CHAPTER ONE

part III

Unexpected visitors were not uncommon on the farm. It had only been two months since the last attempted break-in, but, luckily, an experimental flamethrower Roe had retrofitted into W0RM’s defense system substrate on a boring evening drove the would-be-thieves away before they could reach whatever their intended grab was to be. Even though the unintentional test run of the mod turned out to be a resounding success, Roe figured it’d most likely trip up the gate scanners the next time they went to town, and the last thing they needed was a prejudiced old-timer spotting a dangerous modification on a machine twice as smart as the no-brained Fed himself. So, weighing on the side of caution, any future fun with the flames was doused.

Luckily, smash-and-grabs of the farm’s more value equipment were relatively rare and, more often than not, depended on whatever materials and components were currently being exhausted by the belt miners and could fetch a good price on the black market.

No, most of their visitors were those who her Grandma Bell lovingly referred to as “the fan club.”

A few would stop by every month, sometimes part of a virtual tour, and most just wanting to take a photo or two outside the gate. The overwhelming majority were Haematites from the Church, but there were those occasional non-believing admirers. And, naturally, there was a massive influx every year around the anniversary.

Roe never understood it.

“But why do they come here?” she asked Bell one year when she was little, as they were repairing a busted track on their old hauler outside of the shop. Roe squinted, staring across the farm at a group of ten or fifteen Haematites stood on the other side of the front gate, as the sun grew dim on the horizon. They never did any harm, just mostly left offerings to the Creta or personal notes detailing how her Grandpa Carter’s work had changed their lives in one way or another.

Bell’s response that year was measured. “Well, little one, belief can be an odd thing. It drives people. Sometimes to do good, sometimes to do bad. But mostly just... strange things. Those people believe what your Grandpa does is important. It’s meaningful to them.”

Roe nodded, still a little confused, but that explanation sounded reasonable enough to her even at that age. “But Grandpa’s not here though so... should we tell them?”

Bell smiled. “That’s very nice of you, but they know he isn’t here. The farm is just much closer than the Temple, so they come here instead.”

And, year after year, they did.

Roe tried her best not to be bitter about it as time passed, and some years were easier than others. The Haematites were almost always polite, stepping out of her way when she’d come in and out of the gate. But there was always one or two who stared at her in awe like she was something special simply by proxy of being related to her grandfather, the “almighty discoverer” of the ancient Creta they so devoutly worshipped. It gave her the creeps. She wanted to scream in their faces, “He’s not here, you idiots! He hasn’t been here in years. He doesn’t give a shit about anybody but himself, so stop staring at us like we’re your fucking cult idols or something!” But she never did. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know her life. They had their beliefs, and Roe had hers.

And, where most people would’ve immediately called the Feds when a trio of cloaked thieves trespassed onto their property, it was Roe’s belief that you’re on your own in this world.

But, luckily, at the moment, she wasn't.


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