Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Excerpt: Work in Progress.

Third World has a population of half a million and one spaceport. (Bardash Dmytro.)

Hank tore his eyes off Polly Morgensen and tried to contribute something to the discussion.

She sure was beautiful, though. Her chin came up and she looked his way again. He saw it in his peripheral vision.

It was like an illness with him lately.

“Drifters.” Hank had run across one or two over the years.

They were little better than the nomads, who at least had purpose, following the great herds across the unbroken steppe of Third World’s northern hemisphere. Drifters were just that. Nomads stayed clear of settlement and cultivation, knowing there was plenty of room in the world. They needed open range, good grass and water. Drifters sought many things for many reasons. They tended to gravitate to more settled areas. During harvest, when hands were short, they were welcome in some places more than others.

“That’s what they say. They’re camping up around Marjorie’s Way.” Red glanced around, but the other shoppers in the general store ignored them. “Word is they’ve been there a while.”

Perhaps the other people had already heard the news. Hank came into town once or twice in a month, usually a Monday but other days as well.

Nomads follow the herds. It's a big place. (Wing-Chi Poon.)
Marjorie’s Way was a notch in the hills just over the eastern horizon, obscured by the tops of barren pines, one of the few introduced species to do well here. On the other side of the hills there was a brackish marsh at the end of a small run-off that brought a few of the indigenous waterfowl in season. After that, the trail petered out into a maze of hunting camps and thin ribbons of water in a vast marsh which had never been properly explored. People thought it went clear to the Blue Mountains. It was possible.

Drifters were often desperate, fleeing the law, debt more often. Sometimes it was young people running away, or just unfortunates looking for a new home someplace else. Hank had never really thought about it.

“I see.” Hank Beveridge’s homestead was four kilometres out towards the morning sunrise, in the rolling hills where the true grasslands began.

He had a small river, and had painstakingly tanked up the seeps at the base of the hill where it came down. Hank had a small herd of pack, draft and riding animals which he sold in an emergency, or when all else failed. He needed them for the business, or he would have done with only one or two animals. In the off season there was always work or worry.

The men watched a girl, her name was Polly. She and her mother haggled and fussed over a bolt of good red broadcloth. It looked like they were after a few things. Winter was coming and the kids would need shirts and pants and coats for winter, or even school. Polly was a fresh-faced beauty with a hint of a blush in her cheeks, almost as if she was aware of their scrutiny. She had long, straight black hair, with fine pale skin, long curling lashes and big dark eyes looking at everything in the store with an air of serious intent. She stood up straight, and that was one of the things he liked about her. It said much. Out of politeness, Hank took off his most prized possession, a pair of spectacles framed in thin steel wire. He put them in the case to protect them, as they were irreplaceable, and stuck them in his side pocket.

Hank’s purchase wasn’t urgent, but he’d been planning it for some time. Accounts receivable were one thing, and actually collecting them was another. He waited for long months on some accounts. The whole trade was predicated on long turnaround times. When possible, he paid for things in cash, which meant he owed few people and kept what he earned. It just took a little foresight, and he had some of that.

Red went on.

“So far no one’s talked to them.” He looked around, but as long as Peltham was busy, he wasn’t going to get any cartridges, which was what he had ostensibly come in for.

Red could kill a half a day in town on three or four errands. The butter and eggs were running out and he didn’t do that on his own little plot, although he did have a respectable vegetable garden. It was something he was good at, and he could at least walk away from it, for a few days at a time, to go hunting or if some kind of work came up.

He sold cabbages and other produce at the end of the year, and Hank always looked him up as turnips and such kept pretty good over the winter. Red waxed them up real good.

Hank studied Polly. Women were as scarce as hen’s teeth around these parts and she looked to be getting close to marrying age. He thought about it from time to time, her and one or two others. He fantasized about a few other ones, married as they were and so unattainable except in a daydream…at his present age of forty or thereabouts, it was pretty much all fantasy.

Red cleared his throat.

“You’re pretty close to Marjorie’s Way.”

Hank nodded.

“It’s about two and a half kilometres from my place.” It was to the north of his homestead, the sides of the hills and banks were very steep along there.

The valleys ran all east and west. The hollows were full of scrub and there was no easy way through, so he hardly ever went up there. It was easier to get there from town, as the northeast trail ran through from here. They might even be camped on a corner of his land. Not that it mattered, they could do little harm as the first grass fire season was over and the land was lush and surprisingly damp this year. The odds were they would move on. Cold grey clouds had dominated the weather for weeks.

Drifters were nothing new. One heard stories of course.

End of Excerpt.

Working Title: (Not too sure.)

A nice, quiet little science fiction story. Oh, yeah, and some romance in there as well.

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