a tale of the twilight continuum
This was the worst summer ever. Worst than the one where half the province caught fire. Worse than the one where we had a tornado everyday and entire towns disappeared overnight.
When the news was announced, my pa looked at me and shook his head. The lady who was reading the news used to be right pretty, but the drought going on five years now, had taken a toll on her and she was gaunt, skin tight, eyes dulled by a continued lack of clean water. “By federal mandate, a planetwide state of emergency is declared. All free standing bodies of fresh water, any unpolluted well, lake or reservoir is now the property of the Protectorate. It is illegal to own any source of water outside that which is regulated to your state and city provinces. This law shall remain in effect until further notice.”
“Oh, hell no.” Manard Strictland turned the television off. “How is a man supposed to run a respectable watering hole without water.”
My pa laughed. “Manard, when was the last time you served water to anyone here. We don’t come to your establishment for its water, unless its fire-water you offerin’.” He looked at me and while his mouth was smiling, his eyes were like flint, hard and sharp. “Boy, go ’round back and get the truck.”
“Yes, pa.” I went to the truck and saw the tarp in the back. My curiosity got the better of me. My Ma, bless her departed soul, once said a cat and his curiosity is a dangerous combination, but it’s just my nature. I drop the tarp, hot-foot it into the truck and tear around the corner and stop in the front of Manard’s bar.
“Okay, boys, I brought my entire collection and got a few from some other soldiers living near my farm.” He reached back and pulled the tarp off the pile of weapons. There were a bunch more fellas who has shown up while I was away. They were all veterans and had earned their Citizenship in the Barlantan Conflict. I hadn’t fought for our world against any of a dozen foreign invaders, yet but that was because I was just sixteen. I could join next year if Pa signed for me.
“So we are going to go to the water treatment facility and demand they turn the water back on?” Manard was looking a little green, as he looked over his rifle as if he were holding a poisonous snake.
“They don’t have the right to deny us water when we were told, our last conflict ensured water rights to all of our Citizens here at Elcas Grove.”
The Commonwealth government was a local protectorate. They had moved in during the fall of the Twenty Systems Empire and established themselves as a force for peace. At first. Then there were more skirmishes with other protectorates trying to expand into our space.
As foreign colonists we had limited rights, because we were not native to the planet, but we were offered Citizenship if we were willing to fight against enemies of the protectorate. It was the most important thing an immigrant could get. Parents could pass their Citizenship to their kids, if the kids had not earned their own. But the parent would have to emigrate back to their home planet. My father earned his Citizenship nearly thirty years ago during the early protectorate battles. Things had quieted down considerably since then.
In recent years, the government had begun to change, becoming more oppressive and violent in its dealings regarding mining and water rights. Skaris was a mineral-rich world and we helped make the protectorate far wealthier than they were when they got here. Pa was right, this was a water grab, pure and simple. If we didn’t stand up to them, they would come next and take back the land they gave us next.
Pa and his men had put on their old uniforms before heading out and before long we could see the water processing and storage facility. It was surrounded by members of the Protectorate guard.
“Frank, is that part of the Emhran Guard?” Pa and Frank were using a monocular to range and count the enemy.
“Yep. That’s them.” Frank was a former Emhran.
“Do you think they will fight?”
“Is that gonna be a problem for you?”
“Nope. There are some orders you just shouldn’t follow. And they know it.”
“There are only thirty of us. There are three hundred of them, Pa.”
“They are stretched tight. Locking down all the planetary water supplies is tough to do with only a ten thousand men.”
My father taught me tactics as a child. I didn’t see how they could win.
He looked at me. “We can’t. That is why you will be waiting in the truck.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are three million Citizens on Skaris. There are twenty thousand members of the Protectorate here. But Citizens won’t rise up, unless they believe the Protectorate is a crazed and repressive government. And they are, but people don’t want to believe it. Our deaths will rally the Citizens to throw off the parasites of the Protectorate. We are all old vets, we know the price.”
“What about me, Pa? I need you.”
“Since your Ma passed, who runs the farm now?”
I thought about it. “I do.”
“Who tends the animals and works with the townies?”
“I do, Pa.
“I don’t expect you to understand, son. I am an old man. But I know a corrupt government. Been running from one my whole life. The worst kind of corruption is the one that says it is doing what it does for your own good but it only benefits them. This is our home. You get those people to fight for their world, find a way to make them believe they can be free. We are at the edge of the galaxy, there is no place to go after Skaris. Now, go.”
“I ain’t running, Pa.”
“Listen, this ain’t about you. A Citizen fights for the rights of everyone not able to fight for themselves, son. What they are doing is wrong. Making it illegal for a man to enrich himself off the labors of others, even when there is enough to go around, is the basis for what we fought against as soldiers of the Commonwealth. Slavery was wrong then, this is wrong, now.”
“You are a Citizen now. Find a way to make it right.” He handed me his Empire-pulse rifle. It has encoded on it a genetic badge that marked him a Citizen. When he died, a genetic relative would bear the title.
Their skirmish was brief. Those old veterans knew their warfare. They killed all the Protectorate soldiers. I was with him when he died. We didn’t say much. I just held his hand. He passed quietly.
As I stood up and looked around, all I could see were the dead, scattered in undignified poses. I picked up my Pa’s rifle and walked away from the water facility. I could see protectorate vehicles in the distance.
I would be coming back, and next time I would have an army.
Citizen © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved