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The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:07 am
by thunda
Chapter 1

29 days before Blake’s death

The first thing she noticed was the air; it was stale and bitter, unlike the scent of fruit and blossoms she remembered. The next thing she noticed was the lack of chirping and buzzing, which had been replaced by the growling and shrieking of machinery. That, too, was different.

The brisk voice of the captain who smuggled her here interrupted her thoughts. The smuggler, or Free Trader as she preferred to be called, stood on her ship’s stairs, head cocked, fist planted on her hip. Her golden blonde hair draped her shoulders and framed a beautiful face etched with the trials of life. "Well, I've held up my end of the deal."

She rummaged through the bag slung over her shoulder, briefly caressing her handgun before pulling out several large gems. Her eyes had never left the captain, and the captain's had never left her.

“Arlen pays her debts, Captain,” she said, handing over the gems.

“Jenna.” Finally, the smuggler introduced herself. "And welcome to Gauda Prime," she said as she scampered up the steps, the gun in her hand now visible.

The landing staircase retracted back into the ship followed by the increasing whine of thrusters powering up. Arlen backed away, shielding her eyes, while a flurry of soil and leaves danced around her as the vessel forced its way off the ground. After it disappeared into the gray clouds Arlen threw her bag over her shoulder and made her way down the road. She had finally returned home.

Re: The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:09 am
by thunda
Chapter 2

15 years before Blake’s death

Arlen ran. She ran through bushes, over rocks, in the rain. She ran with the smell of her house burning, the sight of her bloody parents, and the sound of gunfire seared in her mind. She fell, slipped, stumbled, but each time she got up and ran again.

Re: The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:11 am
by thunda
Chapter 3

24 days before Blake’s death

The work was difficult, the days were long, and the pay was low, but finding employment was quick and easy. Mining companies didn't care who you were or where you came from as long as you met your quota and didn't steal. Her gun was confiscated upon hire, leaving Arlen feeling partially vulnerable, and the beacon implant, which provided her with a crack assault team, provided little comfort. Nonetheless, she preferred the field to working in a counterintelligence office.

“Not bad," said the stocky, older woman working next to her. “Didn’t think a scrawny thing like you would last a day.”

“I worked on a farm when I was young, Sarla.” Arlen tossed another chunk of rock onto the conveyor belt, watched it travel away, then took a moment to wipe the sweat off her brow with her shirt sleeve. A girl maybe seven or eight came over and handed her a bottle of water from the cart she was pushing.

“Thank you,” Arlen took a few long gulps before pouring the rest over her short dark hair. “You seem a bit young to be working here.”

The little girl remained silent as she rolled her cart to the next group of workers in the mine.

“She doesn’t speak,” said Sarla.

Tibson, a slender gray-haired man a few feet away, corrected, "She won't speak. Not since she lost her parents."

A burly man with a rifle strapped over his back stomped through, snatching a couple of water bottles from the girl’s makeshift wagon. Arlen stared in disbelief as he brushed up against the girl so hard that she fell, then continued on his way as if nothing had occurred.

Sarla placed her hand on Arlen’s arm and leaned close. “That’s one of the enforcers, the company’s hired guns. They’re monsters.”

“They maintain order,” Tibson explained.

Arlen understood order and knew that it came at a cost, so while they were monsters, men like that were sometimes required. Order must be enforced because there will always be those who wish to destroy it. That is the cost of order.

Arlen gently helped the little girl up. “You know what always makes me feel better?”

The girl shook her head no so Arlen pulled the candy bar from her pocket that she had saved from lunch and extended it. The girl cautiously accepted it, a slight smile on her face as her young eyes lit up.

Re: The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:12 am
by thunda
Chapter 4

15 years before Blake’s death

Somehow her young legs managed to carry her tiny body to the space port. Exhausted, bruised and covered with scratches Arlen searched desperately for a familiar face and became engulfed in a sea of madness. People pushed and jostled past her until she was taken down by a tide of humanity. She shielded her little head as best she could from the soiled shoes and boots stepping over and on her trembling frame. Tears streamed down her dirt-caked cheeks as she was unable to rise, and everything around her came to a halt. It seemed as if time had stopped. As gloved hands drew her up against a broad chest, she looked up into a dark tinted visor.

