When a wealthy family decided to start a new, self-sufficient life on the remote and rugged planet of Heisland, they didn't expect trouble. Now Keyvan, their hired protector, must keep them safe from more than just wild animals as the turmoil of civil war sweeps across the world.
His routine assignment has become a desperate fight for survival, on a planet where danger lies on every side…
The young girl didn't expect to see strangers making their way into the village, least of all strangers armed with rifles. Dashing back into the kiln house where her father was working, she called out to him as he tended the fires.
"Pappa! There are soldiers coming! They've got guns!"
Her father looked round, startled, taking off his thick gloves as he hurried to the doorway where she stood. She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes, fearful of what she saw outside.
In the bright light beyond the doorway, she could see six men in government uniforms, marching up the path to the village outskirts a hundred metres away. Beyond them was a rugged transport car with another soldier standing by it. Other villagers had noticed them too and stood unmoving or ran back into their homes. The man put a protective hand on his daughter's shoulder.
"Stay in here, Hannah. Don't come out unless I tell you to." He stepped out into the sunshine and went to meet the visitors. Hannah watched them approach each other and halt, the soldiers in a line across the path. More people joined her father in a little cluster. The two groups faced off for a moment in silence, then one of the soldiers cleared his throat and addressed his audience, speaking loudly so that other onlookers hanging back could hear him.
"I am Sergeant Clunn of the government army. This land has been requisitioned by the Heisland Government to be under their control for the benefit of the people. I have to inform you that you have six hours to vacate your homes. You may take any property you are able to transport."
Hannah's father took a step forward, holding his head high. "This is our ancestral land," he said, "and you have no right to make us move. I am Reinar Lux, potter of this village. My family--and all the others that you see--we were here long ages and have no wish to live anywhere else. What the gods have granted to us, no man has the right to take."
The sergeant looked him in the eye. "I have the authority to--" he began.
"Authority, yes, but no right!" Reinar interrupted. A villager to his left muttered agreement, and an old woman spat at the sergeant's feet.
The sturdy soldier merely sighed and started again. "As I was saying, I have the authority to use force if you do not go willingly. Please don't make this more difficult for yourselves than it has to be." Beside him, one of his squad shifted his rifle. Another villager--Reinar's brother, Calmar--came running over.
"And what compensation are we given for this?" Calmar demanded. "If we are to move, we shall expect a decent trade for our trouble."
"Of course," the sergeant said. "The government will pay a sum of twelve thousand to each household, plus a bonus of four thousand to those with children below the age of fourteen." This was met with a combination of derisive sneers and a few murmurs of appreciative surprise.
"Nevertheless, I think the majority of us would choose to stay," said Reinar. "And you would insist we all must leave?"
Clunn nodded. "None can stay, I'm afraid, Mr Lux. The existing buildings will be demolished for a new installation to be built. There are valuable rhodium deposits under this ground, which we will need to extract. Everybody has to relocate. It's the law. You know that. So let's get things moving, shall we?" Reinar snorted and shook his head, but Calmar put a hand on his arm.
"Let's not be hasty, brother," he said. "After all, the money is not a bad sum... and I don't want them to use force."
Hannah gripped the rough doorframe. What sort of force did her uncle mean?
"Yes, Calmar, but I'd rather stay. You and I were born here, and now Hannah and Anchelina call this home too. Our ancestors found this spot for us... if we move, we can never go back to the life we lived. It will vanish forever. No. I shall not move from here."
"I'll give you a little while to think it over," said the sergeant. "Men, stay put while I speak to the lieutenant." He trudged back towards the transport car. The people of the village huddled together, talking urgently amongst themselves, some angry, some weeping--all perturbed by this sudden event. The Removal Squads had not been active in this area before, but everyone knew of them. The government simply forced the inhabitants from land it wanted, paying them off, but it was a small price for a loss of home and livelihood.
"Reinar, we should take their offer," said Calmar. "If we refuse, what then? Will they smash our property, rape the women? Did you consider that? I have no desire to be beaten up or see my friends and family suffer."
"And lose my kilns?" replied Reinar. "My living is as a potter, and they have no need of potters in the cities. Machines do my job there. Without this land and the clay it provides me, I have no way to use my skills. And you too use the clay for your brick making."
Calmar rolled his eyes. "If I could afford to move to the city, I would no longer need to make bricks! I could do... well, something else. Anything else. I don't know what."
"Pappa, Uncle Calmar... I don't want to move away from the village." Tears were building in Hannah's eyes.
Her father knelt down by her and held her hand. "Don't worry. I won't let them take our home away. Let me talk to some of the others. It'll be all right." He rose and walked over to a group of chattering villagers. Meanwhile, Hannah's attention turned to Sergeant Clunn.
The sergeant was over by the transport car, speaking to a younger man inside. Hannah didn't understand the army ranking system but she could tell the young man was in charge. His expression was hard and arrogant... a man like that would surely just think of them as peasants. She couldn't hear what they were saying but the grim set of the sergeant's face showed he wasn't happy with whatever instructions he'd been given. He walked stiffly back towards the village. The crowd of people fell silent and turned to watch him as he rejoined his group.
"I am giving you one more chance to agree to surrender your land. I suggest, for your own good, that you do as we tell you," he said, directing his last remark to Reinar.
Hannah's father stepped forward, dignified and calm.
"You may not have our village," he said.
The sergeant sighed and turned to the soldier beside him.
"Private, Lieutenant Rahan orders this man be shot as an example. Take aim, please." The soldier looked startled.
"Sarge?" he said, puzzled. "We don't normally--"
"Just do it, Forbin." Clunn looked down at the ground as he spoke.
From the doorway of her father's kiln house, the little girl saw him fall to the ground, a pool of blood spreading out from under his shoulders. His fingers twitched briefly then he moved no more. She screamed and ran forward, not believing Pappa could ever come to any harm. Calmar caught her in his strong arms, holding her tightly, not letting her look. But she had seen enough. The memory was made.