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Literature
Nodding at Strangers
I recognise him!
From the shop,
Two pints of Carling
And some bread
Every Thursday night.
I tilt my head in greeting,
A nod of recognition,
For services rendered,
Profits margins met,
Last year's targets beaten.
He grimaces,
Doesn't see me...
No name badge perhaps,
No uniform to pinpoint our mutual recognition.
We pass on by,
He doesn't look back,
I carry on, heart slumping low.
Maybe next time he'll see,
Maybe next time something will click,
Maybe next time he'll know,
And nod back.
Maybe next time I should say 'hello'.
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Literature
Seeker Star: Striking the Iron Hot
"We are a simple farming community," Renk-Tollen had told her. "We have no need for these weapons, or your war."
Noble sentiments, yet deluded.
She had tried to explain, "Pirates need food. You have more than enough."
"And we will share. A surplus is always maintained."
He was too... naive. "What about when they demand it all, and threaten pain if there is none available upon their return?"
It was a lie, but a calculated one. Gailler knew that these supposed pirates of hers would probably not be back for months. To do so would risk destruction at the hands of their hunters. Thus they would move around, targeting moments of opportunity but never lingering long enough for the distress signals to attract potential trouble. Even a Corvette could relay insightful telemetry to an ILM Capital. So they would be gone by the time Search-and-Rescue showed up. 
But they would return. That was the bottom line. They would come back and demand the produce harvested and any salt from refined sea-
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Mature content
Debt Collectors: The Twenty Seventh Year :iconserpenthydra:Serpenthydra 0 0
Literature
A Difference of Opinion
"You still don't understand do  you? After all that we have been though you still feel it your duty to stand against me."
 "That is the way of our order, the strong must always thrive. The weak shall always fall. You are weak, your strategies are failing and it is my duty to protect all we have fought for by bringing new leadership to our order."
 "Despite the things we have found, despite the wonders we have seen you still cannot grasp the bigger picture. For you it is but power and strength."
 "Through strength our chains will be broken."
 "Dying words of a dead order. We are but a shadow of itself. A beast of the night resurrected solely to protect what we hold dear."
 "Your compassion is laughable Master. You do not understand the ideals of the Sith, you hide behind them and hope your faithful servant will not question your convictions."
 "I have stronger convictions than you ever could. What have you sacrificed to the cause? What have you given u
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Mature content
Tracing Tracer :iconserpenthydra:Serpenthydra 0 0

Activity


I recognise him!
From the shop,
Two pints of Carling
And some bread

Every Thursday night.
I tilt my head in greeting,
A nod of recognition,
For services rendered,
Profits margins met,
Last year's targets beaten.

He grimaces,
Doesn't see me...
No name badge perhaps,
No uniform to pinpoint our mutual recognition.

We pass on by,
He doesn't look back,
I carry on, heart slumping low.

Maybe next time he'll see,
Maybe next time something will click,
Maybe next time he'll know,
And nod back.


Maybe next time I should say 'hello'.
Nodding at Strangers
Short free verse poem based on real life...
Loading...
"We are a simple farming community," Renk-Tollen had told her. "We have no need for these weapons, or your war."
Noble sentiments, yet deluded.
She had tried to explain, "Pirates need food. You have more than enough."
"And we will share. A surplus is always maintained."
He was too... naive. "What about when they demand it all, and threaten pain if there is none available upon their return?"
It was a lie, but a calculated one. Gailler knew that these supposed pirates of hers would probably not be back for months. To do so would risk destruction at the hands of their hunters. Thus they would move around, targeting moments of opportunity but never lingering long enough for the distress signals to attract potential trouble. Even a Corvette could relay insightful telemetry to an ILM Capital. So they would be gone by the time Search-and-Rescue showed up. 
But they would return. That was the bottom line. They would come back and demand the produce harvested and any salt from refined sea-water. It was inevitable. It was a game of attrition and the Pirates would always be the ones on the losing end. Which made bullies of some, and habitual abusers of the rest.
But the old man had smiled that wizened grin of his, his confidence, as founder and defacto leader of his community, enough to satisfy any doubts.

The still-smouldering wheat fields stung her eyes, making them water painfully. A comforting hand upon her shoulder, Renk-Tollen's widow smiled reassuringly, misreading her apparent grief. Looking on as the founder's coffin was lowered into the ground, it was hard not to associate one with the other.

