A/N: Another one set in the Abundance universe. It won't take any time from Prospect Road or The Man of His Dreams: it's already written. It's really long, too. About twice as long as A Suitable Lover.

A glossary exists, but I tried to write this so the slang of the time and place would be as compreghensible as it needs to be. Let me know if I failed, okay? And I will post the glossary if you need it.

You might think of this story as "Salinas in Spaaace," but again, you might not.

ESPERANZA HIGHWAY

Part One

Chapter One

Chuy had actually begun to sober up before the tractor crashed and he went flying to the lamentably crooked furrows three meters below, but it was already much too late to prevent it,though he could see exactly how it was going to happen.

It had been such a lovely drunk, too, hazy and golden like the sky. He had been so sparkly and smart, full of big ideas and smooth at the fiesta, and he knew his famous smile was working, because now there was a cute boy back at the control shed watching Chuy dance the tractorsideways across the strip fields. He could almost remember thinking that this trick wouldsomehow prove that it could be possible to use the tractor for three jobs at once and save thecommunity a lot of time and money.

For seventeen years old, he was a good mechanic -- sober. A few drinks, and he would start boiling over with these ideas which he was sure would solve all the community's problems and make him a hero like Beto Benino, who emerged from a wild youth to build the Esperanza Highway, which had taken the Valley Region from a social experiment on a raw world to a recognizable, cohesive society. Sobering up was never fun for Chuy: all at once he would remember who he really was, not Chuy-the-boy-genius, headed for the history books, but Chuy-the-screwup, the loner, the kid no household would take, and he'd take a cold look around him and know he was in trouble again.

He felt the seizing of the engine as if it were a part of his own body that was failing, and remembered he wasn't secured in the cab, the result of another dumb idea: he had climbed out on the nose to wave to Guapo, the cutie he had hoped was watching and now he hoped had left before this. And then he realized he was falling from the big machine and he didn't know whether he hoped he fell free of it or hoped he didn't. At least he had had the wit to leave the digger babies in the shed: they were almost as expensive as the mother tractor itself.

He wasn't completely sober yet when he did hit the sweet soft dirt of the field, but it didn't matter. He wasn't completely conscious either.

Chuy smiled at the Committee, a big brainless smile, his response to everything that happened to him. It had helped to get him out of trouble before. It had gotten him into trouble too, more times than he could count. This time, he couldn't even hope it would get out of the trouble he was in. Just keep the worst from happening: whatever that might be.

Through the window opposite him Chuy could see the scene of his crime. He had been saying he was alone when he did it and that he couldn't remember why, but it had something to do with seeing how many strip fields he could plow in a night. That very field lay out there now, its furrows re-cut yesterday, deep, by the second-best tractor, the one Chuy hadn't wrecked. Today a team was walking a planter combine over it, one guy perched high in its cab, two guys on the ground overseeing the self-propelled seeder babies, and pretty Vangie back in Central monitoring the whole business. Chuy's Rancho-raised eye could see enough detail from here to tell that the seedlings were of High-Protein Cos lettuce, a particular pride of the Altagracia Valley Region, shipped out all over the planet and even upsystem to Heimisch, where the wealthy Home Vanguard could afford anything it liked, and it liked the High-Pro Cos, at least under its less utilitarian trade name of Ruby Golden Hazelnut Romaine. The field was kilometers long to get the benefits of large scale farming, but narrow, butted up against other narrow fields bearing cabbage and cucumbers, to get the benefits of a diverse plant community. It had taken the Ranchistas' predecessors centuries of intense labor to build the soil of the Valley and the planet from undigested rock to its rich and productive state, and it was a matter of devotion with the Ranchistas to preserve and enhance it.

They were repeating things he knew and had been torturing himself with since the night of the wreck. The machinery to run all this was expensive. The community was not rich. And Chuy had wrecked the community's precious and newly acquired equipment, driving it drunk around the fields at night. He only hoped that the other boy had kept his mouth shut: blame divided multiplies, and anyway he'd kept telling Chuy it was a stupid thing to do. But he'd come along anyway, giggling at Chuy's foolishness, and he'd have come along home to bed too if the wreck hadn't happened, Chuy was pretty sure. Maybe even come along farther: Chuy entertained romantic fantasies over every palolo he took up with.

