe, who were under less restriction by the army than in other places, started to trade, and so word spread again, leading to certain mutt settlements becoming part of the network, able to sell military equipment their unknowing overlords had stored away.

 

To be honest, this post has become more about the Mediterranean region than just the pirates, but they are an important ingredient and reflect the various parts of the region. Pirates are now of many types of being. Mostly they remain humans from Europe, but Africans are not unusual, nor are mutants. In fact, mutants from Normandy are known to travel down and adventure at sea because of the fame of pirates. They sail in wooden ships, yet other tech and types of equipment will usually be found with them too. Pirates raid to sell on, but also to better themselves. The more the market towns of Europe and the Northern Federation try to protect their trade, the further the pirates go to overcome them.

Pirates vary as well in nature, although they are all pretty much criminals aiming to steal. Some are bloodthirsty. Some act according to cunning as opposed to brute force. Some are looking for financial gain. Some want glory and action. Some crews are well organised and well led. Some are little more than vicious gangs. Some are there by choice, others enslaved.

As expected, a captain leads each crew on each ship. In order to be one, you had better either be the scariest bastard on the ship or have some kind of usefulness that makes the crew want you in charge. If you are of the latter, even with popular support, it is best to have a few strong lieutenants to back you up. These could include first mate, bosun, helmsman, quartermaster, navigator, etc. All roles on a normal ship are just as vital on a pirate one. The difference is any failure could meet disposal rather than demotion.

The running of the ship will vary, depending on the type of captain and the way he or she does things. A brutal tyrant who treats the crew little better than slaves will pretty much keep them together, allowing little time off the ship to relax. Most pirate captains tend to rotate personnel. After a successful raid or adventure, crews tend to want to land and enjoy their gains. If things didn’t go so well, part of the crew might want to get away, or the captain might want them removed before they start trouble. Either way, a captain will tend to have a smaller, select crew who have proven themselves over time, while the rest will come and go depending on timing, the risks, the reputation, etc.

Obviously, a successful captain can attract more and better pirates, so reputation counts for a lot. It can also help where enemies are concerned. As occurred in times past, pirates have flags and emblems to let others know who they face, so if your reputation carries weight, a ship may give in without a fight. Also, as used to be the case in our world, pirates of this time and place have a dreadful reputation, and many people around the Mediterranean have heard horror stories. Not all are true, but there’s certainly enough truth in them. Pirates have havens for a reason – anywhere else and you’re a wanted criminal. Even a suspicion of piracy can get someone hung.

Pirates lead very dangerous lives. The sea can be tough enough, along with diseases, illnesses and ailments any ship on voyage might endure, but the problems they have caused for merchants mean rewards for their heads are high. Pirate hunters roam the Mediterranean. Not nearly enough to stop the pirates, but they tend to be formidable foes, so are best avoided. Of course, other pirates are a danger too, and while at sea, everyone is considered fair game. That’s why the havens were created. Mainly they are very small islands, usually with no one in charge. Everything operates on an understanding that everyone plays nice and so everyone benefits. With a few exceptions, it has always worked, not least because even pirates need a place where they can relax.

While pirates are the criminals of the sea, they aren’t the only ones. Merchants from the market towns, even from the Northern Federation, have found these scum to be useful allies or employees. Trade secrets are jealously guarded, so spies are watching and listening, and gathered information tends to get sold onto pirates or handed out with an agreement for joint reward. Betraying pirates is a bad idea though. Pirates are divided and divisive for the most part, but they also understand the need to stand strong, as all groups do. Pirates will strike back if they have been wronged. Not all, many are selfish and will only act if they are the victim, but if someone mistreats one of their community, enough will react, and others will join in seeing the chance for personal gain. In essence, doing business with a pirate is as dangerous an act as it is unscrupulous.

The pirates of the Mediterranean are a frustrating yet inevitable part of the expanding trade there. While the attempts to prevent them from raiding settlements and stealing ships goes on, many have come to accept their presence, along with storms and human error. When pirates steal, the goods usually end up back in the trade system anyway, so often merchants put more effort into buying their cargo back rather than seeking revenge. In this way, sometimes they even buy it back from those who stole it. Cuts out any middle-men. Pirates can be bought and bribed, same as anyone else. Well, many pirates can. To some, being a pirate is something to maintain. Yes, they are criminals – cutthroats and thieves, raiders and marauders. But merchants and mercenaries are no better. Pirates should keep their word to one another. Pirate captains need to listen to their crews and rewards need to be handed out justly. Havens are to be respected. Fear must be maintained but excessive cruelty only brings down greater repercussions.

Pirates have their place in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean. That is, as long as they don’t push it. Once, someone did. A pirate climbed the ranks and became head of a number of ships and crews, and terrorised the sea and coastlines. He went so far that all sides came together – the Northern Federation, the market towns, and even other pirate captains. They all wanted him gone. After a severe battle, he was chased out, and what was left of his fleet was hunted down. That was twenty years ago. There are those who fear his return, his name is even banned in some places, but for now, pirates know they can keep making this life work as long as they don’t overstep too far. Breaking the law is one thing, but the trade of the Mediterranean has to keep going. For everyone.

