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John trundles the pallet truck toward the ramp.

“A few of us acquired some things from Centra Medico on your behalf. Doesn’t seem right, just throwing you out.”

He smiles and I hope my embarrassment doesn’t show. ‘Civil war’ is a misnomer. It can be rude and brutal. But, despite the rabble-rousing and the hatred, good people remember that today’s enemies were yesterday’s neighbours, friends, and family.

Seven hundred colonies seceded from the Pax Centra, choosing to make their own way into the great unknown in a loose alliance devoid of big power blocs. After many weeks of negotiation and sporadic violence, it was decided that both sides would repatriate those who wished it and subsequently adopt a peaceful hands-off policy for six Earth months before returning to the negotiating table.

He smiles: “You understand I can’t stay, the Pax Police are keeping watch on any who come near you Free700 folk. Good luck.” He parks the load, shakes my hand, and leaves.

Ellen steps out of his way, then turns to watch him go.

“That man is vile, Jerome.”

I gesture to the pallet: “I wouldn’t go that far, but certainly didn’t expect him to turn up with a batch of shanghaied medical supplies.”

She looks at it, clearly unimpressed: “Nice of him.”

With a shrug, I ask her to close up and head off to check on things in this hastily fitted-out evacuation ship.

Lift off is hard, but everyone makes it. Reaching high orbit, we meet Free700 Cruiser ‘Rubinia’, settle in their cavernous hangar, disembark, and move to the mess hall. We still have a lot of interplanetary logistics to discuss: an exodus this big is without precedent.

An hour later, my attention to the details is waning. I become aware of a lot of running and hushed conversations in urgent tones. As I rise to investigate, two officers run in.

“Did you get a shipment of medical supplies just before you lifted?”

“Yes. Why?”

“It’s a thermonuke! Damn Pax just destroyed the evacuation group!”

My vision blurs. How many dead? John, you bastard!

I hear many versions of the same question: “What about us?”

The pair shrug, looking scared.

“Don’t know why we’re still here.”

“I left it behind.” Ellen’s shout silences the hall.

She raises a finger: “Any man who treats his family like John did isn’t generous. When that sort gives, it’s with the intent of taking more. So, when Jerome left me to close the cargo bay, first thing I did was roll John’s ‘gift’ outside.”

Well, I’ll be damned. People are patting her on the back and cheering while the two officers make hasty comms calls. My sister just won another point in our ongoing disagreement about her intuition. This time, she did it by saving the lives of two thousand people.

I pause and grab one of the officers.

“Did a thermonuke just go off at the spaceport?”

He smiles: “Thankfully not. They must have seen Ellen dump it and deactivated it.”

“Do we have any spies down there?”

Now I have their complete attention.

“Neither of us will answer that.”

“I’m not asking you to. I just want a man by the name of John Raberton the Third to find out there are grim consequences for trying to nuke your neighbours.”

They exchange glances. Two thin smiles appear.

“We’re sure that can be arranged, sir.”
My third for December on 365tomorrows.com

This one came out of nowhere, on the tail of a mental image of a bloke in shiny dungarees trundling a load toward the ramp of some battered bulk freighter. In the shadows of the bay, you could just make out someone watching him approach.
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December 18, 2017
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