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Pushing the Sky Away

by Ian Cordingley

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


A little yellow sphere darted overhead. A rare sight: the plantations kept their drones close. Plantations were miles away, preferring to concentrate on the closer masses of migrants.

“What is it?” Tom asked.

“A scout,” Blair said. “I don’t know whose.”

No insignia, just default factory yellow paint. Nothing helpful to determine who was piloting it from a distance. Periodically drones came, parked themselves over the community, and left. They would withstand every bullet or rock flung at them. The drone went straight to the milker. It hovered close enough to make the bag ripple under the draft of its fans.

“What is it doing?” Tom asked.

“Could be a plantation,” Diana said, “looking for their water.”

“No,” Blair said. There were slashes of black paint visible along its flank, abstract but organized, growing more familiar in his mind as the sphere lowered itself to just a hair above the milker. Aggressive, furious markings — only one group came to mind.

“The guys who shot me down. I’m surprised it took them so long.”

It darted away. As quickly as it had appeared, it was over the horizon. Surprising, given the sudden arrival. You would have expected it to linger. It left a strange smell and an uncomfortable, lingering sensation in the air.

“They’ll be coming,” Diana said resolutely. She had followed the fighting in the territories well enough to know that they would not have long to wait. She knew what was coming: blackened bodies, broken bodies, fire and wailing. The community would cobble together a defence from spare bullets and improvised weaponry, but would easily be defeated in a real fight between men and drones.

“No kidding,” Blair said.

“What are we going to do?” Tom asked.

“How soon until they arrive in force?” Diana asked.

“No idea,” Blair said. “As little as hours, I suppose.”

“What are we going to do?” Tom asked.

“We can’t fight,” Diana said. She had tried to persuade the community out of the violent habits of their nomadic life, but was reluctantly forced to concede that arms did have value. Not that she didn’t establish sympathy with the people who were nomads, but she was forced to establish priorities.

“We have a problem then,” Tom said. “They’re not going to take no for an answer.”

Diana thought. She could lead the people away, but if they left, would the pirates let them return? And if they did, what would they return to? Would their shambles be enough to steal? Could they take that chance?

Nobody could move the milker. Too heavy to move, too large to miss. They would, hopefully, be quick and discriminating about their harvest. The water they carried with them was too polluted and unworthy of capture. Never guess what an outsider’s motives were, never should — the unwritten law. Regardless of outcome, they could be forced back into their wandering life.

“What are we going to do?” Tom asked.

“They’ll want you,” Diana said to Blair. “We keep you...”

Blair nodded. No argument from him. No idea how far away he could get on his own. And if he did, he would not be able to survive for very long. His pursuers would wait him out. They could. He could not.

“The water,” Father said. He stood nearby, knife pointed at the milker, voice distant and calm. “He’ll drop the water. He has no choice but to drop the water. If he wants to live, he’ll drop the water.”

“No,” Blair said. Diana moved between them. Father gently pushed her aside with his shoulder and continued to advance.

“He’ll drop the water,” Father said, close enough for Blair to feel his hot, foul breath. “He’ll drop the water, and they’ll leave us alone. I’ve dragged myself from one end of this blasted land to the other. I want my family to enjoy enough water to drown in.”

“His choice,” Diana said. “Leave him alone.”

“He has no choice. And he knows it. He will.”

“There are consequences for him. He drops it, there will be retaliation.”

Father smiled. “I would expect nothing less. He will drop the water.”

Diana’s anger grew. She had come here to help these people, to guide them away from poverty and towards a semblance of prosperity. It rankled her to have her work disregarded by an angry, inflexible man.

“I am striving to make a better world, and I cannot endanger it if—”

“We can’t wait for the world to get better! We need want — need — the water! Now!”

Tom turned to face Blair. He said nothing. He stood there. His life was on the line. So were theirs. Only one question to ask.

“What will you do?” Tom asked.

“I don’t know,” Blair said. “I just don’t.”

He looked down at Tom. “What will you do?”

“Endure,” Tom said. “What we always do. The question is what will you do?”

Blair’s expression was blank. Tom decided it was best not to confuse his thoughts for Blair’s. They stood, indifferent to the crowd around them. Sharing their burden, sharing their fate, like it or not.

“It’s just so different from above,” Blair admitted.

Tom scampered off. His father was bellowing that they needed to be ready.

* * *

Tom awoke to the sound of electronic hammering. A couple of shouts: “Over the ridge! They’re coming!”

Fingers were pointed at a small black cloud of vehicles drawing closer. Arms were ready, bullets clicking into place. Diana was scampering, organizing the community into preparing for the consequences. Father sought his arms.

Blair was gone. Tom’s heart sank, his stomach twisted. His father was standing with his arms akimbo, no doubt wondering where the man was himself. Perhaps he was rueful he hadn’t had one last crack at him.

The engines purred into life. The milker lifted into the air. For several metres it seemed to be about to make it, though the higher it crept, the more the back of the craft struggled to balance itself. It would not work: the rear engines smouldered but failed to fire. They made a cough and began choking again. The milker was beginning to teeter, on the verge of falling.

There was a gurgling sound. Slowly the bag began to deflate. A thin though fast stream of water began to sprinkle from the rear of the vehicle. Light but strong. It took a moment of dazzled wonder before realization dawned, and thus began the mad scamper for buckets, basins, containers.

The invaders paused in the air for a moment. The milker rose above them. The bag deflated. The drones paused, their distant operators puzzled. After a moment of frantic buzzing, as if hoping that Blair would just surrender, they disappeared again over the horizon.

Tom stood there, closing his eyes. He felt the water run over his face. It streamed over his skin, into his mouth. He felt the dust and the grime loosen. It felt so good.

Copyright © 2014 by Ian Cordingley

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