Disturbance

“Sarge, we’ll stop here,” the captain called back, then returned to his lieutenant who held the map. “Five minutes, then we go on; I want the men sharp before we reach the villages.”

“There shouldn’t be any trouble there. Whoever attacked them has moved on,” the other remarked.

“Says who? The few who fled to us without checking for other survivors?”

“They were pretty scared, Captain. Whoever drove them out did so in such a ferocious way they didn’t stand a chance, let alone get a good description.” The taller, younger officer protested while maintaining respect for his superior. It was appreciated.

“I’m not insulting them, just saying we’ve no idea of the enemy or the aftermath. We rely on our own reconnaissance and nothing else,” the captain stated, patting his arm. He was an experienced leader; at thirty-three he was young enough, and fit enough, to handle the pace but wise enough to know when you should slow down or speed up. The lieutenant nodded in response, smiling too. He had been part of this squad for over a year and was starting to realise he could trust his captain’s judgement. Well educated and keen, he liked to voice his view, even though it had shown his naivety several times. It had amused the men, but he was certain enough of himself to take it and the captain had a lot of patience.

They joined the rest of the squad, sitting or crouching in the jungle’s undergrowth, several standing farther out on guard. Something moved in the trees that clustered overhead, yet none even flinched; they knew the natural sounds of this land, understood the ways of what was out here. Still, guns were always in hand. They were soldiers and well trained ones at that.

“Corp, sit somewhere else,” urged one of the privates.

“Why? Nowhere’s safer than beside me,” responded the broad-shouldered soldier, slapping his barrel-chest.

“Nowhere’s more dangerous, you mean! What if a relative of one of your trophies turns up?” Corp just grinned, proud of his lion-skin sash, snakeskin belt, crocodile boots and strings of teeth.

“No hunting this time, Corp,” ordered the captain. “I want your focus completely on the mission, we need you and the heavy-gun.”

“But what about the bazooka and the flamethrower? Do we really have to carry all this so far?” a soldier complained.

“Yeah, it feels like we’re going to war,” added another.

“Sounds like the squad’s going soft,” remarked Sarge, eating a biscuit and brushing crumbs from his thick moustache.

“Too true, our break ends now.” The captain rose. He was a fair man who let his troops speak their minds, but he had a limit and none dare cross it. Now all were quiet as they moved out.

The squad consisted of twenty-two armed and equipped soldiers, moving almost silently through the jungle, heading south into denser undergrowth as the mission dictated. Machetes were used at times yet, more often than not, they left the land as undisturbed as possible – to cover their tracks, but as this was also their home, they didn’t want to ruin it. True, they lived in the cities, yet the jungle was theirs as well. They were trained out here as people, as well as soldiers, and some even grew up in the villages before moving to civilisation.

The Dark Land was a vast place and the Northern Federation only ran along the edge, so it had always been necessary to have troops out in it and for the people to learn of it. They couldn’t make progress; the cities that existed now had been rebuilt or reshaped where old ones had stood. It would take tremendous effort to create space and then construct new cities, not least because the jungle would try to reclaim territory. Since the Shadow World came, Africa was an untameable land.

When many nations were decimated by monsters, mutants or machines, or all of them, people fled to wherever there was less danger, near or far. Africa, despite having plenty of monsters, was the instant choice for those descended from its inhabitants to take refuge on and hordes from Europe, of all colours, took the short trip to safety, bringing what resources they could with them. That was how the Northern Federation was born; cities swelled with those from the U.S.A. and Europe, then they were fortified against the horrors that plagued the world.

However one good thing came from it all, as Africa, for so long a suffering land, ceased to bear the brunt of the sun’s heat with the Shadow World’s presence dulling the day. That gave the chance to a number of powerful magic-users who created a spell to re-ignite Africa, to bring back the lush beauty it had once known. Unfortunately, the spell took the lives of those who cast it; some wondered if the thirsty land drank more than they could spare. But what resulted was that Africa was now overgrown, covered from coast to coast to coast by plant life of many kinds. Out in the jungle, it was rare to see the pale sun.

“Lieutenant, take Yakubo and Jason and move ahead,” the captain whispered before watching the three disappear into the gloom and growth ahead of him. He halted his squad. He knew a village was near, and he was extra wary because of how far south they were. Glancing about, he saw it was the same with his men. Even Sarge and Corp, veterans who had served with him for years, were on edge. It had been that way since he had noted they were nearer the equator than their homes.

Captain Traore removed his cap and rubbed his clean-shaven head, a common feature for soldiers out in the jungle. Even if it wasn’t as hot as history told, it was still enough to make a human sweat. Only Sarge and a few others had any hair on their heads.

He signalled Sarge and Corp to him. “Keep to the flanks. I’ll need you two to keep us in shape and, if this goes wrong, organise a retreat.”

“You think this is bad, don’t you, Captain?” noted Corp.

“Six villages are nearly annihilated in four days; no one nice is responsible for that,” came the reply.

