Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 25
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
The Free Man Nation and Ulalo Nuragi have made plans to attack Maur Rosewell's home and mother, all in pursuit of the weapon they believe him to be the key too. The Jump Cannon is now engaged in a race back to Earth, with the threat of discovery and death looming over them all.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
They had established a geosynchronous with Unified North America. Maur stood on the command deck gazing out of the front-facing window as weather systems swirled around on the surface. Looking down in the direction of Karson, trying to pinpoint where his mother’s farm would be in relation to it, his view was clouded by thick white clouds. He tried to imagine being down there, standing on the yellowed grass and looking up at these same skies. It was difficult. He had been away for so long, and so much had happened.
Amid the calm of the clouds, and the beautiful green and blue that shone through them, there was the constant flash of ships launching.
More than any other planet that he had visited, Earth’s population was transient. The sheer volume of craft landing and departing from the surface, and the incredible spread of space ports across the planet surface, had startled him when he first entered space as a boy. Now, years on, this had only increased and now the gun-metal pock-marks had spread.
As unsightly as these stations were, scattered across the green surface of the planet, they were the only legal ports on the planet. Aware of the volume of traffic in and out of Earth, there was an international agreement that dictated no port could be opened outside the purview of government. There wasn’t a single legitimate private port, and the illegitimate ones were always hostile. There was good reason for limiting the volume of docks. The environmental affect of the Collapse had been felt everywhere, and so strict limitations were put on the growth of cities and towns.
Immigration and emigration had been at something of an equilibrium for a while now, the population of Earth was a truly diverse mix of species. However, urban migration would lead to pollution hotspots that might make it difficult to maintain the adjusted atmosphere that thousands of men and women worked tirelessly to synthesise with the injection of constantly changing man-made gasses. There was a constant drive for people to move out into the country, to move away from the cities, but the appeal of the bright lights never seemed to lessen.
While these measures ensured the continued prosperity of the planet, even improving the air quality and allowing the regrowth of wildlife populations alongside some reintroduction of previously extinct species, they did not make life easy for the Jump Cannon. To stand a chance of effective opposition against the Free Man Nation, in whatever size and shape they eventually showed themselves, Annie was required in whole. They needed her, the ships she held and the armoury she offered. This could not be ferried from one of the docks; they had to land at the farm, breaking international treaty and law in the process.
If they chose the right moment, then the farm’s relatively remote location would give them a few hours before sanctioned forces would arrive in retaliation to their unauthorised landing. Bureaucracy would require that time to arrange and mobilise the squads required to intervene. By that point, they hoped in a morbid fashion, the Free Man Nation would be upon them and a battle would have ensued on a large enough scale to be beyond covering up, however great the Nation’s influence was. Acting in self-defence, they might have a case against imprisonment.
“Maur, come join us,” Champion said, calling over to the only man separate from the throng of people awaiting instruction on the command deck. Captain Champion had called them together here, preferring to see them all before he issued these treacherous commands.
Maur moved to join them, embarrassed that he had been caught daydreaming, as these men and women prepared to face battle for his benefit.
“Good,” Champion continued. “When we arrive on Earth, myself and Beta Crew, as they have chosen to call themselves, will establish contact with Maur’s mother. With her we will assess the correct preparations to ensure we maximise our performance on the ground. I require the rest of you to properly arm Annie, establish a suitable base camp and create suitable cover. I have drawn up provisional plans, which we may modify at a later time when we gather more intel, that place Annie up front with us taking flanking positions that will allow us to defend her across a wider front”
“More detail will be briefed to you by your individual group leader, and you have all been assigned one from the ranks of our more experienced assault personnel," said Marc 14.
“I am sure that I do not need to tell you that everything we do here is to protect ourselves and our families. The Free Man Nation represent a very real threat to our future safety, and we must meet it with the full force of our hearts and minds. I thank you all for standing by me, and I will do my utmost to ensure that every one of you is here to meet the new brothers and sisters that will join us once this is all over. Fight for the Jump Cannon, fight your fellow crewmen, fight for families. We will commence re-entry once you have all returned to your stations," Champion finished.
Marc 14 ran his hand down Champion’s arm, an unusually public display of affection that was caught by only a few as they moved back to their posts. There was a low rabble of conversation amongst the crew, vengeful thoughts mumbled to friends as they recounted the terror that the Free Man Nation had inflicted upon them on the planet they had left just a week ago. At the end of his arm, Champion caught 14’s hand as the final few crewmen left the room. With just his command deck staff present and Beta Crew he clasped the long fingers of his lunark companion and held them for a moment.
“They believe in you Earnest,” Marc 14 whispered to him.
“Do you?” Champion whispered back.
Champion turned to his panel, tapping through final reports that clicked through as Annie’s crew made the last few checks before preparing to bring her out of the sky. She had not touched down on Earth in years, and there were some concerns that her patched together systems might not cope well with the sometimes volatile gasses pumped into Earth’s atmosphere. However, Annie’s well-being was not Champion’s primary concern as he gave the command for them to begin descent – all he could focus on were the lives aboard it.
