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Authors: Louis Shalako

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Third World

BOOK: Third World
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Third World

 

Louis Shalako

 

 

This Smashwords edition copyright 2014
Louis Shalako and Long Cool One Books

 

Design: J. Thornton

 

ISBN
9781301779062

 

The following is a work of fiction. Any
resemblance to any person living or deceased, or to any places or
events, is purely coincidental. Names, places, settings, characters
and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. The
author’s moral right has been asserted.

 

This ebook is licensed for your
personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given
away to other people. If you would like to share this book with
another person, please purchase an additional copy for each
recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or
it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to
Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting
the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

She Sure Was
Beautiful

 

 

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 more 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.

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 on Third World.
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, although he had done it
himself more than once.


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 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 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. Red called them
Swedes,
which was a kind of a joke in
these here parts. It really didn’t mean nothing and the few Swedes
around took it in good spirit.

Hank studied Polly. Women were as
scarce as hen’s teeth around here 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.

 

***

 


Gentlemen.” The beaming
proprietor, Abe Peltham, having made a good sale apparently, stood
at the counter beside them.

Cheerful talk came from the ladies, for
spending money was always exciting, and the slamming of the front
door bore this impression out. Their hard boots thumped on the
shaded boardwalk and then they stepped out into a rare shaft of
sunlight and started across the rutted, muddy hell that was Main
Street. Hank forced his attention back to the counter
again.

Putting an elbow down and settling in
for a long talk, Red leaned over to inquire as to three boxes of
.22 long-rifle cartridges. He always claimed to be able to hit an
apple at a hundred yards with the old repeater he owned, but
privately Hank doubted it. He hadn’t seen an apple in twenty-five
years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Not since leaving
Earth as a boy.

It was just talk. Talk had its
pleasures, its temptations, and its uses. More than anything, it
was unavoidable. Hank pulled his glasses out and put them on
again.

He turned to watch the women cross the
street and go into another establishment. Oak River, the town’s
name, was a bit misleading as there were no real oaks on the
planet, although several of the taller indigenous growths bore some
resemblance, at least as far as anyone remembered. Red and Abe
would take a while.

The place had a population of about
four hundred. There were a thousand other settlers within a
twenty-kilometre radius. There were quite a number in town today,
as the conversation droned on behind him.

People moved up and down the street and
draft animals, critters mostly but the odd horse as well, stood at
hitching rails in front of the hastily-erected and mostly unpainted
buildings.

Hank, starved for company and mental
stimulation, found it fascinating enough in its own way. Turning,
he watched in gentle amusement as Red tried to get Peltham to throw
something into the deal.


Come on, you got to make
this worth my while.”

Abe shook his head.


You know the prices.
Besides, you still me owe a little from last month.” He knew it
right down to the penny of course.

Poor old Red had been enjoying a run of
bad luck, just a little saying he had.

Hank snorted gently in amusement. Part
of the charm of the place, he figured. Red probably knew the total
tab right down the penny himself.

Red knew when he was beaten and took
the shells.


Can you put that on my
bill?” With a nod and a quick grin at Hank, he scooped them up and
turned and stalked out of the store.

If he had any cash at all, Hank might
find him at the Stub, one of three watering holes and not the best
of the bunch. If Hank could see that, so could Peltham.


Well, don’t that just beat
all.” Abe sighed deeply and lifted an eyebrow in Hank’s
direction.


It’s a pretty good
bet.”

Abe’s eyebrows rose.


What do you
mean?”


I’m thinking this will be a
bumper year for the hoppers.” They teemed in the grasslands,
burrowing in the earth and subsisting on the greenery. “He’ll do
all right if he gets out there.”

Every seventeen years they just seemed
to go nuts, or so the old-timers said.

In Hank’s opinion their legendary
fecundity was to make up for a high mortality rate among the young
and newborns. Brownish on top and white on the belly, they were
long-haired animals with floppy wrinkled ears. He shot one when he
could himself, as they made a good stew, their small size
precluding roast or steaks or anything like that. They had
extensive colonies scattered at set distances and moved burrows
frequently. The thing was to find a fresh group that had never been
hunted, a whole colony, and then you could lay in a supply of meat.
Properly smoked and salted, it would fetch a good price. Red had
the best recipe on the planet for jugging them, or so he
said.

Red had been known to do it from time
to time, but hunting was always uncertain and had costs, including
ammunition.


Well, I suppose he has to
feed himself, at least long enough to be able to pay me back.” Abe
bit his lip and then grinned at Hank. “What can I get
you?”

Hank had been saving a set amount,
month in and month out, for a full year and yet his idea might be
crazy, or merely unsuccessful. He was keeping it to himself for
just that reason.

Taking a deep breath, knowing that it
was bound to cause a certain amount of talk, he placed his order.
He could almost justify it. He kept talking as Peltham moved in and
out of the back room.

One thing he’d learned was to keep as
much twine on hand as possible. It was mostly used for tying
bundles of bracken-bush, the pods of which were a prized commodity
on the home worlds. The pods were a tart, spicy thickener in a
variety of soups and sauces that for the most part he had never
heard of, never partaken of, and by the sounds of things, didn’t
ever want to try. The leaves were dried and crushed and added to
various products in an endless industrial food production chain.
Elite chefs on a hundred worlds liked using the pods with the
leaves still on the branches for presentation, whatever the hell
that meant.

BOOK: Third World
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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