Striking the Iron Hot

"I'll give you five more days, and then we are moving on," Commander Dross said, pulling his crisp uniform flush clean of wrinkles and crease. "I understand you haven't had much success. Perhaps the recent mishap will encourage their support."
Gailler saluted as her commanding officer opened the rustic wooden door and made their way out to the waiting Rover. Again she checked the room's furnishings for listening devices and other bugs. It had been a week since she'd first arrived and yet Renk-Tollen's knowing smile still made her pause and check again.
The colony had started small enough, as one would expect of an Independently Developed World. Just a few transports and the people who would start a life here. Within three months they had built their first proper house. Within six they had buildings for all families. And within a year they had a water-wheel, stores and some manufacture. Impressive, but no doubt helped along by the presence of modern amenities such as the transports and cargo haulers, all of which had now been stripped and relegated into building materials of one type or another.
Still, technology was  technology, no matter how one might re-purpose it. And so she was continually vigilant as to how it might have been used against her staff. The founder's spiel had seemed pretty genuine. Yet it would be a very cold day in Hades when she let her guard down out of mere trust.

Immediately her throat and eyes itched as she left the small meeting house, that had been provided to act as a makeshift office. She still preferred the tent that made up her base of operations, if only for the guard that patrolled it perimeter. The air remained oddly heavy despite the fires having been extinguished by now. Perhaps it was grief, which to some degree was palpable - ashen faced villagers milling everywhere. Some looked at her in renewed disdain, others shied away fearful. And the rest, small groups scattered about, appeared ready to fight.
Good. That was anger she could use.
Renk-Tollen's widow could be found within the founder's house, the first house, packing up their possessions. As community Leader, Renk-Tollen was entitled to the largest property. But his widow was not. Yet they could stay here until a new leader was found.
"Too painful," said the older man. "We were happy here. Now all I see are bad memories."
"That's a pity," Gailler said, browsing the various knick-knacks. "I would have hoped you might continue his work."
"Refuting you, you mean?" the widow said, shaking his head. "You needn't be so kind, you know. I was very keen to see your proposal fail. We didn't believe your warnings. It all seemed like a way for those up there," he gestured to the ceiling, "to keep an eye upon us."
"And now?"
The widow shrugged, "My husband is gone. And I am alone. I just want to be left a while, to pick up the pieces. Work out what I want."
"Surely safety, I would have thought? An assurance that nothing will happen to you children or theirs."
"I know what it is you are doing. And guilt-trips won't work upon me. Thomas and I tried for children once. But it was not to be."
"Which is to say nothing of those families who still have that responsibility."
"Then it is to them I leave such decisions. I cannot be the one who decides."

That left only three others who could. Gailler was not a fan of any.

1

"A tad callous to be asking these questions, only hours after our leader is in the ground."
"A saying of my father's," smiled Gailler. "Strike whilst the Iron is hot."
"A blacksmith's term, hardly appropriate considering the cause of the Founder's demise, don't you think?"
"I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Thomas died due to smoke inhalation. As the result of fire. What else is a blacksmith known for?"
Seth Rolt was an old hand of the cosmos. He'd been Renk-Tollen's go-to-guy for all practical concerns. This was his retirement. But with dependability came the assumption of leadership and trust. His stake was high, having a wife, childreb and even the glimmer of a legacy. The colony was five years old but already some people had planned the next ten. Rolt was one such person.
"Thomas was good man, from what I saw," said Gailler. "I imagine he saw you as his successor."
"And as such you want me to agree to your plans."
"Peace of mind for your constituents-"
"-My 'constituents'! I think you have a very warped idea of what this place is."
"Well, your fellow villgers then. Those who depend on you in some way."
"And you expect this defence system to bring peace of mind. Not make us a target."
"As I was telling Thomas, you are a target anyway. Why risk additional retribution?"
"Then this was pirate activity?"
"Yes, to soften you up. So that when they threaten hardball it will be something to take seriously."
"And they did it right under your nose," Seth smiled humorlessly at her. "How, embarrassing!"
She sniffed his tone away, the slight meaning little to her.

The second possibility was Rex Shart, once the joker of the group, so she had been informed. Death of their parents had sobered them considerably and now they were resource manager to the whole farm.
"I don't have time for this."
"Mister Shart, please."
"Rex. 'Mister Shart' was my father."
"Of course, I'm sorry. But even so we need to discuss certain considerations."
"Like your defence system?"
"It's not MY defence system. It's the colony's and as such designed to help you all. To prevent further tragedies, such as the one that has recently occurred, from happening again."
"Really? And what about winter? Will it guard us against its biting chill? The way it can strike down aged and infirm despite the fire you have made in the hearth? Or the way it steals the breathe from your lungs when you leave to get food from the stores. Will it protect against that?"
"Please, Rex. These tragedies, as terrible and inconsolable as they might be, are blessed relief to the barbarity of a pirate strike. The fire just gone was only a taste of their savagery."
"Then you're saying that they attacked us whilst you were here? What good would a fancy defence system do us then."
"We cannot track foreign ship presence, but it can. It'll see who's coming and going. That means if a pirate does show up, you'll know they are coming."
"We already have such a system. It's called a telescope."
"A rudimentary method and not a reliable one."
"Say what you will. I trust Malcolm's eyes more than anything you can give me..."
They wouldn't hear anymore of her words as they stormed off to the colony's fields.