“Must be a lot of firepower,” agreed Sarge. He had started life out in a village, farther north, and he knew that, while they had no soldiers, they could defend themselves. They had to.

The Northern Federation may have been born as the world drowned in chaos, yet it took a long time to grow up. Many cities were assaulted by various foes and the people spent long periods in the jungle, along with the monsters and wild animals. The monsters grew in number as many came to this land of scattered, low-tech people and soon the humans were endangered, fearful of the things that skulked through the dark. Yet the near constant blackness wasn’t a help to the monsters either; they were not things from nightmares and only a few had the ability to see without light. It was those who were clear to them who were taken, until only the darkly brown-skinned were left. Then the tide turned.

The humans had spent so long being hunted in the dark that they had gotten used to it. They adapted to their world yet again, maybe they were actually changed by being in this land of new life. They began to be born with slightly larger irises to see into any shadow and grew up knowing every sound and smell that could occur. The monsters didn’t develop, however, they struggled to spot the black figures in the Dark Land. The screams soon transformed from human to inhuman.

Even as the cities improved and became secure, the people had their children raised in the jungle, honing them in the environment that their ancestors had thrived in. They would never return to being the prey.

Lieutenant Holden reported quicker than expected.

“The village is there and a pack of ghouls are having a feast.” Others heard this and word spread. Traore sensed the eagerness of his men, as did the lieutenant and he smiled. “They’re all gorged; they won’t sense us until we’re on them.”

“Well, we need to check the village,” the captain admitted and the others chuckled. This was where they stopped being soldiers and remembered their lessons as youths and the horrid tales they were told as infants. They were hunters with wicked intent. Traore gave orders and his squad rearranged themselves before moving out.

They swiftly reached the huts, built between trees and in bushes, and also found the holes in the ground used in emergencies. It wasn’t long after when they spotted the ghouls. Gangly, yellow-skinned and dead-eyed, they had gathered corpses and were ripping off pieces with long fingers, chewing or sucking meat off. Ghouls were despised even by other monsters, only interested in eating what was already dead. Yet, if need be, they would kill, and then they could be quick, even graceful.

Shots rang out from rifles, then Corp opened up with the heavy-gun, it bellowing away as it ripped up foliage and monsters. Surprised, the ghouls dashed from the flashes of fire, only just seeing those who came at them. Another barrage came from the side. More fell, torn open numerous times; they were being herded, driven from parts of the village and then out, except they didn’t get far. The captain and lieutenant waited with a dozen men, knives ready, then were all over the enemy remnants, silent and deadly.

With the fun over, the soldiers became just that again as Captain Traore ordered a search of the village. While much still stood, most was scattered and wrecked, and what did stand was only ruin. The ghouls had made it worse, it was hard to tell how many villagers had been slain here, but there were tracks and other evidence.

“You see this, Captain,” Sarge said, pointing to a fallen wall, numerous holes punctured in it. “Looks like the work of a heavy-gun. Someone shot through this hut and everyone in it. But that wall has the same damage, it was crossfire, and I doubt they would use the only serious weaponry they had to destroy one hut.”

“So they had more than just two such weapons,” remarked Traore.

“There’s scorch marks on a lot of trees and huts too,” added the lieutenant, looking about. “The attackers had explosives and flamethrowers.”

“And something else,” Sarge put in. “There’s scorch marks I’ve never seen before, concentrated and piercing wood.” Before the captain could reply, a call came and they ran to one end of the village, then moved on a bit farther to join three soldiers who stood open-mouthed.

“What did this?” wondered Lieutenant Holden.

“How could it possibly be done?” countered Traore. “Whatever it was, it seems the attackers also knew how to ambush people into a killing ground.”

The land had been ravaged. Several craters lay before them and blackened bodies were scattered about each, unappetising even to ghouls. Clearly whoever had carried this assault out had no concern for the land; devastation and slaughter were their handiwork, and there didn’t seem to be any gain from it.

While monsters were the main foe of the humans here, conflict between themselves was known. The captain’s first mission had been to punish a village that had raided others. Yet those attacks had been done carefully, as had the final one Traore had been a part of. More importantly, no village had this kind of fire power.

“It looks like the work of cannons, but you can’t bring those through the jungle,” said Sarge.

“If they did manage it we’d see the trail,” replied the captain. He removed his hat and rubbed his head as he considered this. Holden walked ahead to inspect a crater, yet kept out of the pool of sunlight; exposure was death in the jungle and, even in the cities, night was more active than the day. Then Traore put his hat back on and called him over.

“Let’s see some more villages before we start inventing answers. Get the squad focused and back in formation, then we go.”

With that, his subordinates broke up, giving orders as they went, and the captain took a pen and notebook from a pocket to write down his findings. It was a habit he would never let his men know about. Ever since becoming an officer, he feared failing a mission so that he and all his squad died in the jungle, leaving him unable to tell anything he had learned to his superiors. Now, if he fell, someone might find him and use his notes to go further, even succeed. It was a negative view and his men would see it as bad luck or doubting them, but he quickly wrote his discoveries down and tucked the notebook away before leading his squad on.

TO BE CONTINUED…..