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chapter four
" DAM "
Part One

Three hundred and eighty miles south members of NEROCORP slid the last of five inhibitors in place on the water side of the Cheyenne No. 1 Dam resealing the structure so that a team of workers on Grav-Assist platforms could chisel free the power generation mechanisms and repair the damage a century of free flowing water had caused.

It was a testament to the original engineers that the structural problems weren't more severe.   Dani Bennett walked through the turbine room and nodded in appreciation at how well the crew here had shut down operations.

Her job now was to restart everything.   Build up the water in the reservoir, restore power generation and divert the necessary water from the unrestricted flow through the rebuilt aqueduct system that would service the new operations at Rapid City that were the first center of civilization in Buffalo Commons since the exodus.

Already her team had pulled out the first diversion funnel and was quickly replacing the sealants and rusted parts with new carbon fibre composites that would last, without maintenance, another hundred years, if not longer.

Dani came up a service access and began across the top line, a roadway which would soon be reopened, allowing unrestricted access between the north and south banks of the Cheyenne River, when she heard an odd noise in the sky above her.

She looked up and saw something which had long since been gone from these parts, a bird of prey.   Possibly even an Eagle.   Such creatures had been among the first to perish in the opening years of the Eco-Collapse, when the depleted atmospheric protection from the Sun's rays caused these and other raptors to suffer catastrophic rates of glaucoma that kept them from hunting successfully.

That was something, Dani thought.   Surely seeing the first Eagle over the plains in over a century was a good sign.   She smiled as she continued to the Conestoga which was subbing as her office and treated herself to a reconstituted coffee.

* * *

Chief SpottyRivers sat up in the back of the lead barge as it trolled down the Cheyenne River and peered skyward at the talisman sailing on the wind above them.

An Eagle hadn't been seen in these parts for so long that SpottyRivers wasn't even sure that's what he was seeing.   He nudged Michael GreySkies and motioned up toward the soaring hunter.   Surely this was a good sign.

The three power barges sailed smoothly down the river, barely kicking up wake as they made their way toward the abomination.   The government's dam, which they had abandoned four generations ago, which his people had visited regularly and maintained lest it crumble and injure the Great Spirit or flood their hunting grounds.

He would have preferred to wait until the sun set, do what they needed to under cover of darkness, but they needed the people who were installing the new parts to tell them how to control those systems or else they would cause more damage than good.

The worst part was that this plan hadn't been universally supported back home.   Although no one could understand why the Government would invade their land after eleven decades of peace, few wanted to incite further action.   SpottyRivers reminded them of the Hansard Agreement made in 2112.

Chief Irving Hansard managed to convince the withdrawing U.S. Government to extend the boundaries of the reservation by one hundred miles in all directions in exchange for assurances the First Nations tribe would responsibly tend the wildlife, maintain the dam, care for the historic places and provide safety and assistance for anyone stranded inside their territory.

Since then no one had ventured inside their land who wasn't greeted as friend, treated as family, and seen on their way as quickly as possible.   Until now that is.

When TenderGeorge returned from his trip to the Dam with news that he couldn't approach because of a large party of workers, SpottyRivers initially thought the Government was just ensuring the proper repair of the Dam.

But after visiting the site himself and speaking with the one they called Foreman, he wasn't so sure now.   It seemed as though they were manning the great wall permanently and planning to return it to full operation.

This was very bad news for his people.   With the free flows closed the water levels on their side would increase.   Many of the residences near the shoreline would have to be moved or they would be flooded, and the restriction of water to the valley below would negatively impact their game.

Foreman shrugged at that.   Offered to pass along his concerns and then turned to continue her work.   This was an affront to SpottyRivers dignity, indeed the dignity of his whole people.

They had been just and fair stewards of this land and it was, for the first time in half a millennium, back in balance with nature.   These people could not be allowed to just come in and disrupt that.

The only thing SpottyRivers could conclude was that Homesteaders were returning.   The Government would want their land back, would want things to return to the way they had been before the Great Spirit's Illness.

Well, maybe elsewhere, but this was Sovereign land now, and it was theirs.   If Homesteaders wanted to move here they would have to immigrate through policies his people would set up.   They would have to buy, no, lease land from his people and that land would not be near the river, but more in shore.