The black uniformed figure cradled her in one arm while slicing through the crowd with the other, delivering her to the front of the line. He lightly placed her down, then hurried away with a pat on the head and a candy bar, without saying anything or waiting for thanks. She munched her first meal in days, trying to make it last as long as possible, while she watched her dark angel bull his way into the center of the chaotic mass attempting to depart the planet. On her way to a transport ship, she could still see her ebony-clad savior: a mighty oak standing strong and fast in the eye of the tempest, waving, barking instructions, establishing order. For the first time in weeks Arlen felt safe.

Re: The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:15 am
by thunda
Chapter 5

11 days before Blake’s death

“So, what’s all this I hear about G.P. joining the Federation?” Sarla dipped a chunk of bread into her soup and took a hearty bite as she waited for a response.

“It’s true, the companies actually put in a formal application. It all depends on whether Gauda Prime can get its house in order," Tibson, seated next to her, said.

“About time if you ask me,” said a woman at the next table.

“Which no one did,” Sarla shot back.

“They’re already rounding up everyone outside the mining camps to see if there’s a reward on them,” informed Tibson.

“I don’t like the sound of that. I mean, some of us have warrants, that’s why we came here,” Rillan, a career petty thief sitting across from Sarla, explained.

“Good luck. Even if the law enforcement officers don’t get you the bounty hunters will. And they get paid whether you’re dead or alive,” said Tibson.

“I’m not a fan of the Federation either. I thought I was free of them.” Arlen took a big swig of her beverage to get the taste of those words out of her mouth.

“Nearly impossible at the rate they’re expanding,” Tibson said.

Rillan sprinkled some seasoning on his food as he thought. “Maybe we can bribe the bounty hunters. I hear not everyone gets turned in.”

“Or maybe if you ask them politely,” Sarla said.

“He may be right.” Tibson paused a forkful of food halfway to its destination. “I have a friend at Control headquarters who says not all the prisoners brought in get processed.”

“I find that hard to believe. The part about you having a friend,” Sarla said between chews.

Arlen’s ears perked up. Her briefing included reports of rebels coming to this planet, as well as attempted hackings of the Federation's central computer emanating from this world.
Nothing she had gleaned up to this point indicated that anyone here had the necessary tools or expertise to organize such a feat.

Arlen asked, “Would an old-fashioned bribe work for your friend?"

“Not up to him,” Tibson replied. “He said a man they call ‘The Bounty Hunter’ calls the shots. Usually works in plantations four and five.”

When one of the enforcers planted his mud-encrusted boot on the bench, the conversation abruptly came to a halt. He rested on his knee and looked up and down the table. He spoke through yellow teeth. "Still have some shadow left. Get it while you still can."

Arlen glanced down at the young girl seated next to her and was grateful she seemed more interested in eating than in listening to grownups talk. The enforcer was still looking for customers when Arlen noticed the weapon he was wielding. "That appears to be Federation."

“Uh huh. Took this off a Fed trooper when I was a merc on Porthia Major.” He stroked it as if it were a pet, exposing more yellow teeth in the process.

“Didn’t seem like he had much use for it, bleeding like a stuck pig and all.” He drew closer, displaying the Federation blaster in an attempt to impress, frighten, or both. “Before he choked on his own blood I told him I’d put it to good use.”

As Arlen sliced a piece of meat on her plate she swallowed hard, jaw clenched, and her knuckles turned white.

"Shouldn't you be keeping an eye on the perimeter?" The tone was more of a statement than a question, and it was delivered by another, older enforcer.

Arlen had seen this one before; with his crewcut and cleft chin, he stood out from the rest, always diligent and professional. She felt he would have made a fine trooper. The younger man straightened up and huffed out of the cafeteria with an irritated scowl. Before marching away, Crew-cut gave everyone at the table a polite nod.

“I say we take as much from this company and get off this bloody planet,” Rillan said.

“Even if you don’t get picked up, how are you planning to get off G.P.?” asked Tibson.

Rillan chewed his lip before finally responding. “Gunrunners. We can pay the—”

"Shut it. The foreman." Tibson jerked his head over his shoulder in the direction of the short, portly man with a pistol in his belt strutting through the food hall like he owned the place. Which he did. He frequently pranced around with his chest puffed out, bragging about how he was here when the company first started.