The descent was timed to coincide with rush hour traffic. As Unified North America’s west coast awoke and the first heavy barrage of morning departures left the ports, the Jump Cannon began to head towards the planet’s surface. Her relatively small size and the sheer chaos of the morning made sure that she was unnoticed as she fell through the sanctioned lanes of traffic, ships that dwarfed her thundering by, before breaking off just as they entered the upper atmosphere. In these moments they would diverted away from the constant flow and head for the farm.
In all it took no more than ten minutes, and Annie lazily deflected the buffeting gasses that smacked against her. Weaving through ship after ship, all classes zipping past her windows with a familiar rumble that disrupted nothing as her experienced crew monitored her every system, Annie hurtled towards her homeland with enthusiasm. As they curved towards the farm, Champion ran his hand along the panel in a similar fashion as Marc 14 had done to him – thanking the old girl with a gentle caress.
Propulsion kicked in and brought Annie’s speed down to a manageable level. She hovered towards the farm, cutting across the sky above so much open yellow and green land. Corn fields and farmland creatures leaned upwards to watch as the white hull drew an imposing shadow.
Aboard, her systems operated far better than they had in the last week, the ship truly did seem enthusiastic about her return to Earth.
The farm came into view and the navigation team spoke among themselves, positioning the ship to land along one of the large stretches of ground in front of the buildings. Champion thought for a moment that the farm seemed designed to receive ships, her long fields marking out the perfect approach. This thought was only fleeting though, the heavy blast of the propulsion output connecting with the ground, flattening the crops below, catching his attention. Within the next few seconds Annie had made contact with the ground with a clunk.
Everything began to whir down, the declining noise of the ship matching the deep sighs of her crew as their bodies eased free of tension. Reclining into seats, leaning back against walls, some simply parking themselves on the floor everybody, afforded themselves a minute to enjoy the feeling of being home.
Beta Crew stood in the locker room clipping together their armour and checking weapons, along with specialist equipment they had gathered to meet the range of obstacles that might face them on the ground. Yazram, now considered a bona fide member, had pulled together spare parts into a coherent black covering. A mix of smooth and more rugged pieces would offer him ample protection, although as Maur watched him efficiently check his weapon he wondered if was really Yazram that required it. The men he was about to face should be fearful of a man who hugged a bomb. He was glad to have the seetan on his side, he thought, as the last leg covering was clasped into place.
The large bay door opened to a breathable atmosphere once again, although this time to a sunny day in the middle of hospitable farm country, far more pleasant than Pura, Seeon or the wilderness they had escaped only a week ago. A light breeze rolled across the tall golden grass, the flow of wind carrying over Annie’s curved shape, protecting them from the slight chill it brought. Instead they just felt the warming welcome of their home star. It beamed comfort and safety upon them, despite the very real lack of either.
Standing for a moment, each took in the air and scanned the area. Yazram, in particular, was quite taken aback by his standing in the light of day. It had been a long time since he had been away from the permanent darkness of Seeon’s cursed side. The heat tingled against his solid skin, molecules reacting to a foreign sensation. Maur looked to him and, for the first time in his memory, saw this personality eke out a smile. It offered him solace that this seetan was not without heart and happiness despite his polar opposite, Marzy, having been nowhere to be seen since the explosions that Langthorn had inflicted upon the ship.
“It feels good doesn’t it?” Yazram said, catching Maur staring from the corner of his eye.
“It does, it always has. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten used to being away from the sun, no other star feels the same,” Maur replied, turning his head away and looking back out towards his mother’s farm.
“Hmm... I guess I might feel the same about Seeon’s star were it more of a presence in my upbringing, but the etha, as she is known, was absentee in my childhood. I will admit, I am jealous that you were able to enjoy this for so many years,” mused Yazram further.
“I hadn’t thought of it like that before, I guess it was always there,” said Maur.
“Well,” started Charles, letting out a puff of purpose as he spoke, emptying his lungs of the fresh air, “we must do our utmost to ensure that she never leaves us. Sunlight might be just one casualty if the Free Man Nation ever succeeds in returning us to the days prior to the Collapse. I have heard that even in places such as this the black fog of industry became so powerful as to overwhelm the skies.”
“Surely that has to be an exaggeration?” Thom asked, mimicking Charles’ long exhale first.
“Who can honestly say,” he replied, “but I know that this place would not have been so welcoming in those days. Whether it was an airfield, an industrial farm or a site for landfill I can assure you that the air would not be so enriching.”
“I’ve seen factory planets,” Kerra added, “and my great-grandmother used to tell me stories, much older than she was obviously, that made the Earth sound just like those. I can’t imagine anything worse, those places are like Hell. Very literally.”
“Come on,” Maur said with optimism, “less chat about our impending doom and more focus on my mom’s kitchen. I’m pretty sure I can smell pie.”
