More Than 300
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“The thing most people don’t realise ‘bout colonization is, it’s a game of attrition,” he croaked, and threw back another gulp of the water. Droplets hung in his shaggy beard like blue gems and he gave another gasp of satisfaction. I decided I didn’t like him.
“Ya see, son, ya just gotta have more folk than anyone else does, and ta-da! Your colony.”
He waved his arms wide like the master of a third-rate null-grav sideshow and sloshed more water across the deck. It wasn’t like I didn’t have to clean up anyway. The mud from his boots - dear stars and systems I hope it’s mud - was tracked from the entry port to the hold like some on-world game trail.
“So where’s everyone else?” I asked. He looked like a colonist. Or he probably had, once. The heavy pants and boots, the corded muscles in his lean arms, the sun-darkened skin and faint scars at his collar from the cryo rig on his long sleep. It was all coated in grime now, dirt and smudges of stars-only-know what, and numerous repairs evident. He must be a farmer, I concluded. Definitely not a tailor.
“Well, tha’s the thing,” he said, and sank back in the sling seat. “‘s not our colony, is it?” He looked at me expectantly, and I suppressed a shrug. “We got there, got dug in, made a right go of it and…” He used the shrug I was saving and let his hands fall, examining the near empty water flask I’d given him. He rolled it between calloused hands slowly.
He’s looking for a corp, I noted. The sign of the company that supplied it. Because the people behind the water would be the people behind the ship, and the people behind the ship would be the people I worked for.There were maybe a dozen major colonization corporations, and twice that number of smaller independent operations. Add in the mining companies, the MilSec organizations and miscellaneous traders and you had a complicated mix of company politics, trading agreements and hostilities.
Plenty of hostilities.
He held the flask up and examined its shape critically. “So you, uh, you’d be with… Transolv?”
I let the question hang there and gently but firmly took the flask back. It felt greasy and I wanted to wash my hands.
“No, I’m not Transolv,” I said, careful to keep my tone neutral. I walked back to the utility bench against the bulkhead and stowed the flask in a cabinet. “Who established your settlement?” I didn’t turn, not wanting to give him any cues.
“Uh, we was… well it was a cooperative y’see… mostly funded by one lot an’ pop’lated by another. Fair few indies came along for the ride, as it was.”
“These ‘lots’ have a corp name?” I asked. I was shifting some spare canisters in the cabinet, sorting some ration packs slowly and deliberately. I put two on the counter and went back to shuffling the rest of the inventory.
“Look,” he said, and I heard the sling flex as he rose. “I ‘preciate the water and the pickup an’ all. I was in a bit of a fix, truth be tol’.” I slipped the slug thrower from the holster on the cabinet’s back wall and tucked it inside my jacket, then closed the cabinet and picked up a meal as I turned back to him. He was halfway between the seat and where I stood, hands spread, stooped a little as if to placate me somehow. His eyes slid hungrily to the meal pack and back to me, but he didn’t approach further.
“The colony never really had a shot, way I see it. They done us for supplies an’ materials, an’ she’s a harsh world this one. When ya gotta fight for enough to keep goin’, let alone build up the way they’n tell ya, well…” Another shrug. “I’m not much a comp’ny man, see? I don’ have a beef with any of th’ corps. I jus’ wanted a fresh start. Now…”
“Now you want another one.”
He looked offended. Hurt even.
“It’s not like I didn’t give it ev’rything! I bled out there! I worked harder than you rocket jocks ever will! It bloody snows here, did ya fancy instruments tell ya that when you blew in here? Snow! When was the last time ya had to walk somewhere in snow!”
Spittle was flying from his chapped lips and his arms waved in growing circles. He straightened, no longer the meek guest, and took another step.
“We got done, I tell ya! Done! There was no resupply and damn all comms an’ still we worked! I’ve no love left for my corp so sign me up for yours, I don’t give a star-burnt damn which one it is. I just want off this cursed rock!”
He paused and looked at me, panting a little.
“Ekka-nul.” I said, placing the rations back on the counter carefully.
He blinked. Twice.
“How… How’d you know?” he glanced at his shoulder, checking for the mission patch that he’d torn off not so long ago, by the looks of the unfaded fabric it had covered.
“You’re chipped. The corp has full biologics and idents, too, but the chip’s still pinging away nicely. But I wasn’t talking about your corp.”
The slug thrower slid into my hand comfortably and I squeezed the activation stud twice. He doubled over, his gasp lost in the echoes of the shots.
“You said you didn’t care who my corp was, but you should. I’m Ekka-nul.”
I walked around him as he sank to his knees and curled into a ball, clutching his abdomen. The blood flowed onto the deck regardless. Oh well, I had to clean up anyway.
“But…?” he gasped. His eyes were wide with the shock that comes from being shot, and - what was that? Betrayal?
“I’m with Company Claims and Interdictions,” I explained, pulling a body bag from an overhead locker. I picked the dull green of Lupianis Industries. Their settlement was only forty clicks from here and had been fiercely competitive. We’d been counting on it. “And on behalf of Ekka-nul’s directors and the executive, we’d like to thank you for your dedication, blah blah blah, very sorry it didn’t work out and so on, but none of that matters, because you’re dead.”
I laid the bag on the deck beside him while he convulsed and gulped in air. No point trying to bag him before he stopped squirming. Colonists were hardy and more than one Adjuster has been caught out by a persistent survivor. I retreated to the counter again and hit the heater tab on the meal, starting the rehydration and warming reaction. I opened the comms panel and brought up my report. I’d written in before breaking orbit, but I like to polish my work.

Claim against Lupanis Industries # 432-33-90027
Breach of cooperative contract. Monopolization of resources. Destruction of corportate assets.
Claim for more than 300 lost colonists and ancilliary materials.

I looked back at the man on the deck. He’d stopped moving and his breath was coming in shudders now. It wouldn’t be long, and I would be able to submit the claim.

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