And now we’ve reached the end. Erik Wecks ten-part serial story, Gravlander, is completed. His latest Pax Imperium story is done, and readers will have the final chapter in Little Jo’s adventure that takes place between Far Banks of Rubicon and Athena’s Revenge.
We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a story develop over time, and this may not be the last time GeekDad does this.. so please let us know your thoughts on both the story and the format.
I’d like to thank Erik for taking a chance and offering up his story telling skills to create a series of cliffhangers that I’ve enjoyed so much.
And now it’s time to see how it all ends. Or begins… This is an interlude of sorts, if you know where Erik’s Pax Imperium storyline is going. It’s been a fun ride, and here comes the final speed down this roller coaster ride…
Two years later:
Jo Lutnear lay flat on the now cooling sand dune soaking in the dissipating warmth of arid soil. The local star had gone down behind her position some hours before. It would be a cold night, all 43 hours of it. Jo was reminded again that the arid environment of Dolan 4 couldn’t have been more different than the moon on which she had been born. She barely remembered Aetna any longer. Yet she still shivered occasionally recalling the heavy sky and nights spent freezing in her bed. On Aetna, the constant struggle to stay warm had consumed huge amounts of community resources. Here in the nearly forty-five degree heat of a baking desert, a similar but opposite struggle took place every day for the residents of Dolan. Here moisture was as precious as the gold and metals filtered from the sands. Here residents endured a constant struggle to stay cool during the day, warm at night, and hydrated at all times. Six months of reconnaissance on Dolan had done more to remind her of her early childhood than anything since she left home. Nearly twenty years later, she still missed her parents and brothers lost during the last days of that doomed moon.
As she adjusted the magnification on the faceplate of her heat camouflage, Jo wondered how much the insatiable hunger of that loss propelled her to the risks she took. She scanned the nearby settlement of just over eighty-thousand people. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The oasis town Maradonna scraped by on the edge of mineral-rich sand fields that kept it barely profitable enough for the Unity to justify its neglected existence.
Nine years since the surrender of the Allies to the Unity, and the grand experiment of humanity was starting to fray. Maradonna was starving.
Too much power in the hands of any institution, and malaise and disintegration follow, thought Jo. Even as we ascend, we sow the seeds of our own destruction. In the last couple of years, a compassionate acceptance of the cycles of death and rebirth had filled Jo with a serenity she previously thought impossible. She drifted in a physical universe that neither played fair nor had any compassion of its own, guiding her light toward acts of mercy, many of which failed, others of which had little impact, some of which succeeded, but Jo felt them all worth doing, no matter the risks.
Maradonna hummed quietly. The market buzzed with evening shoppers, hurrying to take advantage of the precious few hours in which the thin atmosphere of Dolan could be enjoyed with little effort. Even from this distance on the top of the dune, she could see the line for a table at Kim’s Barbeque.
Like so much in Maradonna, Kim’s was not an officially sanctioned Unity division. If anyone had cared, it could have led to severe punishment for Kwangsu, but here, as in all areas, the Unity’s grip on the people was dependent upon the brutality of its enforcers. In backwaters like Maradonna, enforcement was spotty at best. The truth was that everyone, including the local bureaucracy, recognized that the black market and the goods it provided were the only thing that kept the population of Maradonna alive. This didn’t make these operations less dangerous. There was always someone willing to sacrifice the good of the whole for the temporary gain that came through cooperation with the central authorities, but Jo had few fears. Her precautions would be adequate.
Carefully and slowly, Jo crawled back down the sand dune to her contacts waiting below.
It was delivery day. Merry Christmas, Josephine. Jo smiled in spite of herself. She wouldn’t yet call herself religious, and she was almost sure she never would, but an experience she had a couple of years before had tempered her conviction that physics provided the only organizing principle among the slowly dying heat of the ever expanding universe. Jo believed compassion made a better organizing principle than raw competition.
“What did you see, Dawn Bringer?” Salim’s face wore its usual deep creases.
“Nothing worth our fears, worried one.”
As she stepped by, Jo patted Keiko on her shoulder. The market vendor quivered at Jo’s touch.
