Cole winced in the bright sunshine as he stepped out of the dome and watched from a distance as he could see Banjo walking away down the causeway. He turned and walked the opposite way in the direction of the Sheriff's dome. As he walked he was vaguely aware of a second figure of the guard following close behind, but not near enough to worry Cole immediately. What was worrying him was his confrontation with Creed and his position within the organization. Banjo was right about one thing, outside Creed's small platoon of thugs, he wasn't a popular figure within the colony and even then only just tolerated by Creed and his men. His treachery had paid a price to his standing and Cole knew without the backing of a person like Creed he would struggle to maintain a level of comfort that he had become accustomed too. The guard followed at a respectful distance from Cole and watched as the smaller man headed off down the causeway toward one of the smaller domes.
The dome which they were heading was of similar size and shape as the majority of the domes in the area, but was signified by a golden star stenciled onto the side of the building. The Sheriff's dwelling sat back slightly away from the rest of the town, and rested on the main causeway toward the mining area. At the rear of the building stood the oppressive legs of one of the Watchtowers as it overlooked the town like a guardian protecting the citizens.
"Cass...Cass...Cass" soothed the Sheriff, "no matter what I say, I cannot alter what has happened"
"Can't you arrest him of something?" asked Cass desperately.
The Sheriff smiled and placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled warmly at her. "You know I can't, he hasn't done anything wrong". Since his altercation in the street with Banjo and Cole, the Sheriff had returned to his office to find Cass waiting patiently outside the dome.
"But..." she began.
"But nothing Cass" he said softly. "Whatever Creed wanted Banjo for, I'm sure he'll be alright" He turned to a small table within the dome and lifted a small metal cup. "Tea?" he asked.
She shook her head in frustration, "But Sheriff, if he's mixed up with that criminal..."
"Alleged criminal" warned the Sheriff holding a finger in the air, "legally Creed hasn't done anything wrong" Cass snorted her derision at the statement. "No matter what you believe of his activities, he is fully exonerated of any illegal practices"
Cass folded her arms and stamped the ground beneath her feet and screwed her face up in defiance. "He's still a criminal....and if Banjo"
"Banjo is a grown adult Cass, he can make his own decisions" he shook his head and walked with the cup over to the small sink at the edge of the dome, "whatever they are".
Light filled the doorway and the pair turned to face the form of Cole standing in the sunlight. "I do hope I'm not disturbing anything?" he remarked casually.
"Nothing you'd care about" snorted Cass, "I'm sorry Sheriff, but the company you keep..." she looked at Cole, "you understand" The Sheriff nodded and watched as Cass pushed her way past the smirking Cole in the doorway.
"Your welcome!" shouted Cole as she squeezed past and he smiled at her retreating form. "Just give me half an hour with that and I'd die a happy man" he remarked to the Sheriff as he watched her walking down the causeway. She past the guard as he walked toward the Sheriff's office and smiled at the large man. The guard returned her smile and continued toward the dome until he had reached the dwelling and taking a position outside, stood within the main doorway.
"Be careful who you say that in front of" warned the Sheriff.
Cole snorted, "That fool Banjo, you think I'm scared of him?"
"No, but remember Cass is popular around the colony..."
"Yeah...yeah old man" Cole waved away his comments.
"What do you want here Cole?" demanded the Sheriff, "Has Creed sent you?"
"No...no, I've come for myself" Cole moved away from the door and beckoned toward the Sheriff to join him. The habitation of the Sheriff's dome was a lot smaller than both the central dome and the dome belonging to Dillonger Creed, but in the same basic shape of the prefabrication buildings around the complex. The cramped conditions within the dome echoed the conditions within the other domes around the colony, but with only one person living within this dome the space was open and not as littered. A desk with official papers lay at one end of the dome, while at the other a slight kitchen area mingled with bedding and chairs. "I need your help" he said.
Banjo sat alone in his dome and reflected on the situations within the central dome and Creed's habitation. He looked around the confines of his small dome and at the mess scattered across the floor, he shook his head as he wondered how he had come to this. A long way from home; his birth home, with only a meager handful of possessions. He sighed heavily and placed his head in his hands.
Creed stood in his dome and pulled on a pair of gloves over his hands, then reaching for a large long over coat he turned to the two remaining guards in the dome. The men nodded in his direction and walked to the main door of the dome and held it open for their boss. Dillonger walked out into the causeway and looked around him. He paused as a long precession of men and women past him heading toward the mining area, their clothes clean before the day's work and various tools were in the hands of the workers. A mixture of simple implements ranging in shape and size from spades and axes to modern machinery like laser drills and techno-graphs. Creed studied their faces as they passed his position, and while he respected the work they performed and their diligence to their duty he wondered how their lives had past to a position where the future lead to a lifetime of toil to another man's tune. They laughed and chattered between themselves as they walked through the mud toward the pass which led to the mining area. As they passed Creed and his guards many of the workers fell silent through a mixture of fear and respect and in turn, Creed waited patiently for the crowd to pass before he moved out into the causeway.
