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Colony Lines

Colony Lines

Brett P. S.

 

Table of Contents

 

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

 

Chapter 1

Shooting Star

Ares-2, Colony Outpost

 

Marco Crowley slung his rifle over his loose jacket shoulder pad and dropped his cigarette on the ground before pressing it cold with the tip of his boot. He huffed a puff of a cold fall’s night air before glancing across his post in time to catch Dr. Mandala approaching him from the medical tent. She wore her long black hair in a bun tied tightly from behind, and her coat looked immaculate, considering the breadth of her position. A lot of bodies must go through that tent in an hour let alone a day’s time.

He kicked what remained of his drag out onto the grass underneath the fence that surrounded the encampment. Ares-2 was more than a hop and skip away from Terra, but he’d owned up to parting ways when he signed up for the endeavor. Even if by some miracle the Armada did move him to the homeland, the brass mentioned some jargon about time dilation.

It flew through one ear and out the other, but the limited human longevity part stuck with him. Bah. Marco spat on the ground, but his face flushed when Dr. Mandala reached him, her hands wrapped around a clipboard. She cocked an eyebrow, pointing down at the drag he’d tried to cover up with his boot and some dirt.

“Mr. Crowley, I’d advise against antagonizing your condition.”

Marco sighed. “You want me to quit, but you won’t give me the meds for it.”

“Shipments take time,” she said. “Sometimes months. Besides, it’s more a matter of willpower than anything else.”

“Tell that to my old man,” Marco said, pointing up. “I’m sure he’d like to hear it, Doc.”

Dr. Mandala inched back, lowering her head. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Crowley. I meant no offense.”

“Look, I have a lot of problems, Doc. You can’t fix them all.” He smiled. “Hell, they got you stretched thin as it is.”

“Indeed,” she said. “Border skirmishes won’t quit. I don’t know why we keep doing this to ourselves.”

Marco shrugged as he gazed out into the wilderness. An open field of green spread out from the steel toes of his boots for about two miles before a blanket of forest covered the rest. The atmosphere faded into the dim blackness of a night sky.

“Shipments take time,” he said, grinning. “Deep space travel doesn’t mean much if ferrying cargo isn’t cost efficient. Take the scarcity of supplies and add in the fact that Colonies can go a decade without direct contact from the Armada, and it’s a recipe for dissent.”

“I don’t believe you, Mr. Crowley,” she replied, clutching her clipboard. “People are better than that. The insurgents must desperately need something important from our Colony. This isn’t cowboys and Indians. People don’t launch attacks on Armada Colonies unless it’s a matter of life and death.”

She kept doing that. What was so important on that clipboard?

Marco shook his head. “Forgot my manners, Doc. You have something for me?”

“Um …” she said with a pause. “Yes, I …”

Dr. Mandala’s words trailed off as her gaze shifted from Marco to something she caught in the corner of her eyes. Marco followed her line of sight to a faint beacon, like a moving star shifting slightly as it grew in intensity. He squinted at the glimmer that churned in the sea of starlight until his arms tingled, and his eyes lit up.

Marco grabbed Dr. Mandala’s arm and pulled her away, running across the encampment as the falling object flew through the sky and crashed down, ripping a ravine of mud and rock through the grasslands. The spacecraft grinded through the fields for dozens of meters before it broke through the fencing and slowed to a steaming stop, inches from Dr. Mandala’s medical tent.

Marco rose to his feet, gesturing for her to stay behind as he cocked his rifle and leveled his sights on the cockpit. The glass bowl lifted, puffs of steam oozing out as a figure clad in a blue uniform stained with red blood crawled out. His arms struggled to hold his own weight, and by the look of it, he’d sustained multiple injuries. Well, what was one more for the road? Marco took aim but choked up at the sight of Dr. Mandala darting in front of him. She held her arms out to block his view of the collapsed pilot.

“Stand aside, Doc,” he said with a groan. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Out of the question,” she said. “This man requires immediate medical attention.”

“He requires a bullet.”

Dr. Mandala stepped forward and placed her hand on the barrel of his gun. With reluctance, Marco rolled his eyes and lowered his rifle.

“There,” she said. “That wasn’t so hard now. Think of the benefits our new captive could offer Armada intel.”

Marco slung his rifle back across his shoulder. “I’m trying to, ma’am, but right now all I see are problems.”

 

Chapter 2

Village Idiots

Colony Outpost, Convene

 

Marco Crowley covered his mouth as he coughed. He took his seat amongst the audience of the Convene, a somewhat symbolic jury next to Governor Gerard. The tent that housed their little debate was taller than most in the outpost, but the wisps of air that flowed freely through the folds brought a dose of chills to Marco.

While Gerard sat here, more could be following in the wake of the first arrival. Marco shoved the idea back down and focused on the Governor’s speech. Much as he disagreed, this part was necessary. The Colonists couldn’t just hang the convict. Marco could, but they couldn’t. Looking around at their faces, it was less of a trial and more of a ‘what to do about our little problem’ kind of dinner theatre, the man in question not present.

