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He shut down the jeep’s engine and muttered irritatedly. “I’m coming, stop bugging me.”

The ping from the implant had the flavour of Urgent Urgent Urgent more suitable for a battlefront commander than a disgraced Aegis marshall stretching out his life on a forsaken planet. He had long forgotten how irritating it was.

What message would be urgent enough and classified enough to drag him back to the secured console? Nothing is expected to happen on the ball of dirt in the foreseeable future. Kiza’s breath hitched as she trailed him from their aborted errand run in town into the ground floor room the previous marshall had set up as the office, frowning at the door as he sat down and pulled the notice up. And then, all thoughts rushed out of him like a vacuum-leaked ship in space.

 

Notice of planetary harvest.

 

His spine turned to rigid ice as he stared uncomprehendingly at the line. There is only one harvest where that notice would be sent to him, and no one is expecting it to happen anytime in the next few decades.

Restricted commercial information:

            Planet: Earth, Sol System

            Title owner: Balem Abrasax

 

He skimmed towards the harvest details, and somehow managed to tap his marshall report through the FTL. A thirty-six hours notice. He released a shuddering breath.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” Kiza asked.

He opened his mouth to answer and found no words to say. Kiza is more attached to this planet than he is. She’d spent a third of her life here.

“I, I’ll talk about it later. Go on to bed,” he said.

“Okay, dad,” she said, turning. “Good night.”

“Wait,” he said. Kiza waited, an eyebrow raising as he rummaged for the scanner he hadn’t used in years. It turned on and readily read the signal from Kiza’s Commonwealth Citizen beacon. “Go on to bed, I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

He watched her disappear, and on a whim set the scanner on himself. His own beacon returned a positive ping. He stared at the readout. He have several black market beacons somewhere in the house, but how do someone choose who to save when an entire planet is doomed?

He turned back to his documents. A new urgent message had sprouted.

Consent to post-harvest memory blank for code compliance marshalls. He stared at it blankly. It was not in his standard paperwork, because most marshalls never see a harvest. He fully expected to leave the planet before Balem Abrasax deemed it ready.

He denied it and sent the message on its way.

The Marshall Coordinator for the region sent a conference call. He didn’t bother changing his clothes as he accepted, sitting as she stood in front of him in full Aegis uniform. She didn’t bother with pleasantries. “You know how many marshalls I’ve lost this century after harvests?” she asked.

A tersie on this planet would be lucky to have lived a century, let alone lived a full century in the same posting. “No, sir,” he said.

“Half that weren’t blanked killed themselves. Full counselling, medications, all the works, and a full half still kill themselves. You’re a good man, Apini, and I’m not losing you to whatever you think your honor is. Sign that form.”

He rubbed his temples with one hand. “Ask me again tomorrow.” he said.

Mayben Ara glared at him for a minute before tapping off the comm. “Don’t think I won’t,” lingered in the air.

It didn’t make sense. Earth wasn’t anywhere near its full carrying capacity yet. Balem Abrasax is taking a huge loss. He continued working his way through the checklists. The Abrasax keepers are working non-stop, and their reports keep piling in. He went through the pre-harvest selection order, noting that the factory was taking the bare minimum needed instead of an optimal configuration. There wasn’t any shortage in the market. He gritted his teeth and went through the records from the pre-harvest selection. No code violation. The keepers are very well-versed in their job. He steadfastly refused to entertain the fact that he just authorised the death of a hundred thousand people. Those death were legal under Commonwealth law.

A bike rolled into his lawn in the early dawn, and he realised he hadn’t slept the entire night.

“Sorry to come by early, mister Apini, but grandma wants honey, and only your honey. You know how it is.” the man on the bike said. Thomas Agus. Has turned up in front of his house several times a year since the second year he lived here. Sometimes only when the previous purchase has been drained to the last drop and they need it to breakfast, now.

Twenty-five hours to go. He sent the man away with a couple months worth of honey and wondered how much of it can be eaten in twenty five hours. Two breakfasts worth of honey wouldn’t even make a significant drop in a single jar. Then he went back to his too-strong coffee and his reports and wondering how to break to Kiza that everyone she’d spoken to on this forsaken rock will be dead tomorrow. Kiza sensing his mood didn’t press on his promise to talk. He rubbed his eyes, knowing that he will have to sleep if he’s going to be of any use during the harvest.

He drank more coffee instead.

Twenty-three hours to harvest. He moved through documents and procedures he wasn’t expecting to go through, viciously sending his own urgent notices all over the place as the Aegis full harvest marshall complements scramble to meet the notification deadline.

Abrasax’s paying a huge fine for the rush. It still didn’t make sense, but it doesn’t need to make sense for him. It’s not like the man can’t afford the financial hit. He pulled up and studied the progress of biotechnologies on the planet; no, it does not look like a repeat of Consgain cloning debacle either.

Just as he gave up and decided to dig out the emergency stash of boosters, the bees movements alerted him. Scouts danced the interrupted harvest on the east field as someone unknown was moving through. His regulars know to park directly in front of his porch, and no one else ever comes here. He smacked open the lowest drawer on the console and hefted out his favourite gun and walked out to meet his visitor.

Even after a decade, Caine Wise was still an idiot who thinks more with his instincts than his mind. Nothing else would explain why he was towing an obvious tersie he was probably hoping to finesse out of the harvest. How a permanent exile to the Deadland was on a farm planet looking like he was freshly out a regenex bath he didn’t know, but having the cause of his exile right in front of his face was irresistible. The thump in his muscles and fist was as satisfying as watching Caine tumble into the dirt.

And then the bees swarmed.

It might be a pattern he never saw before, but the recognition was built right into his genes, and protective hormones surged in a way only Kiza’s infant days had evoked. The euphoria lasted well after he managed to listen to Caine’s explanation and filed Jupiter Jones’ genes to the Aegis database. The speed with which the injunction was filed on the planet would be surprising only if he had never been so bored that he had not read through entire databases of Aegis-mediated disputes.

If it will take an entire day for the Aegis cruiser to get here, then Aegis command was pulling it from outside of the local Abrasax Commercial territories patrol. Which meant that local patrols are chock full of Abrasax Industries spies, and asking for local help would just get his guests killed.

Because the last time a recurrence happened was the last time new systems entered the Commonwealth. The Entitled as a whole are very good at making sure no systems break past the designated limits for harvest. Abrasax Industries is going to lose more than this planet - possibly a lot of systems that the young recurrence sitting at his kitchen table currently owns that might now survive long enough for the threshold for Commonwealth membership.

Twenty hours and never to go. She wanted to know everything, and he was hard-pressed to slowly break the truth to her that will not involve her screaming away from them. They still have to survive everything Balem Abrasax have to throw at them between now and tomorrow.

Kiza, at least, sent a confirmation that she’d gotten into one of his boltholes in town. He took his gun from Caine and tossed him the key to the stash, and readied himself for the fight.