Chapter 1:

Welcome to Dustridge


Charles breathed a heavy sigh as he trudged into the derelict building that was his office. A part of him wanted to turn away and go have a drink instead, but his pragmatic side won out. The faster he dealt with the issue, the better. Inside his office, he was greeted by the usual sights. One wouldn’t be able to guess it from the exterior, but inside his office was pleasant and organized. He kept it clean and free of clutter, and the walls were sparsely but tastefully decorated. Along the back wall of the room was a shelf filled with books and various other knick knacks. The most prominent feature of the room was, of course, his desk. It wasn’t large, or really all that fancy. What made it so prominent was the total lack of any technology more advanced than a desk lamp. This lack of technology was shared by everything else in the room, save for the man sitting in one of the guest chairs by the desk.

Charles had to stifle another sigh. He recognized Dave Crawford in an instant. He knew everyone in town well, but Dave was a special case since he seemed to spend more time in Charles’ office than Charles himself did. It took a monumental effort to not reach for his secret stash of whisky as he took the seat across from Dave.

“You know, Dave, we came to this planet because Earth was going to shit. We realized that humanity could no longer make it our home, so we set out to the stars. We were the vanguard, the ones who would brave the endless expanse of the universe in search of a new world with riches untold. I don’t have to tell you this, though. You heard all the bullshit about a new world with untold possibilities too. And now look at us. Stuck on this god-forsaken dustbowl, while the pigs in the Citadel eat their fill. It doesn’t seem fair, right?”

Charles stared at Dave, and Dave stared right back. Neither man spoke for a moment. Charles had paused to gather his thoughts, and Dave wanted to hear what crap Charles would spew this time.

“It’s a crappy job, to be out here in one of the remote towns,” Charles continued in an understanding tone. “But someone has to do it. There is an entire planet, a dying planet, that’s counting on us. I know things are hard, and we are struggling, but it won’t get better unless we all do our parts. We have to work together, or else we’ll die here choking on dust. You know that, right?”

“Of course, I know that,” Dave spat. “It ain’t like we can ever forget it.”

“Then why do you keep working against us?” Charles asked.

“Because, Sheriff, this ain’t no way a man’s supposed to live!” Dave said. “Workin’ like dogs while the bastards in the Citadel sit on their golden thrones. It’s just like you said. It ain’t fair.”

“That’s life, Dave,” Charles said. “We all play our part, and in the end, some of us have to pull the short end of the stick. We have to play the cards we’re dealt.”

“And that’s all I did, Sheriff!” Dave said, slamming his hand on the table.

“Dave, you stole parts,” Charles shot back. He kept his tone even, but firm enough to clearly tell Dave he wasn’t going to play along with his crap. “You know how valuable a resource that is. Now, I know you’ve been strugglin’ with your eye, but that’s no reason to steal.”

“Of course, you’d say that, Sheriff,” Dave said. He leaned back in his chair, his body sinking into a defeated posture. “You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t have to struggle like the rest of us townfolk do.”

Charles relaxed his posture too. He had to approach this carefully, and he knew it.

“You’re right, I don’t know the struggle like you do,” he said, lifting his hands slightly. “But I do get it. What they did to y’all is nothing short of criminal. But, like I said, we have to play the cards that we’re dealt. Pass me your eye real quick.”

Dave complied with Chares’ request, reaching to his face and removing the metallic sphere that took the place of his right eye. He handed it to Charles, who carefully accepted it and put it on his desk. He dove into one of his desk drawers, emerging with a small toolbox a few moments later. A few minutes of fiddling later he handed the cybernetic eye back to Dave.

“There you go,” Charles said. “It’s not a permanent fix, but it’ll do for a while.”

Dave carefully pushed his eye back into place. He blinked a few times, then looked around the room. He covered his left eye, the one he’d had since birth, with his hand.

“Well I’ll be,” Dave said, turning back to Charles. “It’s good as the day I got it.”

“Glad to hear it,” Charles said, rising to his feet. “Now just return the parts you stole and we can just all move past this. And please, try to not cause too much trouble for us. I already get enough of that with the Rogues.”

“At least the Rogues are free to live,” Dave muttered, also rising to his feet. He followed Charles out the door and into the blistering heat outside.

“Listen, Dave,” Charles said, leaning against a post and casting his eyes down the road. “I know things don’t look great right now, but they’ll get better. Once we get seeds to take to the soil the Citadel will give us a habitable status, and we’ll get more supplies because of it. Think about it. No more electricity rationing, no more canned foods. The good life. Once we get that the Rogues will be begging us for a share.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Dave said with a hopeful smile. “You really think we’ll see that dream comin’ true?”

“Of course, we will,” Charles said, throwing an arm around Dave’s shoulders. “Just you wait and see.”

“Thank you, Sherrif,” Dave said. “I know you got a rough job. Thanks for putting up with me and the rest of the townsfolk.” With that, Dave walked down the street towards his land. Charles watched him go for a few seconds, then turned to scan the rest of the buildings. From here his town seemed absolutely tiny. On a map, it was much larger, but most of its surface area came from the surrounding farms.

The town proper was barely two dozen or so buildings, all ramshackle wooden constructions. The roof of every building was covered in solar panels, and the gaps between the planks in the walls were messes of wires and bits of peeking electronics. Charles shook his head, frowning at the sight. He detested the dependence people seemed to have on technology, going so far as to replace parts of their own bodies with it. He had seen technology fail before, and he trusted it only as much as he had to. The only two exceptions to this rule were his service revolver, which was gifted to him by his father before he came to this world, and his hoverbike, which he had built with his own hands.