The third person of note was the town's administrator, a rather tight faced woman by name of Tabitha Wells, no relation. She was pushing fifty but years of sun made her look almost seventy, brunette hair bleached by the sols of many systems. She rarely smiled.
"I know what you've come to say."
"Then I expect you to have a good reason to say 'no'?"
"Not really, but nor am I open to your suggestions. Even if I were Leader, which I am not."
"You effectively run this place?"
"I suppose so, but I wouldn't hedge my bets if I were you."
"You don't intend to run?"
"Being Leader is more than management. It's being the face of the colony. The one all look to in the hardest of winters."
"Something you've done before."
"What do you mean?"
Gailler took a breath and smiled as candidly as she could. "The others may not have files but you certainly do. We've seen your handiwork on six other systems. You may be an administrator, but we know you've been leader on no less than eight colony sites, three of those capitols. You're more than qualified."
"Smug all you want, it doesn't mean I ever wanted to lead Renk-Tollen's efforts."
"But you of all people understand the benefits of our tracking system."
"Indeed. And that is why I would say 'no'."
"'No'?"
"Early warning for your own efforts rather than our protection. And don't even think of countering with that defence grid proposal. Look around you, what do you see? Green fields, clean air. No smoke, no pollution. That was Renk-Tollen's idea. To create a clean paradise, a pure idea of one. No dirty manufacture or steaming production plants. Simple, frugal. Beautiful. And that is what we have. Your additions, no matter their means, would just dirty the waters."
"If this is paradise then isn't it worth protecting?"
"Better to lose paradise than see it subverted into something foul. 'For the common good', you will argue. But what good is that when the soul of the colony has been routed by military practicality. I've seen it once too often to allow this place to succumb. Find someone else to persuade."

Gailler sighed at the situation. She had five days left to get a decision. It would be better for all if it were one made willingly...

2

Command would act if it had to, but she wasn't averse to failure. Without the colony's help the surveillance grid would have to remain entirely in orbit, even though such things often benefited greatly from ground-side monitoring. However, to avoid sabotage from angry or dissatisfied residents the control systems would have to be placed elsewhere. This would work to some extent but the colony was a prime target for pirate activity, a focal point. Thus it would be difficult to track and monitor without some systems based in the town.
Gailler still had options but she didn't want them to be completely underhanded, like secretly burying a control node on site - suppose it needed to be maintained or was inadvertently found. Yet it was a least a few days before the gloves could come off.
She would step gently before then.

The colony had been planned out pretty well, with storehouses based near the main sites of production. Despite having had access to advanced biometrically controlled locking systems, the architects of this place seemed to driven by an obsessive need to be basic almost upon every level. Thus the advanced locking systems known to them were shelved in favour of something more rudimentary: A big brass key.
With a flourish, Jorge Tragent, the farm's chief resource guard, twisted the implement and opened the door to the largest storehouse.
"See, all present a correct," he said with grin.
Indeed, this storehouse was full, wooden rafters keeping the produce, within their hessian sacks, raised above the floor and allowing air circulation around the whole unit. It was almost Roman in its design, indeed there were many lessons to be learnt by that advanced civilisation. But still Gailler had to tut and shake her head, for all such advances were trumped by modern practices. It was as if they were trying to live a dream.
'Paradise'? More like denial...
"Suppose an infection takes hold, fungal spores for instance, and soils the stores?" Gailler wondered.
"We check daily, so we know if such a thing is happening," Jorge shrugged. "The soiled stores are removed and added to compost."
"Then fire or water damage?"
"Naked flames are forbidden from within the houses. We check the roofs for leaks before and after every storm."
"Frost then."
"We heat up the floors during winter, keep warm air circulating. Sometimes frost helps, depending on produce. Keeps it for far longer than say, in summer."
"A bad harvest then. Poor yield."
"That is the point of the stores. Also, something I learnt back home-"
"-Which is where?"
"Peru... An acquired taste."
"Peru?"
"No, the dehydrated Potato. Something the Inca survived on when local food sources were denied. We have many stores of such."
"And if that is still not enough?"
"We have yet to use them but we have some high energy ration packs. But they remain thoroughly unused."
"Then drought, or some other calamity."
"We have deep wells. And stores of water."
"Theft then."
"I have the only keys. I keep them hidden away safe," Jorge sighed, contentedly to himself. "I'm sorry, but you won't find me hoping for your defence grid either. I am perfectly satisfied that what resources we do have are perfectly suited to our needs."
"It's interesting you defer to the Inca for farming advice," smirked Gailler.
"Indeed. We have yet to fully implement their teachings, many of them being lost after all, but in time I hope to create terraces of our hills and perhaps even an Incan greenhouse, to experiment with different kinds of crop," the guard shuddered. "I'm quite excited for such possibilities."
"Then you will need protection for such endeavours."
"We don't need your protection."
"Why not? You don't think others won't envy this little slice of heaven you have developed for yourselves."
"It was not Renk-Tollen's desire. And it is as such, not mine."
"And suppose your future leader decides it is?"
"Then I will protest and vote against it, as we have always done."
"Your Inca, your mighty ancients. They were visited by pillagers and conquerors. What good did dehydrated potato do them?"
"Some survived solely because of the potato. Machu Picchu for instance, its inhabitants lived off of those stores for many years."
"But the Inca still died. Their cities invaded and destroyed, temples pillaged and worshippers attacked and slaughtered. And anyone who didn't succumb to the sword or gun were finished off by disease."
"Your point?"
"Pirates will use a lot less to get what they want. They've already killed your leader. How long will you wait before it's too late and they take your stores?"
"I will react to actual facts, not bland suppositions."
They passed several more storehouses before approaching the last of the six. It was small squat building, one of the first to be built. It stored grain for bread production.

