It was only four hours, but that was a long shift when the situation was changing so rapidly.
And yet—and yet it was also so hard to let go, to trust her officers. Her people. She had a feeling that sleep would be hard to come by under such circumstances. Her stomach was in a fine knot, and yet one still had to eat once in a while.
A couple of quick drinks only helped so much.
“Hmn. How did you do? Sleep-wise, I mean.”
Dona nodded. The fact was, the Major looked like hell—something no one should ever say thoughtlessly to another person, man or woman. Dona probably wasn’t in much better shape herself.
“Don’t worry. It gets worse before it gets better—”
“Ha. Thanks, Colonel. But, ah, anyways—if you want to go off, now is probably as good a time as any.”
“True. But I was thinking of a little tour of the defenses. Show myself to the troops, and not incidentally, to the local people. They have obviously heard all about it by now. Our new commander is a woman, and there are still people—not all of them Unfriendlies or other fundamentalist types, who are probably wondering just exactly what that means.”
Vicky nodded, settling into the hot-seat, which was well-named—still warm and no time for a cool-down, was there?
“Good morning.” The couple, dressed in casual clothes, passed her on the sidewalk.
Their eyes were on her back…
With keys in hand, Dona went looking for her pet pickup truck, so pretty in red, washed and waxed to perfection, the windows squeaky-clean, as only a handful of bored firefighters could ever do.
The slip of pale pink paper tucked under the windshield wiper could be only one thing…
A bloody parking ticket.
That settled one question.
First stop, the police station.
Firing up the motor, she fiddled with the navigation system, noting the police station was just across the street from City Hall and right beside the courthouse, just on the other side of a good-sized parking lot.
It was a five-minute drive from her current location. She was headed that way anyway.
For the most part, the streets were empty, with few civilians about. At this time of day, many of them would be at work. In spite of war and invasion, people still had to make a living.
School, on the other hand, had been canceled. It appeared people were keeping the kids indoors and off the street although she did see a few civilian vehicles moving about.
It was surreal in its normalcy.
Peace was about to be disturbed.
The officer on the desk took one look at the ticket, one look at Dona and then tore it up without hesitation.
“Don’t worry, Colonel. It’s just that our night shift is pretty uneventful around here, at least most nights. I’ll have a word with the constable. Darla’s a good sport.”
“About the truck.” The place was so small, and she’d parked right in front of the glass doors.
“Yes. It has been commandeered under martial law.” There were other vehicles at the airport and those would have to suffice in an emergency.
“I understand, Colonel. I will inform our people.”
“How is the evacuation going?”
“Once people understand the reality of what’s coming, they’re cooperative. One or two holdouts, but that’s only to be expected. We do have our genuine nutcases. Some people seem more worried about their pets than themselves. Some are more involved with their gardens, rather than the possibility of their homes being destroyed. Please understand, Colonel, a good vegetable garden is worth its weight in gold around here. Then there are the flower gardens. People love them things, and with good reason I suppose…we’ve never had a real war before. There were a few conflicts with the natives during the initial colonization phase, but those were nothing much. Once it’s passed from living memory—and there aren’t too many old-timers around these days, it’s basically just legend, and only half believable.” A few centuries would have to pass before anyone would have ever time to care about history.
There was too much work to do—productive work, that kind that put food in people’s bellies and money in the bank.
Especially local history. People paid far more attention to happenings on the more populated, more glamorous planets closer to Old Home, a bit of an expression on Deneb. The fact was, there was so much more going on there—video stars, music stars, celebrities and what appeared to be, at such long range, a much more colourful existence. There just wasn’t that much culture on Deneb, although the people tried pretty hard and Tennessee Williams had been put on recently by Roussef’s amateur theatre company not too long ago.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The reviews had been fairly good, or so he said, and she wondered if he’d been in it.
She thought for a moment.
“And what about you guys?”
“Some of the staff are setting up a temporary headquarters, out on the north road. An old hardware store. It’s been closed for a couple of years and they owe a fair amount in back taxes. That’s the one leading to Ryanville. We still have prisoners here in the cells. They’re mostly awaiting trial. Assuming a conviction, they get shipped off to Deneb City to serve their sentence. We have a contract with them, and we don’t have the facilities for long-term incarceration. That’s out of the question now. Some of them we could simply release on their own recognizance. One or two, I would prefer not to. If you’ve got a real bad drunk driver, ah, you know damned well he’s going to do it again—after a few days of drying out in here, especially. Ah. One or two civilian employees, basically looking after the prisoners. We plan on moving them and ourselves last, to avoid any disruption of the communications system.”
The local cops had their own dedicated radio frequency.
Regular police work in Roussef would continue as best it could, which was kind of reassuring.
Town limits were the limit of the Roussef police force’s jurisdiction, as that was the tax jurisdiction paying the costs. There were no rural cops, hence the presence of Confederation troops. Ninety-something percent of the planet was unpoliced.
“Let us know if you need anything else, Colonel Graham.”
“Thank you. I will do that. And if you have serious problems, please let us know.”
“Will do, Colonel. If there’s nothing more—”
“I don’t think so. Let your people know we’ve been talking, incidentally. We certainly appreciate all the help you can give us. Ah…is the Mayor around? Any idea where he is?”
“Probably across the street. Other than that, he hasn’t checked in for a couple of hours.”
She turned to go, halfway to the doors in fact.
“Kick their asses, Colonel. Please.”
The officer’s head was down and he was tapping on his console, and yet another phone was buzzing in the background.
“You can count on it, Constable, and thank you.”
His eyes came up and there was a faint grin on his face as he held the phone to his ear.
“Ha. I believe we can—I believe we can. Hello. Roussef Police Services. How may I help you?”
Yeah, she thought. It’s his planet too. This is his home too.
Of course he’s angry—
Of course he cares.
She found the Mayor in the deserted City Hall. He was in his office with a rather distraught-looking young woman wringing her hands and desperately trying to get him to leave. She was just in time to see him knock over a cold coffee with his elbow and the young lady with him scramble to sop it up with paper towels before it ruined everything on the desk.
The young woman looked up.
The Mayor, eyes wet, was mumbling, slumped in his chair and staring off into space.
“Mayor Byron. We can’t let you stay here.”
He trailed off, shaking his head. He wouldn’t look at her. His hands were all over the place.
Scared shitless. Wanted to go down with his ship. Didn’t know what to do—couldn’t accept it.
Borderline suicidal. It wasn’t too hard to read and she wondered what other issues he might have had.
Dona nodded at the young woman, presumably an assistant manager or some other employee of the town. His secretary, most likely. Dona didn’t care and so she didn’t ask.
Pulling out her com unit, she spoke.
“I’ll get you some help with him.”
“Thank you—thank you.”
Uttering a deep sigh, Dona put in the number for police headquarters. If he would listen to anyone, it would be his own cops.
They’d strap him into a gurney and carry him out, if that’s what it took.
(End of part thirteen.)
Image One. Denebola-Seven Defense Force.
Image Two. Roussef Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Image Three. Collection the author.
Image Four. Chamber of Commerce.
Image Five. Roussef Police Services.
Image Six. Collection the author.
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