CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" INDIES "
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As Finn lay there he realized that the operating hum and gentle swaying of the Troop Carrier over a nearly level plain was actually a soothing thing. Without it he was unable to return to sleep.
Not that a middle of the night abrupt wake-up didn't contribute because now his mind was racing. Who would be best to pair up for each shift? Why hadn't they come across anyone yet? It had been ten days since they left the Rapid City base, surely they would've found someone, a settler, a stray, by now.
Perhaps the problem was that they weren't stopping to check around. The scanners were all fine and all but their sensitivities over distance dropped rapidly. It occurred to Finn that they could've been within a few kilometres of civilization this whole time and never known it. Well, maybe not civilization but perhaps habitats.
From his inclined position Finnegan keyed on the Command portal and began reviewing the scans from the past ten days. What sort of criteria would indicate habitation, he wondered? Whoever they were they'd need to cook and that might increase pollutants to the atmosphere.
He ran filters looking for various parts per million of known carcinogens. The levels were far below that of any comparable data he had for settlements but Finn needed to think beyond that. The air in this region was extremely fresh, completely free of even the Free Hydrogen particles a "clean" settlement like Rapid City emitted. He needed to look for any concentrations, no matter how slight, of the by-products of civilization.
Heat pockets, particularly at night; light pollution in the evenings; smoke from dying campfires near dawn, that sort of thing. But what? Water pollution! They'd crossed five rivers so far this journey and had stopped at three to refresh their on-board supplies. Finn re-examined the water samples, looking beyond the "pass" or "fail" standard for potable water and instead searching for the signs of recent human contamination: soap, grease, biological contaminants.
The results were inconclusive for each one. No overt signs. A positive development he guessed, good for the environment at least. Whatever people were out here weren't making things worse.
Finn thought about that for a moment. The whole purpose of the peacekeeping missions was to stabilize a region ahead of re-settlement. If no one wanted to move here there'd be little point is his presence, and he was just one of thousands moving through the region to clear the way for hundreds of thousands more. What was he helping to do? Was it possible that he and his people hadn't learned anything from the disaster a century back and were about to restart the whole cycle of Eco-contamination all over again?
Finn hoped not. He'd seen enough historical footage of the storms that devastated whole regions and economies, and the suffering that followed as populations rioted because they were starving, dying of thirst and disease, and set adrift by their bankrupt Governments. And they'd studied data in social studies at school. Traced the spikes in mortality as the land grew more and more poisonous; and plotted the chain reactions in respiratory and degenerative illnesses, birth defects and immuno-reactions as the very air became a toxic soup.
It's not like last time, he told himself. This time they knew what the early signs of an eco-system spiraling out of control would be. Corporate greed wouldn't trump Environment needs out of ignorance because this time they had the data, they knew the warning signs, they'd avoid it this time. He prayed they were smarter now, yet the doubts lingered.
And somewhere in the midst of such nightmares Finn drifted off to sleep where he dreamt of horses in meadows, sipping water from pristine lakes under clear blue skies, and then he dreamt of home.
The banging at the door intruded his dreams like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rushing into town and Yoaquin Horst erupted from his slumber and bolted from his bed still clutching the Cody Long Rifle like a security blanket without the slightest cognizance of his actions.
Thankfully the Cody's internal systems cut off the trigger from the firing mechanism without confirmation of a recognized finger print on the trigger sensor or his fumbling actions would've engaged the weapon and blown his head clean off before he made it from the bedroom.
Horst rushed to the door as the pounding continued and Roman Caleb's yelps roused him and half the town. He unhooked the latch and opened the rotting wooden door to a sweat drenched sight. The youngster looked as though he'd been running for miles.
"They're here!" Caleb shouted, pointing off into the blackness, but the fog of sleep had lifted enough that Horst knew the direction he was pointing wasn't the direction the Indies would be coming from, although he wasn't awake enough to think they might be coming around at the village from another direction.
He grabbed Caleb with one meaty fist and jerked him inside, closing the door behind him before everyone in town was up in a panic. "Calm down and tell me something useful!" he bellowed firmly.
It was enough to focus Caleb who, between sharp intakes of the breath he was still trying to catch, reported the "floating house" and the images on Trinity's gun.
Horst stood back considering this. The idea of a floating house was fantastic to him. And he challenge young Caleb on it, but the boy was insistent. It was much larger than a wagon, it was larger than Horst's own dwelling, and it was definitely floating. Inside were seven occupants, confirmed exactly as Horst had shown them. And it had stopped just out by White Creek.
But White Creek was as far on the other side of town from the Indies settlement as the Indies were from the town itself. Going around that way added way more time than was necessary even if they were worried about being seen. In fact, the stealthiest way into town was up river, landing at the bend just north of town where the water grew shallow, long before it connected to White Creek.
Horst was stumped at this but in the end what did it matter. Surely any people who could levitate a house were a far greater threat than the Indies. He pushed past Caleb and opened the door, "go down to the end and wake Anderson and Majors. Have them meet me at the cross station."
Before Caleb could respond Horst had grabbed his long coat and his hat and was off. He'd rouse Tilkey and Schmarchuk, make sure everyone had what needed for the trip too. Horst hefted the Cody Long Rifle in his right hand, shifting the center weight higher in his grip as he trudged down to the far end of town. They'd ride out and meet this new threat before it got in view of town, these new Rifles would make sure of that.
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