Jorge readied his key but the means met empty space, the lock having been gouged out, the door caved in. Within what remained of the stores had been dashed to the floor in an apparent fit of anger. A few loaves had been left to prove here but they too had been trampled.
Jorge's expression became unreadable. But Gailler's point remained.
"How much longer will you wait?"

3

".....stop her going around. It's not right."
"We can't prevent her from doing anything, Rex. Or do you want Thomas to start spinning his grave right this second?"
"You leave him out of this. Have some respect for... Father? I wasn't expecting you to be here tonight?"
"Gentlemen. I see Tobias is up to their old tricks again."
"Just a precaution, Father. She was in here the other day, we can't be too careful."
"I hardly think the Lieutenant would be so callous as to wire tap us, so to speak."
"I don't doubt it, but we need to be sure. Toby?"
"...Nothing. Place is clean, far as I can tell."
"Thank you. Now please, back to your post."
"You expecting trouble, Seth?" pondered the Father.
"Ask Jorge if he thinks we shouldn't."
"Ah yes, the grain theft."
"More like vandalism..." sighed the guard.
"It was only a small store, was it not? Surely it's a limited loss."
"It's the bigger picture, Father," said Seth. "A success there spells doom for the other stores."
"Was it Lieutenant Gailler's pirates?"
"No, it was Gailler herself," Rex snorted.
"Surely not."
"It surely is an extreme measure," Seth said.
"Then you're naive to the depths they'll sink."
"Tabitha? When did you get here?"
"Since when was I barred?"
"Never barred. But Frankell told me you and he had crossed words?"
"Yes, concerning the Lieutenant in fact. Like you Father, he underestimated her zeal to persuade us. And it cost him his husband's life."
"Surely you can't mean...?"
"That is a little extreme, Tabitha."
"Scoff all you want, Seth. I know I am right. And you are all fools to believe anything but."
"Not all us, Miss Wells."
"Frankell? What are you doing here?"
"I came to voice my opinion. Provide my support."
"You may be Thomas' widow, but you are not an elder."
"I was welcome when he was alive."
"That was his prerogative.  Those days are past... The door is behind you..."
"...Was that wise, Tabitha? We need strength in this time. Excluding Frankell isn't a good idea."
"You think yourself already elected, don't you Seth? You're already packed and ready to move into his house."
"And you have become far colder and more cynical since he died. There was a time when that friction helped us all, kept our interests alight, made a competition worth striving for. Now it's just dividing us."
"Divide and Conquer, that is the military's moto, Seth. You should do well to remember that."
"Ladies, Gentlemen, please," interjected the Father.