“This is hardly the appropriate time for baking...” questioned Yazram. “Hah, you haven’t met my mom yet. As far as she’s concerned, any time is an appropriate time for baking."
They set off across the field, Champion and Marc 14 joining them just before they left Annie’s side. They took high foot steps to break their way through the grass. By now, other members of the crew had started to file out, bringing equipment with them, and they too seemed energised by the familiarity of Earth. All except, perhaps, for the purans who had put on heavy coats to handle the cool weather. Seeing them made Kerra laugh for a moment.
Farm buildings came into view, including the main house. They were all made of red brick, the type that had been baked in the sun hundreds of years before, but was now mass-produced and given the look of age. Even the outbuildings, except for one large wooden barn, were constructed of this – odd for this part of the world. Kerra had expected to see the usual blank coloured panels used to create modular and functional constructions. These buildings wore the hallmarks of being crafted out of love, and she was fascinated with the question of how Maur’s family had come to own them. She did not expect to receive an answer any time soon.
Maur stepped up his pace a little, taking the lead towards the main house with the purpose that only somebody who has lived in a place will ever display. At the front door, old wood painted a dark burgundy, he raised a clenched hand to knock on the door, but it was flung open well before he could bring it down.
His mother bounded forward. Clenching arms as tightly as she could around her son’s broadened shoulders. The armour didn’t matter, she just stood and held him. Maur tried to free an arm enough to reciprocate the affection, but could only manage a soft pat on her lower back as she continued her grip.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you,” she said, bending her neck back to look into his face. He was turning red, the hug going on just long enough to make it embarrassing.
“You too mom,” he replied, meaning it but still hoping it would be enough to set him free of the vice hold he was in.
It was, and she stepped back and began to greet each of the party individually. Each was rewarded for their polite introduction with a cooing embrace, a gesture which caused Yazram some confusion. Kerra received a hug almost equal to Maur’s, a mother perhaps sensing her importance in her son’s life.
“Come in, please,” she said, ushering them with a hand after the greetings were over. They all filed in, Champion ducking his head to her as he passed, demonstrating some old fashioned manners as the younger people took the lead ahead of him.
The doorway of the main house entered directly into the kitchen, a room styled in a familiar traditional manner that too recalled historic scenes of family life. The island in the centre was something of a less homely sight, freshly baked pie and other cakes sat in the middle but rather dominated by the mix of assault weaponry spread around them.
Charles and Kerra, both seasoned enough to care, took a quick inventory of what lay in front. It was a formidable armoury in and of itself. Both were eager to see what else Margaret had stashed away in the house.
Old pots, pans and other cooking paraphernalia lined the walls and the shelves in between were stuffed with similar equipment. Other ornaments, mostly of a twee variety, were mixed in and contributed to the overloaded look of the bare stone walls. The sunlight beamed through the windows, catching on the bits of dust in the air, lighting up a room that had very much been lived in. It had that ever-present atmosphere that is only ever left behind after generations have used a building as a home.
“Take a seat, there are plates and cutlery laid out, you might have to move some of the weaponry,” Margaret chuckled, “but help yourself.”
Only Thom indulged, his culinary competitiveness getting the better of him. He lurched forward and started to cut while the others sat in polite silence, a more significant agenda on their mind.
“Mom,” Maur opened the more ominous conversation, “have you actually started preparing or have you just been baking?”
“Aren’t they one and the same thing?” Margaret replied while she ferreted in cupboards preparing drinks.
“Come on, you know what I mean. You did listen when I told you what sort of threat we are facing? I wasn’t joking...”
“I know that Maur,” she said sharply, bringing a glass down on the counter with enough force to chip the fragile crockery, “but you might let me enjoy your being back for at least a moment!”
Kerra, who was sat opposite him, gave Maur a sympathetic look, then tilted her head to gesture towards Margaret. The direction didn’t heed the desired response, Maur sitting entirely still rather than going over to comfort her. He had plenty of experience with his mother’s occasional emotional outbursts, it was always better to just let them pass.
“Mom,” he said after waiting the allotted time, “you said that these people, the Free Man Nation, might not mean that I literally know something about this power. What did you mean? You don’t say something like that without reason...”
She sidled up to the island, placing down a tray filled with cold drinks, the chipped glass still present as if the whole outburst had never happened.
“I guess that now isn’t the time for secrets,” Margaret sighed, looking down towards the tray. “Although I had only ever kept it for your own safety. Maur, not everything here on the farm is what it appears to be. I've known this was all coming for a long time.”
* * * * *
“...population collapse is deemed imminent. Presidential authorities from around the globe have pledged financial...[garbled speech]...birth rate continues to fall...in comparison to the worldwide average crude death rate of 212.45...environmental related illness and conflict related death continue to be the highest causes...”
Transcript of an audio broadcast dated prior to the Collapse. Hardware degradation meant that the entire broadcast could not be recovered.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Twenty Six of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)