"You or your employer?" asked the Sheriff as he poured hot water into his cup. Steam rose as hot water came into contact with the cold metallic surface of the inside of the cup. The Sheriff dropped a small tablet into the water and stirred the contents as he considered the small man inside his dome.
"Me" stated Cole helping himself to a seat. He lent across the table disturbing several of the Sheriff's documents scattered across the table top.
"I hardly believe you need my help Cole" said the Sheriff. He lifted a small bag from the cup and threw it into the sink and took his place at the table opposite Cole. "But I am willing to indulge you...carry on"
Cole glanced toward the doorway and nodded toward it, "out there is one of Creed's men. He doesn't trust me see, and now he's got me followed. I'm scared Sheriff, and it's your duty as lawman to protect the citizen's"
"In my experience Cole, the things which have happened to you, you've pretty much deserved"
"That's not fair Sheriff" protested Cole, "I have faithfully served this colony..."
"Served Creed" injected the Sheriff as he sat back in his chair and placed his feet on the table.
"Same thing". The two men sat opposite each other as though daring the other to speak first for a moment, before Cole continued. "Over the last couple of weeks’ things have been happening within the central council that has escaped the notice of my...err...employer, and I believe his lack of knowledge is the beginning of Mr. Creed losing his control". Cole sat forward as he spoke, "...and when he does Sheriff, the colony will have a vacuum in power"
"Which you want to fill?"
"No...no, I'm not a leader Sheriff, but it would take a man of authority...a man of standing within the community"
"Me?" asked the Sheriff incuriously. Cole nodded and sat back in his chair. "Are you seriously asking me to stand in direct opposition to the Norton's should Creed fall? the very people who bestowed me my duty" The Sheriff shook his head.
"Don't you see though Sheriff, it would take a man of your standing...someone respected throughout the colony, to take his place"
"And your telling me why?"
"I know Creed's time is numbered and shall we say I just like to butter my cards in my favour" Cole smiled at the Sheriff. "You know something's happening in the colony. All these accidents, all these storms...it's not just the weather that's unsettled Sheriff and I think you know what is happening don't you" Cole toyed with the sheaves of paper strewn across the desk and allowed his eyes to cast over the words. "With knowledge like that Sheriff, you could rule the world"
"I think you should leave Mr. Cole" said the Sheriff calmly.
"Since old man Norton disappeared and his wife took the position this colony has a void of leadership...a void which Mr. Creed could fill. If you know what I mean".
The Sheriff leapt from his chair and grasped Cole by the throat and pulled him across the table. "You give me one good reason..." threatened the Sheriff.
Cole sneered, "You're not like me Sheriff, you're a good man". The Sheriff pinned the smaller man hard against the desk with his hand firmly placed around his neck. "You haven't got the balls..." The Sheriff stared into his eyes and gritted his teeth, then released his grip and allowed Cole to stand. Cole rubbed at his neck and gasped, "but you do know what's happening don't you" he rasped through short sharp breaths.
"Get out..." breathed the Sheriff as he leant on the desk, "get out..."
"I'm going, but I will be back" warned Cole. "I will find out what is happening around here...and when I do Sheriff, be warned Mr. Creed will take retribution over all those who failed to comply" He walked to the door and threw it open and gazed at the guard outside. "Come on" he said, "this old man ain't no good to us" Cole turned to look back in through the open door, "yet" The Sheriff watched as Cole walked up the causeway away from the dome with the guard at a respectful distance behind him. His anger grew within the lawman, and in a fit of rage he pushed the remaining papers off the top of the desk. As a cascade of paper scattered to the floor, the Sheriff picked up his empty cup and threw it at the side of the dome.
Creed stood outside the second largest dome within the colony and clicked his fingers toward his guards who stood by his side. They moved in one simple action and pushed the doors open for their employer. As the doors swung open, Dillonger Creed stepped across the threshold into the central dome and strode confidently into the room. Unlike many of the other domes, the building was well lit through a series of fluorescent tubing high in the ceiling. "Lorraine!" shouted Creed as he stood in the center of the floor, "Lorraine!". His voice echoed up through the rafters and touched every part of the dome through the dynamics of the construction. "Come on...come on" he called. A door at the rear of the dome opened and an elderly man stepped through into the room. He wore plain clothes, with golden trim running along both arms and legs. "You, Chamberlain...where is Lorraine" demanded Creed toward the newcomer.
The man considered Creed through old clear eyes and spoke through his long beard, "Madame Norton is, at this moment occupied with affairs of state" he said simply.
"Nonsense" stormed Creed, "You go and tell her that Mr. Creed demands an audience!"
"I'm sorry Mr. Creed" stammered the Chamberlain, "but as I said Madame Norton is occupied..."
"I heard what you said, and I'm telling you that I do not care! Now go and tell that Harpy that I demand an audience!"
"Is that how you conduct your business now Creed? through threats toward old men". The female voice cut through the air and Creed turned to face the newcomer to the room.
"Madame Speaker" he cooed and bowed toward her.
