chapter two
Part One


LOSS REPORT:   006-2223-69878

ITEM:  One (1) Grand Designs CONESTOGA TRAILER with Grav-Plate Tech, matching hitch link for Grand Designs PORTAGE MFUV

DATE OF CONTRACT:  22340214.162752

DATE OF LOSS FILED:  22340228.162752

DATE OF INCIDENT REPORT:   22340301.120000

DISCOVERY:   Picked up locator signal at destination of record on Date of Incident Report.

Investigation amped to Police Report Level One on the discovery of seven bodies at scene.

Official identifications confirmed Blaine Truscot, Millie (spouse), Tomas Jeffery (middle child, male, age 8yrs) and four others: an eighteen year old female (unidentified); and three unidentified males (aged 17, 21 and 33).

There were numerous signs of weapons fire.   Gunshot residue on Mister Truscot and all four of the unidentified people suggest a shoot-out occurred.

In every case except the child's, all deaths were from gunshots.

The Portage and Conestoga had been burned after apparently being stripped clean.   No record or leads explaining the whereabouts or condition of the eldest Truscot child (Ray-Ann, female 17) or the youngest (Laura, female 21 months) were found.

Further investigation at a nearby camp provided additional details.   Five members of a hunting party had not returned, identification of the four confirmed, though none match anyone of record.

Members of the camp expressed surprise at location the missing people had been found, mostly because of the apparent lack of game in that area.

The fifth member of the party remains missing along with two of the Truscot children.   The Squatters in the camp claim many parts of the nearby region, sighting long term residency and claims of centuries old tax records.

A follow up with both National Governments of record fail to support or deny these claims as records considered long lost.

RECOMMENDATION:   Investigators recommend pre-territory inspections before selling of final deeds in all sales for land in the territory in order to avoid a repeat of this incident.

ACTION TAKEN ON RECOMMENDATION?:   Review Board has status pending.

* * *

Colonel Timothy Fiche put the portable display down and stared out the viewport in his office.   Earth was in view, a rare occurrence for this time of the day.  The wobble in the station must be increasing.   The engineers would have to fix that one day.

The station had been designed to handle the stresses caused by the Life Wheel centrifuge, which had provided artificial gravity for residents during the three quarters of the day they weren't working, but that was before Grav-Cells were installed.

When that happened the Life Wheel was slowed to a mere crawl, a back-up in the event of primary power failure, but with that a slight but increasingly perceivable wobble had begun to show, and the central core of Lagrange Station 5 (so named because of it's position around Luna) had begun to gently rotate.

So long as it didn't affect the occupants, the rotation was tolerated.   It did, after all, permit everyone the occasional passing glimpse of Earth, much to the annoyance of those on board who had originally paid more for an Earth view office.

Fiche found little solace in the view though.   Much of the problems he was supposed to keep his team on top off came from that miserable little rock, which was only now starting to recover from the worst ecological dark ages in recorded history.

He glanced at the display again, and the small cup beside it which held a bushel-- if that was the right word-- of Info-Rods, everyone of which was loaded full with reports from the latest problem area, Buffalo Commons.

Buffalo Commons, Fiche thought to himself.   Go figure.

It had taken fourteen days for the rental company to realize their Conestoga was missing.   It had taken only a day to determine why, but in that half month an entire region that few could've pointed out on a map only a month earlier, had erupted into a crisis zone.

Initially local forces from both Americas had tried to quell the problems with mediation, but it's hard to mediate something when one side has possession but no proof, and other side proof but no possession.   Mediation requires evidence, and most information pre-dating the Eco-Crisis was sketchy at best.   Paper, the elements, and time were very bad for posterity.

Fiche knew there was little Vipond could have done about it.   By the time enough information had accumulated to indicate there was a problem brewing, the pot of conflict was already boiling over.   But that area had been her responsibility, and the punishment would remind everyone on the team that no region was more dangerous than when it was quiet.

* * *

Topper came out of the elevator and started across the deck towards the portal, which everyone affectionately called 'The Cloakroom', when he saw Second Leftenant Shelly Vipond working the retail interfaces for a posse of genealogists who had migrated to Station 5 for this very purpose.

Although it was well understood that Colonel Fiche's favourite form of punishment with his Intel Analyists was inflicting the public on them, Topper couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Vipond on this side of the portal.

No, that wasn't true.   Topper remembered that Vipond had been sent out here two years ago after she seduced a new recruit.   Come to think of it, that newbie had been Casey, the guy who maintained their Intel Systems and whose desk sat directly opposite Topper's.

