2949-09-14 - Tales from the Inbox: Monty Crow’s Neighbors 

This week we continue to draw from the submission by David M. (yes, this is a pseudonym) about his experience having unwelcome visitors come to his home on Botched Ravi. 

Next week we’re hoping to finally release some of the stories Naval Intelligence has been sitting on for some time – the first batch of them got through the censors two days ago, and we’re working on sifting through and figuring out which ones are still immediately relevant. 

David Montero adjusted the makeshift veil shielding his face from the brutal Botched Ravi sun as he emerged from the escape tunnel. He’d left home with only the clothes on his back and the guns he’d been carrying, with not even a canteen to help him on the open badlands. Grif would want proof of David’s death and would find the tunnel looking for his body, but the gang would be sifting through the collapsed ruin of his house for hours before they found the trapdoor. Hopefully, that would be enough of a head start for Botched Ravi to erase his tracks. 

Fortunately, even without a canteen, David had preparations of another kind. The tunnel he’d dug years before emerged in a stand of corpse trees clustered in a blind defile a few hundred meters behind his house. The trees’ leathery flesh, revolting to the eye, concealed a mass of spongy, water-storing flesh which a human could suck on to obtain moisture, even if the alkaline taste would make any but a local gag. He drank from the trees until he couldn’t swallow any more, then used his belt knife to cut a six-foot length of one tree's stiffening rib to use as a walking-stick. Anyone foolish enough to brave the Ravi badlands without a walking-stick was as damned as if they were without a veil and a canteen. 

David’s would-be assassins hadn’t been lying when they’d claimed a storm was coming as a reason to be let into his homestead; every gust and eddy of fickle wind told him that his stretch of the wastes was about to suffer a big one. Botched Ravi’s furious storms drove swirling clouds of razor-dust which could strip human flesh from bone, and he’d been dressed for the stifling heat of the morning, not these late afternoon premonitions of a howling night. He would be reduced to a well-armed skeleton in mere minutes if he couldn’t find shelter before it hit. The tunnel mouth and gorge offered some protection from a storm, but Grif and his men were still too close for comfort. 

Though he briefly considered making an aboveground dash for his homestead to retake the freshly blasted ruins, David abandoned this mad scheme. He’d called Sherriff Deering when the pirates appeared and would need to leave clearing his destroyed home of the ruffians to the ragtag posse that passed for local law enforcement. He didn’t envy the outsiders their inevitable gun-battle with Deering and whoever else the lawman could scare up in short order, especially with a storm blowing in; most of his neighbors were reformed upstanding citizens like himself. They would relish the excitement offered by a firefight with a gaggle of overconfident space pirates. 

His best chance to make it through the day alive would be to make it to the home of one of his neighbors - Old Man Palumbo was the closest, but the pirates had been there already, so instead he set a course for the Mendel home three klicks in the opposite direction. Leopold and Phyllis Mendel were the newest settlers on the badlands, and he’d only met them twice, but they would probably let him call Deering to check in and ride out the storm in their parlor. David might do the same for them, if he was in an obliging mood. 

Peeking out of the gully and seeing no sign of his pursuers, David scrambled topside and set off toward a brilliantly white speck on the eastern horizon. With the nearness of the dusk and its promised storm, his feet itched to run, but he moved with deliberation, tapping the ground in front of his feet firmly with the end of his cut walking-stick. The Csorba Basin where he’d made his home was one of the flattest places on the planet, but flat and open did not make it safe. If he put his foot into the mouth of a ringbiter he’d never get it loose before the storm overtook him, and ringbiters were among the least deadly of the creatures which prowled the area. If he happened to cross into a tunnel cat’s stalking-ground or a songbird run in his haste, neither Grif nor anybody else would ever find his remains. 

Moving as fast as he dared, David watched the speck on the horizon grow into the top of a white stone monolith jutting into the sky. Despite having a squared-off shape and resisting even the patient teeth of the wind, the structure was a natural outcrop. Its base lay in the bottom of a broad canyon at the intersection of several of the defiles and gullies which channeled the basin’s seasonal rains. Despite being warned that their chosen spot would turn into a lake once every thirteen T-years, the Mendels had raised their home at the base of the monolith. 

In three more T-years when the rains returned, David meant to deliver a long-awaited told-you-so to the flooded-out homesteaders. For the moment, though, their ill-advised choice of building site didn’t bother him. He only needed shelter for a few hours. 

Reaching the edge of the Mendels’ dry lakebed just in front of the storm, David didn’t have time to appreciate the lush greenery which carpeted the bottom. Even in the interminable dry season, the water table lay close to the surface at the bottom of the white-stone pillar, and Leopold Mendel had built piping to irrigate an extensive garden of exotic plants. True, he could only plant crops that could resist the wind-whipped razor-dust, but even that bit with far less force on the lakebed. Between the couple’s sprawling house and the numerous outbuildings around it which sheltered the pumps and farming equipment, the Mendel homestead had enough roofs to look like a whole town, rather than a single house. 

David started down the switchbacked trail to the bottom, but stopped after only a few steps when he heard the rasp and click of a cartridge-rifle’s bolt sliding home somewhere nearby. Raising his hands and walking-stick, David turned around. “Mendel, is that you?” 

“Montero.” The gruff settler’s voice echoed crazily among the rocks, and David couldn’t figure out where he was. “Go home.” 

“Wish I could. With this storm. I’d never make it back.” Already the horizon to the south had darkened, and the sky above had turned the killing coppery color every Botched Ravi settler knew meant it was time to seek shelter. “I don’t want any trouble. Just shelter and to drop a line to Deering.” 

After a long, tense moment, Mendel emerged from behind the rocks, raising the barrel of a long hunting rifle to point skyward. “Damnation, Montero, you should have called ahead. I could have shot you at fifteen hundred meters. Haven’t you heard? There’s a mess of outworlders about, and they’re baying for blood.” 

David looked up at the monolith, realizing that the peak would be a perfect place to put a ring of surveillance cameras; with good optics, the Mendels could keep an eye on their neighbors even from many kilometers away on a clear day. “Yeah, I heard.” How closely he was affiliated with those outworlders would be a story best kept to himself. “They attacked my house. Blew the place to all hells. Birds know what for.” 

Mendel looked up at the approaching clouds, then beckoned down into the lakebed valley. “Come on, let’s get under cover. This is going to be a rough one.”