Mirrors: that’s what you need to terraform a planet that receives exactly 24 hours of sunlight every 400 days. You build the largest ones you can: send some out to space to establish an initial point of contact. Make sure they decrease in size the closer they get to the ground: and connect them to each other.
That’s what Pangolin is: a networked system of mirrors called Scales. Covers the entire planet, but Old Sedes – sorry, Sedes – doesn’t control all of it any more. Not since Materia, that seceded Hub on the other side of the planet, took control of their part of the grid.
They say they did it with drones: flew them up to tamper with the magnetism underneath some of the largest Scales.
We should have seen it coming: Materia was the most under-served part of this planet. But their actions are the reason the soldiers came. And everyone agrees this planet worked just fine without Military Personnel.
* * *
The soldiers came with assumptions.
First: that we were a backwater without resources or amenities to speak of. Second: that, as civilians without Military training, we would see column upon column of men in armour, carrying massive guns, and behave. Third: that Materia would be abandoned by the other outposts that had rallied to its cause when it broke away from Old Sedes.
The latter declared itself a State when the soldiers arrived, but didn’t define its borders. The state of Sedes, by merit of being the only entity of its kind on the planet, was therefore in charge of everyone. And anyone who did not follow its rules would have their Citizenship revoked.
Materia responded by declaring itself a State, and defining its borders as the area covered by the Scales it controlled.
Sedes ordered a violent suppression of the Materiae, but the soldiers weren’t so quick to obey.
Remember those assumptions the gun-hands showed up with? We proved them wrong.
They liked it here: could see themselves settling down with enough room to stretch and minimal danger. Half of them refused the order to suppress the Materiae. The other half had to shove them back in line.
The mutiny was brutal; for most of that month it seemed as though both sides were evenly-matched. The Sedeian faction looked like it was going to win.
And then the Dust Storm hit.
It was massive: planet-wide. The Materiae had better control of their Scales, so they managed to redirect the thicker parts of the clouds to the outer atmosphere. Sedes could not react in time.
They lost a staggering 65% of their Scales: some remained dead in magnetic orbit. Others crashed to the surface, killing hundreds of settlers and destroying at least ten outposts.
The mutiny ended with half the army fleeing to Materia: knowing the Sedeian faction could not engage in conflict when they had just been crushed by nature.
No grid meant no sunlight. No sunlight meant no energy. No energy meant no agriculture.
* * *
The Requisition Order came in the Third Month of Dust, and in less than a day all the food in Sedes’ repositories was gone.
With the sulphurous soil-clouds starting to clear, the Materiae were now the Sedeians’ largest threat. And the Military needed the food more than we did.
Whatever the civilians had in our housing units would have to last until the Supply Ships came. And they always did.
Except, that year, they didn’t. Not to our side of the planet, anyway.
The Materiae had cleared up the remaining dust damage on their Scales, so the ships had docked there instead. A wise choice, given Sedes was mostly rubble and barely visible from space.
* * *
The soldiers had actual food. We had each other.
The State of Sedes declared all members of Government to be soldiers. The (now larger and more bureaucratic) Military moved to an enclave and shot anyone who got close enough to see their main doors.
They only emerged to “inspect” the Trade caravans that came from Materia. Took the best and most abundant items for themselves and chose – based on their whims – who among the civilians would get the leftovers.
They tried to kidnap the scientists next: to make sure they had complete control over whatever was still working. It remained an attempt: every one of the scientists committed suicide rather than support the repressive regime.
PhD-holders, I can attest, taste like any other human being.
And then Materia suspended Trade.
* * *
The Lottery was announced when the Military, too, began to run out of food. There were simply too many of us.
And when my number came up, I refused to go into stasis.
One pill: that’s all it took. Fall asleep for a few decades to awake when all the mess had been cleared up. That’s what the State said: but I knew better. Because even a person in deep sleep is still edible.
One day the artificial sun came up and we ceased to be human.
And even though we were eating each other: we only consumed those who’d died of old age, injury or disease. It was horrific, but we didn’t make an industry out of it. We weren’t rounding people up for consumption.
The Lottery did that.
More outposts began to join Materia. I mean: would you want to be shackled to our maddening state of affairs, given a better alternative?
The Materiae weren’t saints either: having let us starve; eat each other, not have access to the supply ships. Condemning us at every opportunity.
But they sent an Ambassador. In an aircraft large enough to fit at least a thousand people.
On the day I – and all the others victims of the Lottery – were meant to take those damn pills. Guess what happened next.
Hundreds of us died when we stormed the hangar, but he had to get on that ship.
I almost made it. Emphasis on “almost”.
- NEXT CHAPTER -B