This meeting was in a little white room in the Neighborhood Center. Only six people were there: five from the Committee and Chuy, referred to at this table by his whole given name: Jesus Flores Garcia. A hologram of the ruined tractor which occasioned this meeting hung mutely in the air above the table. The table was too big for the room, and it had been inconveniently extruded along with the room so that it could not be moved. Chuy and the Committee members were squashed into the walls. The five from the committee gazed at the boy dressed as for a fiesta in blinding yellow, bright stickers flashing on his chest and in his dark red-brown hair. It was not the first time they'd met like this for Chuy's sake.

Wanda, clearly weary of this duty, shook her head. It was a measure of her distaste for this that she didn't even have the shadow of a smile on her face, not even the faint smile of politeness that a Ranchista was hardly ever without. "This is pretty serious. Do you know the value of that tractor?"

"A lot. I don't know."

"The value of that tractor is the value of your work in the repair center for two years. Not even taking into account the lost work time. Or the damage to the fields. The White Dove cabbage line. The cucumbers."

"I can fix the tractor." He tried the big smile again, but it faltered.

"You already did, didn't you? What were you thinking?" this was Andre, a man Chuy had been avoiding whenever possible since he was twelve.

"I don't know," Chuy said again, "Seemed to make sense at the time. I was trying to do something good."

"Right. But you didn't. Our community can't afford for its members to take risks with our resources like that. Everything is in a tight balance. You remember what you learned at Ripa camp?"

Chuy flinched. He certainly did remember Ripa camp. Six or ten days out of every three months for most of his truncated childhood, camping in the riparian with the other children, memorizing songs and acting out skits to celebrate the elementary principles of terraformed ecology and the overarching social order which transcended the local mores of the Ranchos to support the young and delicate system. Discipline was always tight at Ripa camp -- it was run by Biomes Authority, not the Ranchos, and the teachers there didn't smile and speak gently like the Rancho teachers. Getting in trouble at Ripa camp had been much worse than getting in trouble at home. But he easily gave Wanda the answer she surely expected. "All the individuals are integrated into the community. What one does affects the others. Everyone's well-being depends on everyone else."

"Exactly. And what's true at Ripa camp is true at Rancho Castro too. Our community is just as integral as the plant communities and animal communities out in the habitats. You have to be as careful of the community's things as you are of your own body. There's just no room for this kind of impulsive, risky behavior."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"You've been on your own for years. I don't know how we allowed it in the first place. You were already getting in trouble when you moved into the bachelor roomer."

That was why. He was moved into the bachelor roomer because he was in trouble and nobody wanted him in their household. But Chuy didn't remind her of that. It was a terrible truth he'd had to live with since he was thirteen. In a community of communal households, where each person's identity derived from the household and the nieghborhood, he was a loner.

Wanda went on. " The committee's disposition is that you are not mature enough to be living on your own. You've got parents: you'll go to them. You can come back after you turn eighteen, see if you can handle yourself as an adult."

That was the worst that could happen. Chuy hadn't even imagined it before, but he recognized it immediately when he heard it.

"But my parents are still in Nuevo Modesto."

"Yes."

"I don't think that's a good place for me." He forced his smile back into existence. "I think I get along much better here. I'm a good worker for my age, Renata says so, everybody on my team says so, and I always volunteer when a Committee needs something. I try to be a good neighbor."

"It's the opinion of this Committee that you need supervision. There's no-one here to give it to you. You've been living on your own ever since your parents moved to Nuevo Modesto. "

"They first moved over Nuevo Modesto they took me. I didn't do so good. You remember, because you let me come back here instead of staying there. They don't like boys like me over there."

"It's not that anybody doesn't like you. Nobody wants boys to behave the way you do. You're a seventeen year old boy who gets drunk and runs around with the rowdies and wrecks the community's newest tractor in the middle of the night. You need to be with your parents until you are eighteen."

"Lot of good being with my parents did me last time I was in Nuevo Modesto," Chuy said. "Let me stay. I really can fix the tractor. Take me less than a week. I'm not just bragging."

"Good: you've got about that long to get on the Esperanza bus. To give you time to call and make arrangements."

"But --"

"We'll be happy to see how you are when you're eighteen."