Marco had seen him prior to the gathering. Man hadn’t said much intelligible. Dr. Mandala said he’d suffered multiple concussions, and he might not be fit to speak for a few days, if that. Marco huffed and leaned back just as the Governor finished his obligatory oratory.

“So,” Gerard began. “The question for our agenda tonight is a complicated matter.” Sure. Complicated. The Governor continued. “The way I see it, we can do one of four things to our captive. Each option presents its own obstacles. The first is that we can kill him ASAP and clean up our insurgent mess.”

“I vote for that one,” Marco said, raising his hand.

He caught odd stares and an evil eye from the Governor.

“Please save your votes for the end, Crowley.”

“Suit yourself,” Marco said. “At least you know where I stand.”

“Moving on,” the Governor continued. “Option two is that we hold him for interrogation. We get whatever information we need that could serve the Armada against his kind and then kill him.”

Marco inched his hand up, as if to raise it, but Governor Gerard shot him down with a cold stare that drove down to his bones. Begrudgingly, he rested his palm on his lap.

“Option three, we can hold the man indefinitely as a prisoner. This will undoubtedly consume resources we don’t have, but it keeps our hands clean at the risk of a potential threat down the road.” The Governor paused, loosening the tie on his suit. “Finally, and bear in mind I don’t personally consider this last piece an option, is that we can attempt to integrate the prisoner into our Colony.”

Marco rose to his feet and blurted it out. “Damn straight, that isn’t an option!”

The Governor eyed him with a stern look. “Sit down, Mr. Crowley.” Marco grumbled, but took his seat regardless. He folded his arms and leaned back in his seat, thumping his foot. “By most measures, it is technically an option. We don’t know much about the insurgents on this world, but from previous encounters, I’d say there is a fifty-fifty chance they’ll kill our captive if he reunites with the primary force.”

“Good,” Marco said.

The Governor’s face flushed. “I’m at my limit with you, Crowley. Treat this Convene with some goddamned respect, or I will have you removed.”

Marco huffed but cooled himself down. Around the same time, the folds in the tent entrance opened, letting in some starlight from afar. The backlit figure of Dr. Mandala strode down the center isle and up to the Governor. She carried her clipboard but with a manila folder stuffed under the clip.

“My report, sir.”

Governor Gerard eyed the documents. He pulled out the manila folder and cracked it open, perusing parts with his index finger. The silent whispers of his intonation as he read various words continued for nearly a minute before he closed the flap and motioned for Dr. Mandala to stand beside the rest of the Convene.

“He’s healing up nicely, then.”

“Yes,” she replied. “Better than expected. He should be able to walk by this time tomorrow.”

Governor Gerard ran his fingers through his hair. “Did you find out anything about his faction or duties, Doctor?”

“Um …” she said with a pause. “Yes, actually. He’s a pilot, part of a scout force. The exact cause of his craft’s malfunction points to sabotage.”

“Sympathizers to our Armada?”

“Unlikely,” she added. “Most definitely, one or more or his superiors wanted him dead. He could have crashed down anywhere within one thousand miles of this outpost. It’s a miracle he landed in the one spot where …”

Dr. Mandala’s words trailed off. She must have caught the stares as well. Marco actually felt sorry for the poor fella. It might have been quicker to die alone in torn fields of green, but he managed to tough it out, and now he has to deal with bureaucracy through the night. Maybe they’ll drug him up and kill him in his sleep. That’d be merciful.

The Governor cleared his throat. “People, this is not an easy decision to make, but we need to come to a consensus and quickly.”

“What about a fifth option, Governor?” Dr. Mandala asked. “I was listening, you know.”

“I’m listening, Doctor.”

Dr. Mandala stepped forward. “What if we just … let him go free? The insurgent force will likely kill him anyway. At least this way, he can put his life on his own terms.”

“Definitely not an option, Doctor,” the Governor said. “He’s seen the insides of our outpost. He might have witnessed important information.”

“He witnessed the inside of a medical tent!” she snapped.

The Governor gritted his teeth. “You can’t know what he’s seen, Doctor! Do you want to stake our Colony’s men, women, and children on one man’s quality of life?”

Dr. Mandala sneered. “You wouldn’t be saying this if he was one of our own.”

“That’s enough, Dr. Mandala!” the Governor shouted, clenching his fist as he slammed it onto the podium.

Marco took his cue and stood up from his seat. With a quick pace, he walked around the back to stand next to Dr. Mandala. He placed a firm hand on her shoulder before she blurted out something foul.

“Hold it, Doc,” he said. “The Governor’s thinking about the big picture. His job isn’t easy, you know.” The tenseness in Dr. Mandala’s shoulders dropped a little, but she remained on edge. “You made your point. Let’s get out of here, and let the rest of them vote.”

Dr. Mandala cocked her head to face him. “You’re not staying?”