"Mike-One to Command," Gailler's radio suddenly squelched, drawing her attention from the speaker. "We have Indigos in Oscar-Zulu. How should we proceed?"
"Range?" asked her staff sergeant, Hills.
"About, twenty meters."
"Can they see you?," Gailler said.
"Black as pitch out here, Ma'am. And they've got fire on sticks."
"Is that a 'no', trooper?" Hills said.
"Fire's playing hell with the night vision."
"Switch to infra-red. Stay on target. Inform us if they get any closer."
Gailler turned back to the speaker, Tabitha Wells was preaching.
"I've worked on a least one I.L.M colony. They're run on efficiency, which means they'll do everything necessary to attain success. You got a rock in the way, they'll remove. Need a mountain side base, they'll haul out the rock and settle in fast. They want you to have a defence grid, they'll make you have one."
"But murder, Tabitha?" said Seth. "I can't believe that they would do that."
"Thomas was an obstacle, Rolt. And what do you do with obstacles that can't be circumvented?"
"This doesn't help to decide what we can do," the Father said. "If we react they will surely shut us down."
"We could ask them to leave?" Jorge said, Wells strangling a derisory laugh.
"They will go once they have what they want."
"According to Malcolm," said Rex, "there are already satellites in orbit. I guess they have already built this grid."
"Then what do they need us for?"
"Insurance, Father," said Wells. "Somewhere to house control systems for the grid. If only Thomas had recognised our need to declare capital status."
"Surely we're not large enough?" Seth said.
"Doesn't matter. Even a contested claim is enough to keep foreign debris out of our skies. The I.L.M has to respect the contest until a clear winner is defined and their approval sought."
"Why didn't Thomas declare this?"
"He was afraid it would draw competition to the planet," said Rex. "I heard him talking about it once. Filing paperwork would have alerted others to this place and that usually brings competition looking for colony planting."
"If he had done it," sniffed Wells, "we wouldn't have some military patsy pestering our village. But as it stands, we're just would-be claimants. In law we have as much right to be here as the I.L.M have to set up their array."
"Then surely it's a forgone conclusion?" Seth said. "We allow them access, we control the yoke. Better to have a foot in the door and then be left outside in the cold."
"But Thomas never wanted that! He never wished us to be part of that thing up there!"
"Rex, Thomas wanted us to be free. Surely this ensures that freedom?"
"From what?" snapped Wells. "Certainly not the military. We agree to this they'll be here for decades and we won't ever be free again. First it's control systems, then a staff for maintenance. Then a base to keep them safe followed by a ship to keep it safe. And then constant resupply. In the end they are the power, with the capital. And we are the lambs who willingly gave themselves to the slaughter."
"Then what about these pirates? What happens when they show up?"
"You mean 'if'. Don't be mutton, Rolt. There are no pirates. It is just them trying to scare us."
"By killing our leaders?"
"It is all tactics, and little more. There is no pirate threat, just a military one. And if you buy into it, you'll be guilty of killing the dream we set out here to create."

Gailler turned from the speaker to Hillls, "Well, they are certainly divided."
"But is it enough to gain traction?"
"Depends. We need proof. Anything on your front?"
"Potentially. It might not be much however."
"Anything is better than nothing. Just the concept might frighten them."
"What about something more potent. An attack for instance."
"With a terrible death toll? We are trying to persuade, not depopulate. This could go either way. We need just enough to push them into Rolt's camp. But too much and it'll be Wells who wins and then we'll never see cooperation. At least not until it is too late."
"There's always plan B..."
"I'll voice that at sit-rep tomorrow. See what command thinks," she looked over to the burbling speaker, the actors within championing and dismissing their ideas oblivious to their presence. "Wrap it up, I've heard all I can."
"Mike-Alpha-One," Hills said into his radio. "Withdraw from Oscar-Zulu and extract to command."
His radio squelched as the surveillance team acknowledged and stowed the directional-mic, the speaker fading into nonchalant static a moment later.

