The suns burned brightly in the sky when the tractor suddenly lost power and quit working. The farmer slammed his hands in frustration against the steering wheel and climbed down from the ancient beast. His family had always been farmers, generation after generation, since the recorded history of the colony. It was a hard life, but nothing worth doing was ever easy.
In the distant, a trail of dust appeared and followed the long dirt road that lead to his house. At that speed the dust was flying up, it could only mean one thing, a car. The farmer swore silently to himself as he walked to the barn to meet his uninvited guests.
From what he could see, the car was not a new model, probably three or four years old but it was well cared for. The engine area was not overly large like some of the newer cars, but from he knew about this model, it was efficient and most of all, reliable. In the agricultural districts, people preferred function over form, but only one person he knew owned a car like that and he preferred not to see her right now, or anyone else for that matter.
But the gods were cruel and the car did not suddenly turn around and go back to the city or erupt in a magnificent ball of fire. No, it kept approaching and he could see two occupants inside, the woman he knew who owned the car, and her child.
The car slowed as it approached the farmer and the woman smiled as she exited the driver side door. She opened her arms as she approached him.
“Hi, Rik,” she said as she hugged the farmer, not worrying about the dirt stains on his overalls or the sweat dripping down his neck.
“What are you doing here, Tarra?” the farmer asked as he lightly tapped her back in the only form of affection he could muster.
“Rikishi, I came to see you.” Tarra said with a sweet voice. Rikishi was sure she was speaking the truth, but there was more to this visit than just pleasantries.
The passenger door to the car slammed shut. Rikishi jumped and turn towards the noise, ready to strike.
“Uncle Rik! Uncle Rik!” shouted the skinny boy with light brown hair running towards him.
Rikishi relaxed his fists as he kneeled down and opened his arms to his nephew. He scooped up the boy and wrapped his tanned muscular arms around him. The boy grabbed Rikishi’s straw hat and put it on his own head.
“I don’t think you want that on your head, squirt,” Rikishi said tapping the boy’s nose. “I’ve had it on all day and it’s quite dirty.”
“That’s okay,” the boy replied giggling as Rikishi tickled him, “when I grow up and get my farm, I’ll get dirty just like you.”
Tarra walked closer to Rikishi and tapped her son’s shoulder. “Elam, why don’t you go feed the chickens. I want to speak with your uncle.”
Elam looked at his mom and turned to Rikishi. He pulled the straw hat off his head and plopped it crooked back on Rikishi’s head. “I can’t see much wearing your hat, Uncle Rik, so you can have it back.”
“Thanks, squirt,” Rikishi said putting the boy down on the ground. He watched his nephew run off towards the chicken cage with a big grin on his face. This was the first time Elam had expressed interest in his family business. Tarra’s in-laws were merchants and he always expected Elam would stay in the city with them.
“So he wants to be a farmer?” Rikishi asked looking at his sister.
Tarra shrugged her shoulders. “How can you blame him? He wants to be just like his uncle, the greatest war hero of the Republic.”
Rikishi frowned and shook his head. “No, I’m not. Men like your husband were heroes, Tarra. The Rats, they were heroes. I disgraced the family.”
Tarra looked at him with sympathetic eyes and grabbed his hands. “How can you say that? You saved us, Rik. You saved me. You saved Elam, who was still in my womb.”
Rikishi pulled his hands away and turned his back. “Yeah, I saved you. I only damned myself in the process. I incinerated those people, Tarra, don’t you understand?”
“Rik, you listen to me! You were following orders. They made that bomb without any help from you or Dad. The Republic told you were to take it and where to detonate it. You were a soldier and you were following your orders, just like any other man.”
“But I’m not just any other man. I am a Keeper. Maybe if Dad had given you the knowledge instead of me, you would understand. That bomb would not have worked without me. They only had the ingredients partially right but the detonation charge was completely wired wrong. If that bullet hadn’t damaged the firing mechanism and I didn’t pop it open, the Order capital wouldn’t be a radioactive pit right now.”
“You had no choice. They were going to starve us and then kill us if we didn’t surrender. And you know the Republic would have fought until the last man.”
“Dad didn’t seem to think so. He told me I had broken a solemn vow that goes back to the Arrival.”
“No one cares about that, Rik. As far as the people know, those stories are for children and the religious.”
“It doesn’t mean they are not true.”
“I know that and you know that, but they don’t. Dad couldn’t understand that either.”
“He never spoke to me again after the war. I tried to visit him when he was in the hospital but he told the staff that his son died in the war.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that. I was trying to help mom and I didn’t even think to check on you.”
“And you shouldn’t have. You had enough stress raising that boy without his father and you also had mom. You didn’t need my problems on top of that.”
“Rik, we will always be family. Mom believed that.”
“Well, she never bothered to tell me.”
“She was mourning her husband and could barely function without him. She never recovered from his passing before she died.”
Rikishi sighed in frustration but happy the hot day and sweat dripping off his brow hid the drops from his eyes. “Okay, so that’s out of the way. What do you want?”