Rillan continued in a lower voice using his fork to highlight his point. “We can pay the gunrunners to get us past the embargo.”

“Or they can take your money and slit your throat. I’ll take my chances with the Feds,” said Tibson.

“Me too.” Sarla nodded in agreement then turned to Arlen.

Arlen stared at the foreman while she slid her dessert to her little friend. “I won’t run. Not this time.”

Rillan threw up his hands and shook his head in frustration. “Even the farmers knew when it was time to leave.”

“Not all of them,” Arlen whispered.

Re: The Cost of Order

Posted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:17 am
by thunda
Chapter 6

6 days before Blake’s death

As the evening breeze grew stronger, Arlen put on her kerchief.
This was the end of the work week, when the employees either took a much-needed rest or, like the enforcers, went to the canteen to get drunk. On her walk to the foreman's office, heads turned towards her, recalling Arlen of women's disgusted expressions as they exited.

She walked into the drab office and took a quick look around before settling her gaze on the pudgy man with one foot on a cluttered desk and a glass half full of liquor and a bottle half empty. She also took notice of the pistol stuffed inside his belt.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”

"Arlen," the foreman began, "let me begin by saying what an outstanding job you've done for the company thus far. I believe a girl like you has what it takes to advance here. I started at the bottom when this company first laid claim to the land, aided in the transition from agriculture to mining, and worked my way up.”

As he drained the contents of his glass, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and poured himself another, he added, "You could have a good future here, Arlen. First a few issues must be resolved." He reclined in his seat, his arms folded, and examined the console in front of him. "Be on the watch for you, according to Central Control. It appears The Federation has warrants out on you.”

Arlen noted that the data entry clerks at Space Command were successful.

"Because we petitioned to rejoin the Federation, we need to get our house in order. Politics, I'm sure you understand." As he spoke, Arlen smelled the alcohol on his breath. He sipped slowly as his gaze moved over every inch of her baggy tunic and trousers. "However, I might be able to turn a blind eye."

“And I presume you would do that out of the goodness of your heart.”

"Let's just say you'd owe me something." He pushed himself out of his chair, wobbled a little, and crept closer. "And you appear to be the type of girl who pays her debts."

"You are correct; I pay my debts." Arlen placed her hand on his chest, gradually lowering it.

He leaned in, a satisfied smirk on his face, ready to wrap his arms around her, when something hard pressed against his stomach stopped him. Arlen had a gun pointed at his potbelly, and his head snapped down. His gun.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, girl?”

“Consider this my resignation”

The foreman raised his hand to deliver a backhand slap, but a plasma bolt struck him, causing him to lurch backwards, bounce off the side of his desk, and land on the carpet. His mouth moved, unable to form coherent words, with one hand covering his wound and the other desperately stretched out.

Arlen hesitated when she saw him stripped of his bravado and swagger. The gun felt heavier, and her hand shook slightly. He had the same expression as her father' had the last time she saw him: the expression of a man who knew he was about to die. Her attention shifted away from him, to a painting on the wall depicting the surrounding landscape prior to the mining company's arrival. Arlen depressed the trigger.

She considered the irony as she watched the life fade from the smoking corpse until the hiss of the door sliding open interrupted her thoughts.

“Boss, is everything—”

Federation reflexes reacted, sending three rounds through the doorway, followed by two bodies falling backwards. Her gray leather boots stepped softly over the lifeless body with the crew cut and square jaw. “Order has a price,” she reminded herself. She knelt down to the second man, who was gasping for air, and scooped up his weapon. Yellow-teeth raised his eyes to the business end of his former Federation plasma rifle.

“Don’t worry, I’ll put this to good use.” This time there was no hesitation.

Arlen emerged into the night air, rifle extended, pistol tucked neatly in her pocket, and was met with raised eyebrows and gaping mouths. A spacious berth formed as she continued wordlessly, pretending not to notice the fear in the eyes of her former co-workers, particularly the young pair. Arlen remained silent taking solace that soon mums and dads would be safe, little girls would be able to play with their dolls, and there would be no more monsters. She remained silent because order has a price, a price paid by those who would enforce it. Even if that meant becoming a monster.