4

Commander Dross made a face and turned to his second, Lt. Rebecca Chort. "Options?"
Their image flickered as the officer brushed invisible dust from their uniform. "Considering the impact so far, I agree with Lieutenant Gailler's assement. We just need one good push and we'll have their support."
"Status of the array?" Gailler said.
"About ninety percent complete," Dross informed. "We can see most of the skies but naturally that effect will end once we leave. Should we get clearance, how fast can we install."
"We'll be setup inside of a day," Gailler nodded with assurance. "We just need a place to plug it."
"Power?" said Chort.
"On-site batteries. In time that could be updated to either solar or Are-Tee-Dee-Compacts."
"Presuming you win access for those."
"That may happen in time," Dross said. "But on the short term, batteries are best. We'll need to visit occasionally to smooth out any interface issues. How effective would an on-site staff be?"
"There is some fear against that, for it implies additional interference."
"What do they think we are?" frowned Chort. "Colonisers?"
"Conquistadors, of course."
"I... don't get the reference."
"I feel that this attitude would fail should the staff 'muck in', get involved with the crops and become part of the community rather than remain outside of it."
"Then we will need specialist staff for this gig?"
"Seems like. It would keep more vocal assets subdued."
"Miss Wells?" Dross said.
"Indeed."
"And should the worst come to pass? I assume you have an alternative?"
"Yes, Sir. There is a mine to the east which they have begun excavating for base metals."
"Anything of note?"
"We found a vein of silver and deeper still, possibly diamond."
"That would give them some bartering power," Chort said looking to Dross' hologram.
"But they wouldn't use it. Their goal is to maintain this... perfect existence and keep certain amenities to a minimum. Precious minerals for instance. Besides, some would say that food and water are of greater value."
"Agreed. So this mine would be a good location?"
"We could blow the entrance to the inner caves. We have already found a few entrances that the locals are unaware of. Control infrastructure could be built in more or less the same amount of time as the village build."
"Issue would be maintenance," Chort said. "If we were to keep it a secret."
"Fallout if we didn't?" Dross said.
"Limited," said Gailler. "But all it would take is a lucky hit to cripple our network."
"Best they don't know. What of the Hills' package?"
"Secure, Sir."
"And ready for deployment?"
"Yes, Sir. Though where to release, is something we are debating."
"Near the population centre," Chort said. "They've felt the pinch on their crops and stores. If one death is not enough then perhaps the threat of more than one will tip the balance."
"But for whom, Sir? Wells or Rolt."
"Mutton, or lamb... Target the children. Adults are expected to hold their own. But children are always seen as innocents. And danger to them will always dictate where one's loyalties lie."
"And what of the package?" 
"We'll leave its disposal to your discretion," Dross nodded. "Keep us informed. Report complete. Command out."
Their holograms flickered from view and the comm. line closed. Gailler tapped at her Feed interface and cancelled the eye-bot's overlay, the stark environs of her command tent brightening as the filters fell away from the natural sunlight that was pushing in through the canopy's transparent roof.
Her orders were clear. The end was finally in sight. But she had one last voice to probe before the end, just to be sure.
***
"And what can I do for you, my child."
"Your openness is astounding!"
"Why?" said the Father within the environs of his open-air church, its boundary denoted by pillars of rock and slabs of stone for the parishioners to sit upon. "Because I am not filled with wariness for your agenda."
"You don't fear it? That I might ruin this place?"
"In what way? Our cynicism is more of a hindrance then anything you can do."
"Tabitha calls that blind optimism."
"We must forgive her, she is concerned that Thomas' memory will be tarnished by changes he never sanctioned. Of course he often changed his mind. Thus, I feel he may have come round to another way of thinking."
"So, I will have your blessing?"
"Contrary to popular belief, I am not some simpleton who fails to grasp the notion of military duplicity. Before I was a chaplain here I too served with the Inter-League Military, as Tabitha once did. However, whereas she was their guest for one project, I was on tour multiple times, giving peace and benefit to the many within our house. I helped all creeds as best I could, to come to terms with the isolation they felt out there. In the Big Black. So I know. And whilst I understand that there are certain pressures, I will not bow to the possibilities presented."
"Like Rex does."
"Mister Shart is a reactionary, for obvious reasons. His loyalties lie with the one who knows their own mind the most. The one who acts, much as Miss Wells is prone to do."
"She blames me, y'know? For Thomas..."
"I do. But you are not to blame. These things happen. They are tragic..."
"And through tragedy one can garner support. Hence Tabitha's caution."
"That is true. But to assume one transgression simply for another's gain... defeats the purpose of this colony. It is an insult to Thomas to assume such."
"Then you feel the colony would back me."
"Some would. But perhaps another misfortune would cement the doubters."
"More misfortune? What precisely are you saying?"
The Father shrugs and looks to the hills. "It is a simple matter of fact. We do need protection, much as Miss Wells would like to assume we need anything but. Even the implication of threat is enough to drive need. And I have seen what such callous wisdom can lead to. I have walked through what remains. It is not pretty, nor can one bring back the dead. Counselling the survivors is an unenviable job, one that is made all the worse by raw recrimination, especially should the naysayers be amongst those that made it through. I have seen it, I know it to be true. Thus, whilst the drive for change is strong, it needs to be strengthened."
"How? More store break-ins? Fire? Death...?"
"Whatever the requirements might be, I think you already know what is needed."
"... May God have mercy on my soul..."
"The benefits for us all, outweigh the cons."
"But the price..."
"Is worth it. And we will cherish the memory in the only way possible. By surviving."