Charles began drifting down the street towards the saloon, vacant thoughts flitting through his mind. He gently pushed open the doors of the most successful commercial institution in town if measured by patronage, and was met with a surprisingly joyful atmosphere. He kindly waved and tipped his hat at the patrons, and got boisterous greetings in return. After some handshaking and small-talk, he made it to the bar.

“Barkeep, give me whisky, on the rocks, he said, tapping his fingers on the bar in front of him.

“Sorry Charlie, no rocks today,” the barman responded, quickly filling a glass with a dark-brown liquid and sliding it in front of Charles.

“What? I thought the mayor rationed more electricity to you specifically so we could have ice,” Charles said, frustration creeping into his voice. He’d been looking forward to a cold drink.

“Refrigerator’s on the fritz,” the barman said. “All the dust out here ain’t good for it.”

“Yeah, it ain't good for anything,” Charles said, quickly swallowing his warm drink. “Can’t grow crops, can barely hold water… I hate to say it, but Dave has a point. A man shouldn’t have to live like this.” The barman chuckled and slid Charles another drink, this one clear with a slight green tint.

“Here, drink this Charlie. On the house,” he said. “If you’re so far down that you’re agreein’ with Dave, then you really need a stiff drink..”

“I told you to call me Sheriff,” Charles said. He took a sip of the drink. It was strong, but it went down surprisingly smoothly. He couldn’t place it, but whatever it was it suited him just fine. “At least this place seems a little more lively than usual.”

“Of course it is!” The barman said. “Old Man Richards finally managed to get drinkable alcohol from those damn cactus weeds that keep springing up, and it ain’t half bad. I told everyone we won’t be runnin’ out of alcohol anytime soon, and now they’re very eager to test that claim.”

“That old man is gonna blow himself up one day,” Charles said. “He might be a genius, but I don’t think he’s all there. Anyway, thanks for the drink. I gotta get to the station.”

“You expecting anything exciting?” The barman asked as Charles stood and donned his hat.

“Not much, mostly just a fresh shipment of seeds,” Charles replied. “You know just as well as I do nothing exciting happens here, and that’s how we like it. The only excitement we need is for these seeds to finally take to the damn soil.” Charles turned to walk away, lighting a cigarette as he did. A few people called out to him as he left, and he waved to them as he passed. Once outside he took a long draw of his cigarette and breathed out the smoke along with a sigh of relief.

The residents of the town were a very closely knit community. That had its perks, but it also came with severe drawbacks. Anything bad happening to anyone in town dragged the morale of the whole community down, and recently it seemed like it was only one bad thing after another. Old Man Richards relieving them of the fear that they might run out of alcohol to drown their sorrows in was a huge boon, and would certainly boost morale. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. The town was going to need it in the coming months.

Charles set off to the train station. It wasn’t a long walk, given the size of the town, but he still took his time. As the town’s sheriff, as well as the closest thing to a mechanic they had, Charles always had something to take care of. He rarely got time to himself, so he savored these small transitions from one task to another. All good things come to an end, however, and long before he could sort through all of his thoughts he found himself on the train platform.

“We can send a rocket all the way from Earth in a matter of weeks, but once here we have to wait for a damn train to get us our supplies,” Charles muttered. He was smart enough to know why they couldn’t move supplies the same way they did interstellar ships, but he was also annoyed enough to complain about it anyway, even if it was just to himself. He scanned the train platform, left to right. A memory played in his mindscape, recalling his last conversation with the Mayor.

“The people can’t know this, Charles. They’ll panic if they do, and no that’s no good to us. We need everyone focused. That shipment is our last hope. If those seeds don’t take our town is as good as dead, and the people with it”

“That’s what he told me,” Charles thought, taking the last draw of his cigarette. “If the Rogues decide to hit us today we’ll be in trouble.” He threw the butt of his cigarette into a nearby bin and let his now-empty hand rest on the six-shooter that adorned his hip. His eyes kept scanning the train platform, left to right, searching for any sign of something going awry.

A few minutes later the train pulled into the station. The first few cars were passenger cars, each the very definition of luxury. Charles couldn’t help but be envious of them. They were most likely heading to the opposite coast, coming from the Citadel. Tourists, off to see the wonders of their new world, wholly unaware of the plight of the small town located smack-dab in the middle of the giant continent. Charles mentally cursed them for their fortune, before turning his attention to the cargo cars. They were already being unloaded into waiting carts.

Charles kept a watchful eye over their new treasures. Non-perishable food, a woefully small amount of electronics meant for repairs, and most importantly, seeds. Charles had to stop himself from lashing out and telling the train workers to be more gentle with the seeds. His self-control was about to fail him when his attention was pulled away from the unloading process by someone disembarking one of the passenger cars.

On the platform stood a beautiful woman in a flowing white sundress. Gentle gusts of wind made the loose folds of her dress flutter slightly and made her grab onto her hat in an attempt to keep it from being blown off her head. Charles took a moment to take her in. She looked frail. She had the bearing of someone who hadn’t done a day of hard work in her life. He couldn’t imagine what she was doing here. He straightened his posture and approached her.

“Afternoon Ma’am,” he greeted, removing his hat. “Welcome to Dustridge.”


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