There was nobody home in Nuevo Modesto, which was something of a relief: Chuy left the message and went to lie down in his bare little room. He wasn't close to any of his roommates, which meant that he didn't have to talk to them about what had happened, but it also meant that he didn't have them to talk to. They weren't real housemates, not compañeros de casa, just guys who passed through on their way between real households. He couldn't think of anyone to talk to, really. The boys he had been drinking with wouldn't want to see him, if they knew what was good for them. They wouldn't want the committees paying very close attention to where they had been during the hours before Chuy wrecked the tractor, or even the days before that. Most of them were older than him, and there would be no predicting whether the committees might decide to hold them responsible for letting him drink so much at his age. His work team members would just remind him that they had been warning him about rowdyism and probably also make a point of telling him how inconvenient it would be to lose him from the team at this point. There wasn't much of anybody else who even knew who he was, except for a few days at a time when the gossip got going about his latest screwup.

One of his roommates was shouting through the door. A call, and Sevy had brought the rover along with him.

"Thanks," Chuy said, glad of the excuse not to stand in front of the eyescreen and see his mother's disappointment and worry. But it wasn't his mother: it was Tomas. Probably the best person for Chuy to talk to right now: almost a friend. Tomas was only a few years older than Chuy, but the course of his life was completely different. He had done well in school, and gone away to the University in Banner, and he had an intellectual job, and was the most junior member of a highly prestigious integral household, and he was a Committee Man already. The best thing about him was that he seemed to actually like Chuy, after all, even with all their differences. He was the opposite of Chuy in every way but one: but chasing the boys didn't seem to get Tomas into trouble, like it did Chuy.

"Hey, Chuy my chico," Tomás said. "You're in some kind of trouble, I hear."

"Yeah. Sending me away. Back to Nuevo Modesto."

"Sorry to hear it. Bright side, though, chico: you'll be with your own Mami and Papi for a little while. Get to celebrate the eighteen with your hermanos. Look, you've got time to fix my bike up a little before you go? It's lagging, kind of. You want somebody to talk to I can be by while you work on it."

Even though Tomas couldn't see it, Chuy smiled his big smile. "Yeah, I got time."

That was one of the things about Tomas: he always did the right thing at the right time, even down to giving Chuy something useful to do when he was at his worst. It didn't even bother Chuy that much that he'd probably been alerted by the Committee. Somebody would usually tell Tomas when Chuy was in trouble.

The long-distance Esperanza bus ran all day and all night, six days a week. Because of Beto Benino's long-ago work on the Highway Committee, the bus just ran along, and nobody had to drive it. The Esperanza Highway was a living thing, like turf, like mycelium, interacting with the vehicles on it the way vessels do with the blood cells in them. It wasn't a simple linear road: it webbed through all the communities on the First Continent. It didn't need separate names for its components because it knew its own address and spoke it to the vehicles that passed over it. And the highway was more than an intelligent road: it carried the grids, power and communication, throughout the Valley and the First Continent. Ranchistas pointed to it in pride as evidence that their way of living and thinking and doing things was the way that worked. Some of the other communities in the Valley, and some of the states and regions outside the Valley, shrugged and said it was all a matter of interpretation. What looked like integration and cooperation to the Ranchos, they said, was a common ground for competition, a utility only, not a philosophical truth. And if it hadn't been for the Highway, the Biomes Authorities would never have allowed so many communities, or so much development. The Highway's design limited broadcast radiation and the vehicles that ran on it produced low levels of emissions, levels which the Authorities were able to incorporate into their plans for the landscape.

Chuy got a ride on the back of Tomas's little bike to meet the bus at the Hope and Saline station, thirty-five kilometers away from Rancho Castro. It was a low, solated complexmaintained by the Esperanza Highway Alliance, nearly equidistant from several Ranchos. Kiosks stood up from the colorful pavement with bus maps and schedules on them. Benches squatted in arbors covered with weedy vines to break the constant wind. Tomas drove right up to the kiosk marking the route to Banner, Hamburg, and Nuevo Modesto. "You're going to be all right?" Tomas asked.

"I guess. I been thinking it's not so bad to live in Nuevo Modesto for a few months. I won't kiss the boys and that will keep me out of trouble. That's all they care about there. And I do miss my folks. Jason says I can work on his car while I'm there. He says it's a pretty sharp car but it needs a little work."