5

Hill's package was a sorry looking wretch, a glim looking waif that he had apprehended upon the outskirts of the colony. They looked through the bars with such smudged dirty features, almost too thin to be healthy... or real.
"Fatten him up."
"In a day?" Hills frowned.
Gailler looked between the waif and the staff sergeant. "I can hardly sell the threat if it looks like this. A pirate should at least look like they could pose a threat, not collapse at a slight gust of wind."
The young creature looked back, eyes near sunken, cheeks hollow and skin ghost white and cracked dry.
"We think their ship is some miles distant."
"Did they come here just to break locks?"
"And start fires."
"Indeed."
"Their attacks are small but I reckon they will gain strength once we leave."
"The array will track them one way or another."
"Then we owe it to these people to find their ship and shut it down before we go."
"I agree. Any hints from this one?"
Hills shook his head, "none. I feel he doesn't know. Sometimes they put out strays just to scout. Reward is survival and... loot."
"Loot?"
"Food, water. Riches."
"So there could be others."
"Yes, Ma'am."
"And the threat they pose?"
"Negligible."
"Positive?"
"We have them locked up. I'll deploy as you see fit."
"Lieutenant Gailler?" said a voice from the door.
"What is it Corporal?" Hill's called.
"Messenger from the town. They want to see you."
"Who does?" Gailler said turning from the prisoner.
"Someone called, Wells?"
She sighed. "Keep monitoring the situation. I'll return presently."
***
The Rover pulled up at the central house and Gailler disembarked. More villagers appeared to be armed and others had assembled packs of dogs, often used for hunting. She could feel an atmosphere of tension creeping into the daily lives of these people though she wasn't sure why.
She knocked on the door but the person who opened it was not Tabitha.
"Father Pearson?"
"Hello again, my child."
"Where is Tabitha. She... summoned me."
"Fret not what the Lord asks of those he calls upon."
"Is that some Bible speak or something?"
"Only an assurance that we can but do our best. Tabitha was here but she left to be with her flock."
"Who?"
"The children. She teaches them after all."
"Right..."
"The school house is over there."
Nodding to the driver, signalling him to wait, she made her way to the squat building up a rise. It was the only building equipped with a small tower and a bell and clock within, which rung at the start and end of the day's lessons. It had been an impressive sight until Renk-Tollen had showed the inner workings and she realised the clock was but a facsimile for the real thing, the time changed manually, the bell rung by hand. 'A work in progress' he had described it.
The whole colony was a work-in-progress as far as Gailler was concerned. And in this moment of crisis it was starting to show the loose threads at its seams. 
She found the kids gathered within, Wells at the front drawing diagrams on the chalk-board. "Finally!" Tabitha pouted and opened a door at the back, proffering it towards the lieutenant.
Once within she closed and locked the door. Gailler looked between her and the door. "You try anything, I am trained in close-quarters-combat techniques."
"I'm sure you are. I'm sure every member of your camp is a trained killer."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"You weren't satisfied with our caution, so now you've taken to kidnapping our youngest, our frailest."
"To what are we referring, Miss Wells?"
"Don't play coy with me."
"Then I really must demand you come clean."
"Toby Rolt, our youngest child did not come to school today."
"And this has what to do with me?"
"He was last seen playing near your camp with two of his brothers."
"Then hadn't you best ask them?"
"They are here and they say that Toby was particularly unwell this morning. I called round to see his Mother, but she asserts he left this morning."
"So he is playing truant. This is unusual for you?"
"Of course not!" Tabitha shook. "But it is for Toby. He has always been sickly, the runt of the litter if you will."
"If you must..."
"Last winter he almost didn't survive. Despite swearing off of such things, Renk-Tollen was forced to deploy a medical rig to keep him from death's door."
"Surely that is what such things were designed for?"
"To plug drugs and artificial nanites into a young body? That is precisely the reason many of us came here, to escape such false lives, our mortality propped up by fake medicines."
"Then why bring such systems with you? Surely the alternative is to allow him to... go. As nature demands it."
"That is unacceptable, and you know it."
"Then why decry the situation?"
Tabitha shuddered out a breath. "It made us question where we stood in regard to our principles. Some thought we had betrayed them by giving in to modern medicine. By taking the easy way out."
"As opposed to what? I'm sorry, Miss Wells, but you're preaching to the wrong person. I would have done what was necessary and not regretted it. If it is what was needed..."
"What about the next winter or the one after. What if that wretched rig is needed every time someone falls ill?"
"The rig is but one issue, surely?"
"Meaning?"
"Well what about a premature birth; a complication in the womb; a genetic aberration causing issue for both mother and child; a chronic affliction that will get progressively worse? If this is your worse fears then I feel that Toby will be the tip of the iceberg. And if natural remedies are insufficient then surely only advanced medicine can help any of these problems. And if that marks a betrayal of your ethics or whatever, then you have to be able to live with the pain and the hurt that all these issues may lead to. But whatever course of action you choose, it really has nothing to do with us."
"Really?" Tabitha made a face. "When I worked for the I.L.M, I saw something that shook me to my core."
"And what was that?"
"A dying soldier. They'd plugged every kind of drug into them but it wasn't enough. Still they died. And was that the end of it? No. They decided to extract what nanites they could so that they could use them again, on some other patient."
"Yes, the nanites will live on in a dead body long after death. If the body is to be buried then one will need to remove the nanites so that they don't infect the ground-soil or leak into the water-table. It's all ecologically motivated."
"And they are precious are they not?"
"They can be difficult to manufacture, I believe... wait. Are you suggesting that we tried to remove said nanites from Toby Rolt?"
"The thought did cross my mind."
"What a barbaric thing to do!"
"But it would be something you could do?"
"Not without killing the poor child. Is the animosity for us such that you would think us monsters?"
Tabitha shrugged, "It is probably no secret that we blame you for Renk-Tollen's death. For the farm fire. For the storehouse breakage."
"At least you do."
The older woman nodded.
"But to kidnap a young child and... rob him of the nanites that sustain. It would take a desperate individual to do that to anyone. Plus, this is the first I knew that anyone in the colony had nanites in them. Who else has such benefits, just in case they disappear as well...?"
"Only him. He was the exception to our rules."
"I can but look for him. But I swear that I had nothing to do with his truancy." Tabitha nodded dumbly, eyes watching something outside the room. "Now, the key if you please. So that I can go arrange a search party, if nothing else."
***
Gailler was en-route back to the Rover when the Gnat buzzed in hard overhead, surprising even her. It landed with a bump and she ran over to the gesticulating pilot. "What's the matter?"
"Situation back at base, Ma'am. Sergeant Hills sent me."
She stepped on board, the Gnat sailing into the air a second later. The colony buzzed away below, giving way to fields and its workers within each. The camp milled with action and the Gnat disgorged her into the base's rear access, where the brig was located.
She found Hills inside, the brig door open, the cell empty except for a small shape muffled by a tarp, and it wasn't the prisoner.
She knelt and raised the cover. "Toby Rolt..."
"Guard on duty found him like this, sans tarp," said Hills in a low tone. "That was for dignity."
"How?"
Hills shrugged, "After effects of trauma I reckon."
"Trauma?"
"Left arm."
She raised the appendage and found the dull two-pin bruise on the upper muscle. An extraction site. "I don't understand..."
"Misconception about nanite recall. Doesn't kill unless you don't administer aid afterwards. Like now."
"The pirate?"
"Couldn't have been. He didn't have any tools and we have nothing on-site."
"So someone else did this to him..."
"Seems like. Probably about twelve hours ago. Must've come here for some reason, looking for help. Found our prisoner. Let him out. Dies before we can find him."
"Probably thought the bastard would help him. Might have even been promised aid. Damn pirate wouldn't have cared one way or the other."
"I've assembled a patrol to look for them-"
"-Don't bother, they're gone," Gailler looked down over the young child's body; skin tanned by hours in the field, feet bare and dirty from living within paradise's dream, upon the bedrock's rich earth. She then let the tarp fall. "I feel he was meant to be found at home."
"Oh?"
"Another tragedy, 'to help cement support'."
"What was that?"
"Something I heard yesterday."
"Then, we are not to blame?"
"No..." Gailler took a breath. "But neither can be accept the implication. Sergeant, gather some men and secure the body. I think it's time we arranged for another fire. This time in the north field."