This was Jo’s sixth delivery, and each time, it worked the same way. She would enter a town using a reasonably good I.D., purchased from a local who had access to the ident database. For a while, she would keep a low profile, taking some kind of menial, off-book work to get by. All the while, she got the lay of the land, finding out who was trustworthy and who wasn’t. Eventually, she would open up to someone, telling them who she was and what she proposed to do. This was the delicate moment. If she were wrong about the person, months or more of preparation could go down the tubes in a few heartbeats. She had picked Salim and Keiko because she had more than once seen them give away official goods to those in need at their stall. They fit the mold, willing to do what it took to take care of others. One night over noodles in their home, she had opened her heart. At first, they seemed overwhelmed, aghast at the audacity of the operation and fearful of its consequences if something went wrong. It was a common response. Eventually, they had agreed.
Josephine picked up her her communicator. “Ho. Ho. Ho.” She waited.
“The North Pole reads you loud and clear. Rudolph’s nose is shiny.”
“The cookies and milk are ready. Out.”
Jo sat down on the edge of the abandoned tarmac of an ore-processing facility and wrapped the long hijab around her mouth. She signaled for Salim and Keiko to do the same. Then she looked up. She liked to try to spot it, her floating home in the heavens. She’d only been able to do so once before. But this time, she was lucky. Rising in the magnetic east, a star streaked across the sky, chasing the setting sun. She pointed up and the gaze of her two companions followed hers.
“There! That’s the mothership I told you about.”
It wasn’t long after it appeared on the horizon that a spark split off and seemed to hold still in the sky.
“That will be our container.”
It didn’t take long for the container to hit the atmosphere. In the clear sky, the glow would be visible from across the continent. A fireball in the sky on Christmas night seemed somehow appropriate to Jo.
She watched the glow of entry with an awe, almost undiminished by its familiarity. She had vague memories of a blond-haired man taking her to watch the shuttle land at an icebound spaceport years before. In only a few short minutes, the container hovered above, and the three of them hid their faces from the dust. None of them looked up again until the engine’s whine wound down.
Clearing the container took several hours. Ever the worrier, Salim had done his homework when choosing a hiding place for his smuggled goods. She had no doubt they would lay undiscovered here.
When done, Jo turned to look at a couple she truly thought of as her friends. She didn’t want to belabor the good-bye. “Now, remember our deal. Nothing that comes from this gets sold. It goes to those in need.” This was always the hardest part for Jo. For months, she had schemed and plotted with her contacts. The end always came so suddenly. “Goodbye, Salim. Goodbye, Keiko. I have to go. The automated container will take off soon, and I need to be in the pressure suit.”
Salim nodded thoughtfully, then asked, “And what about when it’s gone, Dawn Bringer? What then?”
“Then you will have to make do, Salim, but my hope is that you use the seeds and other supplies in this container to create opportunities to make more. Maradonna has been in want for a long time. It’s worth it to stay in want now if it will help you bring your community out of want forever. Just keep the greenhouses secret. They really will take care of themselves.”
Salim nodded. “I just wish we could do more.”
“So do I, Salim. So do I.” Jo stepped back into the container and pressed the panel to close the door. “But something is better than nothing.”
The door shut, closing Jo in the dark.
All the way home to The Clarion, Jo felt Salim’s words ringing in her head. I wish we could do more…
It felt good to towel off from a real shower. She hadn’t had one since she stepped foot on parched Dolan. In the stall behind her, Muriel Anderson warbled an off-key version of some tune Jo had never heard. Jo had missed her singing and persistent enthusiasm. It felt good to be home, but still she couldn’t shake the words of Salim. Jo wrapped the towel around herself and stepped into the quarters she shared with Anderson and two others. Pulling a grav trunk from under her bed, she opened it and took out a small metal disk. She stared at it hard. It was time. It was time to do more. It was time for compassion to win. To do that, the Clarionneeded allies, people with the resources to get supplies and take them where they were needed most.
Standing, still dripping wet, Jo activated the homing beacon that would bring her back in contact with the Ghost Fleet. It was time to start the rebellion against the Unity in earnest. The galaxy had waited long enough.