Jeb finished his tour of the perimeter fence early. All was secure – it was always secure. There hadn’t been any trouble from Outsiders in his lifetime, or for a long time before that. And so his checks had only been peremptory; he was keen to get back to the Centre for the centennial celebrations. The night marked a hundred years since the Colonists, Jeb’s and everyone else’s forbears, had arrived on this lonely little rock and begun the arduous and painstaking process of making it their home.
They had come from a distant planet called Earth. What Jeb had been taught about it led him to believe they were correct to abandon it, with its ruined ecosystems and incessant wars, the murderous squabbling, the hatred and intolerance… The Colonists had worked hard to establish a fair and decent society – as soon as they had brought the natives to heel, of course. Made up of representatives from every race and culture of Earth’s remaining population, they had set out with a vision: Humanity’s latest (and perhaps last) chance to try its hand at Civilisation.
Jeb could hear the music pouring from the Centre before he saw the building itself. The holiday atmosphere was infectious and brought a spring to his step. He found Lilla waiting at the long buffet tables, holding two drinks, one of which she offered him as soon as her brown eyes saw him approach. He pecked her cheek and took a swig. The Colony’s vineyards probably needed at least another century before they would produce anything worth drinking. But at least they’d got the colour right, a rich and robust red.
“Dance with me,” Lilla snaked her arm through his and pulled him gently towards the middle of the hall.
He knew it was useless to protest but made a pantomime of it anyway, allowing her to lead him to the dance floor. The music was live – the Colonists were a talented bunch. The band struck up a waltz. As Jeb and Lilla turned around the dance floor, he looked over his wife’s shoulder, nodding greetings to his neighbours.
“Howdy, Jeb,” said Clambert, the incumbent Mayor, raising his glass in toast.
He never speaks to Lilla, Jeb realised. He never acknowledges her.
Lilla ran a brown hand through his blond hair.
“Why the frown, my love?”
Jeb didn’t answer. He thought he saw the Mayor giving wordless signals to a couple of men.
This is how it starts, Jeb thought as sweat erupted on his brow and lip. Having conquered the planet and subdued the aboriginal population, there had to be someone to blame for the ongoing struggles with the crop yield. This is when we are turned against each other and rip ourselves apart…
“Come on,” it was Jeb’s turn to lead Lilla away.
“Where are we going?”
Jeb didn’t answer. He took his wife to a sector where he knew the fence to be weak. Perhaps they could get through it. Perhaps on the other side they would at last find a better world.