A RANCH ON SHADOW

Zoe found one of her brothers near Persephone, running ‘transport’, which was
probably smuggling, since that had been the family specialty for
generations.

“Alleyne is a Cornish name from Earth-that–was. We’ve always run to smugglers and
pirates. Kinda traditional for us.” she explained to Mal.

“So you have a job to go to?”

“Guess. Not my favourite brother and he don’t know where mamma is. Not her favourite
son come to that.”

“So what now? I’m up for gettin drunk, gettin laid, and having a meal with some food in
it. Not necessarily in that order. Wanna come along?”

“Up for the food. Up for the drunk. But not for the ruttin’, if you don’t mind. At least not
us two. War’s over.”

“Huh. Okay, fair enough, let’s see if there is a restaurant good enough for us on this boat. Then a bar
bad enough.”

Both were still hungover when they got back to War Reparations.

The clerk had a thick file ready for Mal. “The fighting on Shadow was short and sharp.
Alliance troops landed without trouble and requisitioned civilian products for resupply of
troops in the field.

“The civilian leadership acquiesced and terms of payment were worked out. Whether
those terms were unacceptable to the farmers, ranchers and manufacturers or whether
they were Browncoat sympathizers is not clear from the records. There was armed
resistance to Allied troops collecting.

“It remains unclear whether troopers got out of hand, or whether they were acting on
orders, but many ranchers and farmers were killed. Your mother is recorded as one of
the fatalities. “

Mal sat stunned. Zoe put her hand on his thigh.

“I don’t know if this is worse or better, Captain Reynolds.” continued the clerk. “As Ms.
Reynolds’ only relation, you are her heir. However, as part of the subjugation of the
rebellion, all the livestock of the rebels were seized and the properties razed. There is
no ranch any more. The land, at this time, is unusable from herbicides and
fire. Again, it is not clear if this was a rogue action on the part of troopers or if orders
were given from a higher authority.

“What is clear, is that the Alliance is making reparations for the collateral damage of the
action.”

Mal just looked at the clerk. Zoe had seen that look in Serenity Valley after they had
been told to lay down arms. She tightened her grip on his thigh.

“The Alliance has made funds available to purchase the expropriated lands at their pre-
war value. In addition, the seized livestock will be paid for under the agreement made
by the Shadow authorities before hostilities erupted.”

“血淋淋的该死的猪狗屎袋,烂龟骨”

“Well, yes, “ said the clerk, “Would you like a cup of tea?” She smiled nervously. “I’m not
allowed anything stronger at my desk.”

“Give us a moment, please.” asked Zoe. “this is a lot…”

“Of course. I’ll make that tea and give you a moment to reflect.”

“混蛋官僚窝囊废。他妈的茶。” swore Mal.

“She means well. She is tryin’ to be kind.”
“Well, it’s not workin’.”

“Try to cool down. This is a lot to take in. We could pretend last night all was shiny, but this is today
and this is reality, sir.”

“Zoe. All I want is to go home. Rebuild. Take care of my mother, maybe find a girl and
make a new family. Now…”

“We can still go to Shadow, sir. There may be something there for you.”

“No. Folks out our way… it wasn’t the expropriation. They were all Independents. There
were half a dozen signed up same time as me, with their families’ blessing, just like I
had. Now they’re all gone, murdered by some rampaging purplebellies… 为人类肮脏的
卫生纸中央政府道歉”

“I’ll say it again, sir, I’m not disagreeing. But let’s see where the path leads before we
start hittin’ people.”

The clerk reentered the room with a tray. She poured for Mal and Zoe, then took her
own mug. “World’s Best Mom” it said. Mal looked at it bitterly.

“Oh. I’m sorry. My girl gave this to me for my…” she extended her hand to Mal, who
pulled back swiftly.

“Perhaps we should keep this business-like.” Zoe said flatly.

“Yes. Well. The proving of the estate will be expedited. The inspectors who are looking
into Shadow have already approved the funding and all we need is to prove that you are
in fact the heir. Your ident from yesterday will be enough for that. “

“Seems sloppy.”

“Well, Ms… ? , I’m sorry, we were not introduced.”

“Corporal Zoe Alleyne. I served under Sergeant Reynolds until we were ordered to surrender at
Serenity Valley. We were mustered out with battlefield commissions. Still seems strange to us.”

Mal was still staring at the mug.

“I’ll assume you are in his confidence, then. The estate comes to 250 thousand
platinum. That should be enough to set up a new operation on another world. Frankly,
from what I saw in my research yesterday, it will be a long time before Shadow is
inhabitable again.”

Zoe was, if possible, even more expressionless than usual.

The clerk forged on, “We will set up a bank account that Captain Reynolds can access. We
prefer a second signer, because many of the recipients are still a little,..”

“You think the sergeant would try to drink that 250 thousand platinum ‘thout
supervision?”

“Sadly, Corporal Alleyne, it has happened. These times are difficult for soldiers. On both
sides of the peace.”

“Sir. Are you up to speed yet?”

“Zoe?”

“Shall we set up the account? Are you willing for me to be your second signer? “

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Then what….Let’s get out of this”

“Could you set up the account for him. If you need time..”

“I will, but if you came back at this time tomorrow, I should have the paperwork
processed and ready to sign.”

“Thank you , Corporal Shen. And I apologize for the sergeant’s less than pleasant and calm
demeanor.”

“He didn’t try to stab me, like the guy this morning, so I’m fine. Tomorrow at 1400?”

“臭烘烘的厕所”

Zoe took Mal back to the hotel room they had shared the previous night.

” Sir. If I can make a suggestion?”

“What is it Corporal?”

“Come with me to Persephone. It’s an urban world, mostly. I’ve been there before, as a
kid, we based there when us kids was doing our Federal Twelve prep. Take a look
around, some R&R. Mebbe get a picture of where you want to go from there.”

“What’s in it for you?”

“Someone to stand with me against my brother. Suspect I’ll need that. A friend, I hope.
And maybe I have an idea for a business opportunity….”

———————————–
Mal was from a rural world. His family, which had 40 employees , would have been quite comfortable. Today an employee is generally expected to make 10 times his salary for his employer to be worth hiring. Between the loss of a large ranch and several thousand beeves , I don’t think 250,000 is particularly generous. And how much is an abandoned, non-running spaceship worth anyway?
It makes sense that Zoe would be the one to think of shipping as a future. She has the background in the field, even though she would have joined up at about the same age as Mal, she is a few years older. And the mention of piracy was intentional. The Alleynes are not necessarily criminal, but they do have an eye on the main chance. And Zoe here has the trust of a shell shocked friend with a suddenly fat wallet.

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About femmefan1946

Retired professional writer and editor. Nominated for an Aurora Award for work on CAN-CON 2014, which concentrates on introducing new and aspiring writers and artists to agents, editors and publishers.
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