"You can dispense the theatrics Mr. Creed" said Lorraine coldly, "they never fooled my husband...and they do not fool me". Creed's eyes narrowed as she dismissed his words, "and you can address me in the correct and proper manner...Madame Norton". She held his gaze as she spoke, refusing to back down from the gentleman.
"I'm sorry Madame Speaker..." he spat the words as he spoke, "but I do not recognise your position as leader"
"Then you will learn to!" snapped Madame Norton.
"Your husband was the leader of this colony until he got sick...you Madame Speaker are not in charge"
"My husband handed me the role when he became too sick to rule, now I Mr. Creed rule in his name"
"You are not the leader" said Creed simply as he walked the perimeter of the dome. He ran his finger across the charts and posters which adorned the sides of the dwelling.
"And you sir, are not half the man that I married!" raged Madame Norton.
"I should hope not" retorted Creed, "that old cripple should have been put down years ago" he turned to face her and smiled considering his words carefully, "and a stronger man placed in charge". He could see his words had hurt her and gained great satisfaction through this. "Tell me Madame Speaker...what are you doing about the current crisis?"
"There is no crisis Mr. Creed...we are surviving"
Creed laughed and pointed toward the charts on the walls, "No crisis...produce low...failure to sustain crop lands...increase in disease...mining accidents...and now the increase of storms...I would say this colony is on the brink of collapse. Wouldn't you"
"We survive Mr. Creed" said Madame Norton, lowering her head.
"But we don't live, do we. Look about you, look about your precious colony, they are people starving out there" said Creed as he approached her. "Only some of us enjoy a fruitful life Madame Speaker" he stopped just short of her and stroked her arm. "Just think about how easier life would be if you would relent this colony to my control" he whispered.
She pulled away from him and turned away, "I know all about you and your corporation Mr. Creed, but you do not control this colony". She turned back to him and Creed could see a watery glaze cross her eyes as she spoke. "My husband built this colony from nothing Mr. Creed, nothing. When we came here we had nothing...and now we have built all of this" she looked about the room and out into the street beyond the door. "We are not just a colony working to survive Mr. Creed, we are a community"
"Is that what you’re going to tell the Dymond-Harris family...or the Peake family? What about the others? Don't worry, we might be dying but at least we're together. You’re a disgrace Lorraine" he spoke quietly. "Your happy to let this colony die and for what..." he pulled a chart from the wall and threw it at her feet. "A few minerals which we receive a pittance from Earth, built on the memory of your husband. We could be so much more Lorraine...we could be strong. Earth is crying out for these minerals...they're desperate. We could price them out of the market! we could profit and prosper...not starve to death!"
"That wasn't what we came here for"
"Tell that to the miners when they're starving, don't worry we're building a dream!" Creed laughed as he spoke, "you stupider than you seem Madame Speaker, go on...tell them...tell them, they can eat rocks!"
Madame Norton strode forward and faced him as he laughed at her discomfort. She raised her hand and brought it across his face, leaving a growing red mark across his cheek. "How dare you!" she breathed. "People are dying out there for this colony"
Creed grabbed at her wrist and she writhed in pain at his grip. "Don't you dare touch me again Madame Speaker" he warned, "I will have control of this colony"
"It’s out of your control..." she gasped as she twisted in his grasp.
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"Let go..." she pleaded.
"What do you mean?" he demanded again.
"It’s not your decision to make..." she said, "or mine"
Creed released his grip on the woman and looked through her, "What have you done?" he demanded, his voice rising.
"An adjudicator had been sent for from Earth authority" she said.
"You stupid whore!" spat Creed, "Do you realise what you have done!?"
"Yes..." she stammered rubbing her wrist. "You are right about one thing Mr. Creed, this colony is on the brink of collapse...and that is why I have called in the adjudicator force, and if they deem this colony is not sustainable then they will recommend immediate evacuation of the planet"
Creed walked around clenching his fists, "No. no...no, this cannot be" he rounded on her, "I have worked too hard for this to be taken from me" he stormed. Creed raised his fists and brought it down heavily against her face. Madame Norton fell heavily on the floor, her cheek rising in a small bruise from the impact of the hit. Creed stood over her and pointed down on her form, "you have no right!" he shouted.
"She didn't..." a new voice broke the atmosphere in the room. "I did..." the voice was barely a whisper and it struggled to carry across the dome to where the two figures of power resided in conflict. Creed looked at toward the voice and frowned. In the darkened doorway beneath the stairwell sat an elderly man, partially crippled through old age and partially crippled through illness. His body was frail and his skin was almost paper-like in its quality. Strands of wiry white hair fell from his cranium in an unkempt state and the upper half of his body was completely naked from clothing. His head lolled to one side as he stared into the room with barely open eyes. He sat in a motorized chair, which had canisters and tubing attached to the metal framework of the apparatus. Large cylinder tanks attached to the back of the chair fed tubes through systems of levers and switches into the body of the man, causing small wounds to mark his body. A mask hung limply around his neck and tubing snaked to an air supply on the rear of the chair.
Creed looked at this abomination of a human and breathed, "Michael..."