Poor Benjamin, top of his class at SAIT-R-TEK, three solid months of clearances and bottom-feeder, make-work projects thrust upon him to make sure he was 'sound', then, in his first week with the Strategic Intelligence office, he's bed by Shelly Vipond, the office stud.

Of course Casey still insisted that he was the one doing the bedding, though not too loudly, just in case Colonel Fiche hear about it and retroactively share that punishment.

Topper knew there were no new recruits in Information Management at the moment, and none in the super-secret Strategic Intelligence office, which meant Vipond had earned this dubious honour through the only other way possible.   She had been disastrously wrong, or blindingly oblivious to critical events developing in her Section.

The problem with that was that Vipond was lead Analyst for Threat Zone Three: The Americas.   There hadn't been a critical event develop in the Americas in over fifty years.

Topper shrugged off his reverie and bee-lined for the Cloakroom.   He stood there until the portal recognized he wasn't just a snooper and opened access for him.   Seconds later he was inside the most secure and sensitive room in the entire United Network: Strategic Intelligence.

He crossed past Casey and the Core, a recently installed PAT-I Artificial Sentience system which was the backbone of the entire operation, and pulled up to Tommy, one of the operators at LIVE-EYE, the all-seeing interface for the massive monitoring network.

"What's up with America?"   He asked while scanning for the microdots that represented Threat Zone Three.

"Didn't you hear?"   Tommy asked, oblivious to the stupidity of the statement.

Topper looked down at Tommy and said, "Enlighten me."

Tommy brought up a series of reports and guided them to an exchange port, waved an Info-Rod over the port, completing the transfer, and then handed the thin copper wand to Topper.

"All hell is breaking loose down there."

Curiosity was nearly overwhelming Topper.   Despite the fact his region was Threat Zone One: The New Soviet, and he had enough of his own work to do, Topper couldn't help but move to his desk and slide the Info-Rod in the reader so he could scroll through the latest and highest priority dispatches.

Then he saw:  Buffalo Commons?   Nothing had happened in the Commons since the Heartland Free States collapsed during the only North American Food War.

As any school kid could tell you, most of what became Buffalo Commons had been abandoned within ten years of the Eco-Collapse.

And while the abandoned infrastructure had drawn the zealots, and allowed them to create the Free States, it was an experiment that failed quickly, leaving the region to itself, while a tenth of the continent became nothing more than a nature preserve.

But as Topper scrolled through the latest reports, he saw that was hardly the case anymore.   Apparently lots of the original people hadn't left.   There were pockets of them all over the place.

Some had hunkered down for the battles they associated with the end-of-times.   Others were left overs from the Free States, who continued to hack out an existence from the land through stewardship, much as their ancestors had done.

There were even colonies of people, rejected by the rest of society, who had moved into the region and set up their own neutral civilizations, free from the corruptive influences of the outside world.

Topper began to realize the depth of the problem when he got to the generational farmers.   People who had stayed on the land, and apparently flourished, without the constraints of government or interference of commercial greed.   And those, who had always been stewards of the land, the First Nations people, who were left to rediscover their ways in the harshest of manners.

As Topper read some of what had come in, he saw that the territory was vibrant, and alive, and even healthy.   And it would've stayed that way had the surrounding areas not refound their wealth.

Now that the United States of America and the Union of Western States were no longer squabbling between themselves over historical borders and entitlement, their mild cold war could continue in the territory between them.

And now that both sides and the two nations to the north were benefiting from decades of prudent economic planning, and a renewed Global economy, the wealth had returned, and with it the drive to go someplace new, settle the frontier.   And for the first time a very long time, the frontier in question was actually on the planet.

So began what some where calling the Offlander Invasion.

But dead deeds and gaps in property records had created an environment of ignorance, which the bureaucracy attempted to fill the best way it could, by starting from scratch.

Problem was no one issuing permits for the sale of these lands had bothered to ensure that someone wasn't still on them, either a Squatter, or multi-generational owner.

Worse still, they weren't called 'Dead Deeds' for nothing.   So few records were retained from that time that nearly no one on the land could prove they owned them, even if their families had lived there for generations.

So modern commerce collided with inheritance, sometimes violently, and Buffalo Commons went from being a quiet wasteland to a hot-bed of tensions in only a couple weeks.

Topper rose from his desk grabbing a portable display.   Region One: Earth was the purview of James Ticinovic, but he was on assignment.   Topper was number Two for that Region, and knew his counsel would be needed on this matter, but as he made his way to Colonel Fiche's office he still wondered what the solution to this problem might be.

* * *