[a short story, by Sha’Tara]
In the Imperium, all the way back to the “old planet” (Earth as some still call it) the Princedom, or Kingdom, or world, or planet, whichever happens to be the most convenient political handle of the times, of Denos is known for a single product: it’s agricultural output in terms of crops. Cereals grow on Denos as if the whole planet had been designed but for the purpose of growing them. Well, not too surprising as in many ways Denos resembles the Great Plains of the Americas of Earth, or the Steppes of the new Russian Empire. There are no mountains on Denos, just plains cut through by hungry rivers inhabiting deep canyons. The rivers feed large fresh water lakes which in turn feed massive cloud banks that endlessly circle the world and feed storms. There are no seas or salt deposits. Whatever salt is required for the health of Denos’ 1.5 million inhabitants has to be imported. All Denosians of necessity are vegans: there are no animals and no predators on the planet and what there is of insect life exists within the soils and takes care of its own balancing.
Why would people choose such a bleak world to establish a human civilization upon, one could well wonder. The obvious, of course, is that Delos did not pose any problem as there was no sentient life the first humans and their sensors could detect. The main point however was caused by the diaspora from the old planet. Overpopulation, despite Draconian laws to control births, led to other even more repressive forms of population control by the Hegemon, the global dictatorship under which all nations fell and to which all owed fealty. Gulags, prison camps, culling of undesirables and the encouragement of genocide had contributed to rebel forces of scientists, engineers, farmers, doctors and teachers to form underground associations and deep under the Ural mountains and some parts of the Rockies under what had been known as the state of Colorado, beyond the reach of the Hegemon police, laboratories and plants were built and from these came the first real manned space craft to shoot out beyond the solar system to discover new worlds where humanity could once again seek the freedom to express itself as it chose. As the Hegemon weakened and broke apart to become the Imperium, the diaspora was legitimized and hundreds of thousands of Earthians headed out into space. Thus one ship came upon Denos and the spacers discovered its potential. Permanent settlements were established.
It is winter now in the Western hemisphere. The plains, devoid of crops, stand out stark, grey and sere. Today a steady easterly wind blows through the stubble. In a field that stretches to beyond the horizon, sheltered by a massive combine being drained and serviced, to remain in the field until needed again for the next harvest, three men, or rather if one looks closer, a man, a woman and a youth who could be either male or female, are clustered by one of the giant back wheels of the machine. The man is smoking a kind of odd looking pipe; the woman and youth are sharing a meal packed in a bucket. Their break over, the three return to inspection, draining of fluids and cleaning of various parts of the combine. It seems obvious they are taking their task very seriously.
As they are intent upon their work a dark grey bank of clouds is rising from the north and spreading over the land. The sun disappears in the clouds and the youth calls out to the others, warning them, or asking them, about something. Both adults stretch themselves to stand looking upon the coming storm. The wind turns into a gale in a tween (the equivalent of 20 minutes on the old planet) and the three humans hunker down on the opposite side, using the big machine as temporary shelter. Their low-lying, mostly below ground shelter, or home, lies a good league away and they know there is no walking in this “norther”. It would pick them up and throw them about like ball weeds (imagine a tumbleweed, only three times the size) should they risk the open.
The howling of the wind over and around the combine becomes deafening. Dry lightning crackles, throwing lurid streaks of reddish glow over the flats, here and there igniting fires that flare, then die as fast as they are lit. Now one can understand why there are no trees either in Denos: the fierce winds would reduce any tree to kindling in minutes.
The woman yells over the noise, “What if it hits the fuel tanks, Jord?” The man shakes his head as if to say, don’t even think about it. In a lull from the violence and noise of the storm, the youth suggests they just ride the combine to their home and return it to the field once the storm is over.
“You know the law as does everyone, Keela. We are not permitted to use County resources for personal use. We cannot use the machine, not even if we had the mayor’s permission.”
“We will die here if we do nothing, dad… mom? I promise to drive the machine back to the field as soon as the wind dies down!”
They discuss the risks, which seem small, that they would be spotted with the machine. In a moment they are aboard and driving to their home as the storm redoubles its strength as if intent on blowing the combine over.
Sometimes in the early morning the storm finally dies down. Keela dresses and goes outside to drive the monster back to the field only to encounter five members of the local Guardia, two inspecting the machine and three coming towards her and the house. Keela’s fear causes her to fall to the ground to be picked up, manacled and thrown in the back of another machine. Soon she is joined by both her mother and father.
There is a trial, of course, let it not be said that these people have no understanding of justice, or that they do not have a proper system to administer such. Images are shown of the combine dwarfing the abode of the Tanners. They are read the law, at which point Mrs. Tanner begs for her daughter to be spared. “She had nothing to do with this, it was Jord and I who made the decision to use the machine to save our lives, please!”
The presiding “judge” sneers as he turns to the three member “jury” and says, “The evidence shows otherwise. The youth was observed and arrested as she went to the machine, thus she is as culpable of theft as her parents. Our guilty verdict applies to all three.”
“God, no! She is only fourteen. Have some mercy!”
“Sentence for theft of County equipment and resources: death by firing squad, to be carried out immediately. This hearing is closed.”
So, under a bright and calm day, near the flag pole where a red and black flag proclaiming a free Denos moves languidly, the three are executed and their bodies hung on poles as a warning to others. They will hang there until the winds of Free Denos tear off their flesh and scatters their bones to disappear in the soil.
By decree, the Tanners’ home and significant properties will be added to the County’s growing number of lands reclaimed from “criminals.” There are no prisons, on Denos.