Marco chuckled. “I’m doing you a favor. Believe me, you don’t want my vote.”

 

Chapter 3

Heart to Heart

Colony Outpost, Holding Cells

 

The Colony Outpost stood a few dozen miles from the Central Armada Colony on Ares-2, a veritable village in its own right. The Governor of this outpost lived here, along with the scant few hundred residents, save for the occasional influx of soldiers and supply shipments from Central. They set up this outpost specifically to warn Central if the insurgents decided to poke their heads out.

If the outpost so happened to suffer a surprise attack, then all the better because it would spare Central and their some couple million Colonists the slaughter. To say that the Governor and everyone here were expendable would be putting it lightly, but that didn’t stop him from feeling something inside.

Granted, Marco hadn’t changed his mind on the matter. Get the prisoner up to speed, extract anything that could help the war effort, and then clean up the mess he made. It was easier to think of it that way. Dr. Mandala didn’t see it that way though, even as she downed the glass of liquor, he saw the way she looked down at her patient.

The medical tent laid bare, save for the foreign surgical tools, phials of strange colored liquid, and the usual sets of needles and gloves stuffed in hatches. A hazardous waste disposal bin sat by her side. In the center of the tent, closer to the rear, the prisoner laid quietly.

She’d hooked him up to some tubular life support system. He breathed with some assistance as juices flowed intravenously into his body. Marco noted the way the man’s eyes looked around the room. She’d issued him a muscle relaxer, but that did little to stop the uncomfortable feeling of being watched.

Marco glanced back to Dr. Mandala. “Can he hear us?”

“Yes,” she said. “In a few minutes, the meds should wear off enough for him to speak.”

“Awfully convenient, Doc.”

Dr. Mandala set her glass down on the counter. “I planned it that way. Better Gerard and his doom squad deal with a living person, not some vegetable, if and when they decide.”

“Look, you need to let this go,” Marco said. “It’s always going to be like this. It’s us versus them. Get over it, and do your job.”

Dr. Mandala sized him up and rolled her eyes. “It comes so easily to you, doesn’t it? You just stand on the fence and shoot anything that moves. Not a care in the world.”

“Don’t start with me,” he said, raising a finger. “I care about a whole hell of a lot.”

Dr. Mandala arched back and folded her arms across her chest. “Name one thing, Mr. Crowley.”

Marco stepped back and ran his fingers across his face. His nails scratched at his skin and without contemplating, he pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He fished for one from the carton, but Dr. Mandala walked over and slapped it out of his hand.

“Don’t make me say it again, Mr. Crowley. Name one thing.”

Dr. Mandala pressed her shoes on the carton, twisting her ankles to grind it into the floor of the medical tent. Clean linoleum, nothing like it in the outpost, scarcity of resources and all. Marco looked down and grimaced.

When the little boy who dreamed of other worlds looked up to the stars, it should have been different. Instead, generations mined for resources, scavenged for food, fought and bled for territory on a planet that neither respected nor desired them.

“I’m not smart like you, Doc,” he said. “I don’t have a Master’s Degree or a Ph.D. I have a rifle, two eyes, and two ears. I make my decisions with those, and what I see is some idiot with the world ahead of her about to throw it away for some fool’s gambit.” He stepped closer to her, inches from her face. “I hear the dissent in your voice, and I heard the tone of the Governor’s, and I know he was this close from something fierce. The fact that you don’t see it worries me.”

Dr. Mandala stepped back. The deadened tone in Marco’s voice carried some weight with the words.

“I don’t need you to look out for me, Marco. It wouldn’t matter anyway.”

She paused and looked away, back to that clipboard resting on the counter. She’d done so out of reflex, a momentary glance, but he caught it. Marco pressed the issue, stepping up to the woman until she’d backed into the counter behind her.

“You were going to tell me something an hour ago,” he said. “What was it, Doc?”

Dr. Mandala’s face flushed. “Marco, I … I mean, Mr. Crowley …” her words trailed off.

Marco sighed. He huffed a cold autumn’s air, stale as it was inside the medical tent, and walked over to corner to grab his rifle. He grabbed the butt and straddled his eyes around the barrel from behind.

“Don’t you dare!” she squeaked, her voice hushed.

Dr. Mandala jumped to rush between them, same as last time, but Marco shook his head and shot her nasty glare. He spat on the floor, and the next words that came from his lips hurt.

“How long do I have?”

“Please, Marco. Don’t do this.”

Marco huffed and shouldered the butt, taking aim. “How long, ma’am?”

“Um … three months, maybe four. After that, I can’t say.”

“Damn,” he said, frowning. “Makes this easier. They can’t lock me up for very long.”

Marco breathed out, eased his jittering nerves and pulled down on the trigger.


Colony Lines

  • ISBN: 9781370921812
  • Author: Brett P. S.
  • Published: 2017-08-14 04:20:13
  • Words: 2903
Colony Lines Colony Lines