chapter one

Quince swung her rifle around as she dropped quietly to the dirt.   In her sights came the view of the buck, a white tailed deer so rare in these parts.

She shifted her weight and tried to balance the Marwayne 51 stock in her grip as lightly as possible and then she waited, while her breathing and heartbeats relaxed, just her Pa had taught her.

Mentally she went over the three points on the deer which delivered the fastest kill.   This was important to Quince, not just because she didn't want the animal to suffer but because, unlike many others back at camp, she didn't like the taste of the meat once the stress hormones were released.

Her eyes glanced over at some sweet grass.   She studied it, calculating in her head the affect the slight breeze would have on the shot.

Despite her initial rejection of it, Quince had to agree that the Marwayne 51 was a beautiful hunting tool, it's only aesthetic failing being the large serial number stenciled on the outside of the barrel like a vehicle license plate.

Quince selected the spot she would strike on the majestic animal and calmed her breath while various on-board compensators quietly worked to ensure the shot stayed true to target.

She looked back at the buck, still oblivious to its impending end, felt a moments twinge of remorse, and then began to squeeze the trigger, stopping only when the buck bolted off somewhere to the right.

Quince brought the gun down and looked over its barrel.   Half way to where the buck was she saw a cloud of dust being kicked up.   She brought the gun back up so she could peer through the sight for a better look.

Sure enough, a mile and half off her position was a Grand Designs PORTAGE, one of those monstrous civilian off-off-road vehicles being produced up north which were all the rage these days.

Behind it, gliding on the same GRAV-PLATE technology, was a nearly equally sized CONESTOGA, the rental trailers which pointed to one thing very clearly.   This was a Offlander family.

Quince had heard of them.   Occasionally they were able to pick up news from the CAN-SATs up north about the recent trend for homesteaders to move onto vacant land in Buffalo Commons, but that didn't explain these people being here.

And it didn't explain what they were doing when they suddenly slowed, pulled over and parked.   Quince rose up and began to walk toward them with a look that mixed curiosity and puzzlement together in a way which was hardly flattering.

* * *

Ten minutes later Quince had crossed the divide between her perch and the Offlanders.   By this point they had already unhitched the ready-locks and slid the Auto-Shelter into place.

The father was directing the expansion modules with his remote, doubling the size of the rapidly forming tent bungalow, when the oldest daughter, Ray-Ann, saw Quince approaching.

Mistaking Quince for a boy, Ray-Ann, shifted her weight, favouring the one hip in a fashion that in any other place might have gotten her arrested for soliciting.   Ray-Ann tilted her head the opposite direction and began playing with her hair as she approached the coverall clad youngster with the firearm.

"Hi."  She said.

Quince pulled her hat back and let her hair fall loose.   Ray-Ann immediately hesitated but more so because of Quince's expression.

"What's going on?"   Quince wasn't talking to her, instead she was heading directly for the father, who stopped fiddling with his remote long enough to turn.

"Hi.   Howdy!"   He said trying to fit in.

"You people can't stay.   This here's private land."

The father looked back at the mother who brought the middle, a ten-year-old boy named Tommy, closer.

The father turned to Quince with the authoritarian tone only a parent can muster.   "I guess it is.   We own it."

"You can't own this lands.   It's ours."

The father turned, moved to the Portage and removed a POP-LINK display, which he flipped through until he got to the right page.   He did this as he walked back to Quince.   Once he found it he offered it to her.

"This is our deed.   We bought this property fair and square in Spokane five weeks ago."   He leaned forward pointing to items on the display.   "These are the Coordinates we've purchased, this is where we are now, dead center."

Quince went pale.   The grid map above the numbers was more than half her property.   "This here is my land.   It's been in my family for ten generations."

"Not according to the land registry office."   The father was growing impatient with this petulant child, "now why don't you run along before you're late getting somewhere".

Quince took his motions threateningly.   She stepped back swinging the Marwayne rifle up to defend herself.   "I want you to pack up and get off my land now!"

"I don't think you understand.   We bought this land, fair and square.   I showed you the deed."

The father shrugged.   It was pretty straight forward.   "Now run along."

"I ain't going nowhere until I see the last of you!"

Quince's eyes were white with rage.   She hadn't heard anything about the new territorial Governor selling off already claimed land.   The others wouldn't like this at all.

The father took a more conciliatory tone immediately.   He raised his hands up in surrender, he avoided direct eye contact and even slightly bowed his head.

His wife tried to shield the middle child behind her body while easing the both of them toward the Portage, happy at least that the baby was still in the infant seat of the large vehicle.

The daughter, Ray-Ann stood there, too scared to move while she watched her father slowly ease himself forward, both trying to block any shots from hitting the rest of his family, while trying to get closer to Quince with the hopes of disarming her.

On the way he listened to her when she spoke, without hearing anything, and agreed with whatever she said, without meaning any of it.   Quince backed up a step for every three he managed.

The father, Blaine Trustcot, was very near Quince now and he lunged forward grabbing the barrel of the gun and twisting it skyward as he tried to wrestle it free of Quince's grip.

To Quince's credit she discharged the weapon the moment his hand came forward, missing him entirely, and twice more before it was wrested from her.

She hadn't hit anyone, but in firing the '51 so many times in a row she had alerted the other five members of her hunting party that something was up.

Without knowing it, Blaine was about to play his part in the first conflagration on Buffalo Commons in almost a hundred and fifty years.

* * *