If outsiders wanted to join his tribe they would be welcome, as second class people, visitors, tenants even, but never equals.   They would co-exist under the laws of the tribe.   As it should be.

And the same, according to the Hansard Agreement, would apply to the Dam.

* * *

The Eagle, wasn't.

One of the things which had smoothed over approval from the Calgary Council in approving action in Buffalo Commons had come from a most unlikely source when Pamela Newhaven, CEO for Rigel Aerospace and Head of the Board of Directors at Magellan Shipyards, announced support for the plan, despite everything Victoria had expected from her.

It turned out the Divinity Works division of Rigel had recently completed production on a short line of nearly perfect, mock-Eagles - some were throwing the word 'Bloge' around, even though the constructs did not mimic organic life - and Pamela was looking for a way to field test them on someone else's coin.

The Network was offered Newhaven's support and the generous use of the Eagles for reconnaissance.   It was something Victoria Wells knew they could not turn down.   A welcome fill to some of their gaps, and a short-term solution that instantly satisfied many of Stabler's objections.

And a nod between Victoria and Newhaven had sealed the deal on an earlier request.   Pamela's son's team would not be selected for the Barnard's Star exploration mission.

So now, the so-called 'limited production' cycle of eighty-six Eagle recon drones patrolled the skies above Buffalo Commons, twenty-four hours a day.   A nearly hollow gesture considering the territory was almost Two Million square kilometers in size.

But as hollow at it seemed, their use would be justified today because of this one drone.

One of the things this Eagle had been tasked to watch was the Dam re-activation operation.   One of things that caught it's attention was the rather large band of Natives, moving from the eastern reserve, downstream on their power barges, toward that dam.

The Eagle had to remain classified technology, but that took back seat priority to the lives of those working at the dam.   Topper rushed his Comm set and tried repeatedly to get through to someone in the area, to no avail.

Ever since the development of the comm-cell, reliance on COMM-SATs had been on the decline.   Why build and launch something into orbit that can only pick up powerful signals, when, for a fraction of the cost, you can put a hundred towers across the same service area.

Besides, comm-cells were easier than land lines to install, and more reliable than COMM-SATs to service and use, which is why there were only a hundred and six COMM-SATs in orbit.   None of the major centers needed them, and even the most remote of locations usually had a string of towers and boosters dotting their landscape, to ensure no one would ever be caught in a dead zone.

In fact, many places were so over developed with comm-cells, that people were able to abandon hand-held gear in favour of micro-implants and patch-circuitry that let a person gab in such a manner as to make them look like they were talking to themselves.

And because one couldn't expect Tawny (on her skiff in the middle of the Indian Ocean) to go five minutes without talking to her best friend, Sarah (in Wales) - about that bitch, Eileen, and the way she flaunted her new engagement ring at Izobel's party (last week in Lion's Bay) - there were no COMM-SATs available for Buffalo Commons.   At least, not yet.

There weren't any working land lines either, those systems having degraded over the last century.   So the plan had been to link Rapid City to the Network through Dynamic Boosters, but they hadn't been delivered yet, requiring as they did a stable power source, such as what the dam would supply.   So the crew had been working for almost two weeks without outside contact.

Finally realizing he was never going to get through, Topper searched frantically for someone near them, someone that he could reach and who could help.

The nearest Early Response Team was four hundred and eighty-two kilometers away.   It would take five minutes for them to scramble, another fifteen to get to the scene.   It would be too late for them to warn the workers, and too dangerous for them to handle themselves.

Looking over at the LIVE EYE display and seeing the drama as it continued to unfold Topper finally turned in frustration and called out,

"How are we getting this signal if there are no Communication assets in the area?"

Casey turned to his console, that was a good question and he wanted to know the answer.   He scrolled through the tech specifications for the drones until he found what he was looking for.

"It's a packet recording system, anchored on a home beacon".   He didn't add that the home beacon was almost two hundred kilometres west, too far for anything but high altitude communications.

Topper stood and moved closer to the LIVE EYE so he could see the timer on the signal.   It wasn't 'live' at all.   The packets were off by nine minutes and thirty-two seconds.   The events on display were history.

He turned to his station and called Colonel Fiche.   "Sir, we've got a problem near Rapid City."

* * *