*

The ashen faced mourners, the support of hands about the small coffin, a caress of calloused paws upon the griever's frame. All text book from last time, except in this instance Rolt stood as the chief benefactor. Even his eldest looked to him for support. His grandson had been one of the colony's first children. Yet also one of the weakest. Now they were a symbol around which the pirate threat was magnified and focused.
He looked over towards Gailler, who stood upon the far side. She could almost see the smile within his eyes if not upon the mournful pout of lip. Beyond was Tabitha, her face swollen with grief. And yet wary eyes kept flitting back to send steel daggers at the refit crew who were on-hand, ready to install the monitoring systems.
An easterly wind kept the smouldering vapours from the northern fields at bay, but still Gailler found her eyes itching. Perhaps she was finally starting to see what Well's, and Thomas', recriminations had rested upon. But it wasn't some naive idea of paradise or a frugally masochistic desire to avoid modern convenience. Perhaps it was actually the innocence that had come from not knowing what the future might hold, from what lay around the corner.
But Gailler feared that such ideas had become lost the minute a father and his priest had decided that a single life was a cost worth paying to get the support they needed for their future. She wondered again at the injuries on Renk-Tollen's body, the ones they hadn't revealed to the colony. But the Father was speaking and his words stole her desire to care, choosing instead to stalk away and down the dirt road that led back to the camp.
***
With a shudder and a bloom from its rear engines, the Lifter took to the skies and moved upwards towards its escape vector. The camp had been packed up and most equipment stowed aboard the various escape ships. Only one remained: a Heavy-Lifter modified for long distance travel. It would need the extra fuel in order to catch up with the fleet as they left the system and headed for their next port of call. Gailler only needed a few days, she and her squad of men. Hills cocked and rechecked his rifle, the others looking over their equipment as they prepared to deploy. Gailler stood some paces distant, upon the flattened grass that had once housed her command centre. Eye-bot active, the hologram of Commander Dross wavered within the air before her.
"And if you should fail to find the pirate ship, what will you do then?"
"Give what ammunition and weapons we have spare to the garrison here. But I'm confident we will find what we seek. With the array in full effect and primary systems interfaced we'll see anything that doesn't fit in."
"And should that not be sufficient?"
"I have confidence in our garrison, Sir."
"I'm not referring to the garrison, Lieutenant."
"I'm sure they can take care of themselves. They aren't naive innocents after all."
"I hope so, for your sake, Lieutenant," Dross said before flickering away into the ether.
"They take such admirable care of each other, after all," Gailler said to the empty air.
"Ma'am?"
"Sergeant Hills."
"Troops ready to deploy."
Gailler looked over to the colony a mile distant, and sighed.
I hope it was worth it, Rolt...
"Carry on, Sergeant. Carry on."
Seeker Star: Striking the Iron Hot
Realised I haven't submitted anything for a while, so I wrote this. Set in my futuristic Seeker Star universe.
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Serpenthydra
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United Kingdom
For some reason I don't like talking about myself, except when it is relevant to a given situation...
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