"Not every day you get to work on a private car."

"No."

It was an awkward moment. Chuy shifted his things: a single mesh grocery bag with his work clothes and his fiesta clothes and his writer. His tools belonged to his work team. He had left them in his corner, as if that would make it more likely that he could come back.

"You never been in trouble like me, huh, Tomas?" Chuy tried to make it sound like a joke.

"Not like you, but I made a couple few mistakes my first couple of years at the University. I straightened up though. I was afraid I'd get kicked out and that would have been pretty bad for the community."

"What'd you do?"

"Dropped the ball on a bunch of deadlines. Other places are different from the Rancho: they say you have to do something by this date, you better do it by this date, or they don't even know who you are anymore. You watch out for that in Nuevo Modesto, too. You toe the line, do just what they tell you. You do that and you should be all right. Maybe you'll get along so well in Nuevo Modesto you won't even want to come back after your birthday."

"Only if they come through with some boys. I can't be expected to go through my whole young life alone." Chuy gazed out at the striped fields running multicolored right up to the low horizon, interspersed with the weeds so carefully introduced by the first settlers. "You know that guy Mark? Your friend from school?"

"What about him?" Of course Tomas knew him. Mark had been his roommate during most of his time he'd been at the University in Banner.

"He's just the greatest guy I ever saw. How come you aren't together with him? Isn't that why he came to live at Castro?"

Tomas shrugged. "He asked me that himself a few times. I don't have a good answer. Why are you asking me about him?"

"Why do you think?"

"Really? You like him? He's cute and all, but you don't have much in common with him. Except a disposition committee, maybe." Tomas was grinning as if he were offering to tease Chuy into cheering up. But the committees were entirely different. Mark was a desirable immigrant, and it was only a matter of form that he had to demonstrate his worthiness to join the community and get a share in it.

"Yeah," Chuy said, deflated.

"Tell you what. He drives truck, right? But he's qualified for a history teacher. You study up, when you get back you'll have something to talk about with him."

"Sokay." The very thought of talking about history with a teacher, when he hadn't been in a school in so long -- not even a cutie like Mark could make that unintimidating.

"So you're going to be careful in muni town? Be cool? Keep your passion to yourself?"

"Yeah. I don't get why they're like that though. Used to be Chistas, most of them, like my folks. They get those ideas from someplace?"

"Because the people who set the tone there aren't Chistas and never were Chistas. They slopped over from the company towns."

"Don't get how they can set the tone when they just sneaked in yesterday," Chuy said, echoing an old frustration: The Altagracia Valley was supposed to have been set aside during the development grant period just for the integral communities, the Ranchos, just as Best had been given to the industrial development collective, just as Prospect had been open to the collectives from home, just as Hallow had been given to the religious communities who called themselves Pioneers.

"Sneaked in yesterday with corporativista money and corporativista attitudes and corporativista resources from Heimisch, and they do what they like," Tomas said. "But the line workers aren't in the corporate collectives, and when they get sick of it they move on, and where they move to is the municipio, and when they move there they've got dollars in their pockets and they set the tone. Don't forget that in the municipio, chico, the dollars are in the pockets of the maquilistas, and they run the place, no matter how many ex-Chistas you see."

"I'll be careful."

"Yeah, but can you be careful at a party?"

"I got to. I'm not going to get drunk anyway. Ever."

"Did I hear you say that last Valentine's when you woke up in the recycle sorter?"

"This time it's true. I step on that bus it's the road to no more drinking."

Chuy let the silence lay for a moment. "Bus will be here in a minute."

"I can stay until it comes, if you want."

"Nah, you go on back, it's okay. I got to catch up on my sleep. I been awake pretty much since I woke up next to the tractor."

"You sleep careful then. You were lucky to wake up at all."

"Maybe that was lucky. We'll see."

"Don't be too sorry for yourself. You got your whole life to work things out. And you're good at your job. Like what you did to my bike. And I heard you got the tractor back good as new."

"Better than new. But they still didn't let me stay."

"Just till you're eighteen, chico. That'll come, if you don't do anything too stupid."

"Yeah."

A/N: Really, tell me if this is all too obscure, okay? I tried to make it clear, while allowing the poeple to speak like they do.