After the drought, fresh water became incredibly scarce. Finding it was tough enough at first, but after the fall of the United States it became the most valuable commodity. Corporations appeared to spring from nowhere where they found small colonies centered on deep water wells. The colonies that formed grew as corporations started to absorb one another until only 20 or so remained. The result was a series of corporate colonies varying in size and population. The first, The Colony, was the most sparsely populated and situated on one of the largest deep water wells in the former United States. Initially thought a wasteland once fresh water scarcity reached its peak, The Colony became an oasis. The only problem was the leadership.

“My name is Blaise, I am the leader of this contingent and charged with the acquisition of resources from all those who have established a residency here in the Colony,” a loud voice rings out amplified by a megaphone. “I ask that whoever is the head of this establishment to meet me outside to discuss the terms of the acquisition and all future contributions to the Colony.” Blaise stands in front of a contingent of 30 armed men and women travelling in several Humvees, pickup trucks, a refrigerated 10-wheel, and a military-grade armored vehicle . The Colony had charged him with not only the acquisition of resources from all those who settle in the Colony, but to recruit new men and women to their police force.

“Blaise”, a meager voice rings out, “my name is Martin; the people who live here asked me to come out and meet with you . What do you want?”

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“Martin, is it? Martin, I would like to speak with you briefly about your intentions in settling in The Colony. We’ll also need to know certain details of your settlement: number of people residing here, available resources, depleted resources, weaponry, vehicles, etc.”

“We moved here from the New South. We moved here because we heard The Colony allows new settlements to be built no questions asked. There are about 26 of us including myself. We have food, some water, building materials, seeds, and a water purification system. As for vehicles we only have what you see over there. And weapons, well we don’t have much of anything really.”

“So you made it here all the way from the New South without a weapon to your name?”

“Yes.”

“Martin, when I ask you something it’s best if you don’t try to bullshit me.”

“Blaise, I’m not lying to you!”

“So there are no weapons among any of you? You only have SOME water; SOME building materials; SOME seeds.”

“Yes, of course!”

“So then tell me why I have a rifle pointed at me right now? Tell me why you have two men in that makeshift water shed with assault rifles, and tell me why you have a revolver tucked into your waistband on your right hip? What is that, a .357?”

“H-how did you…”

“How did I know that you had this sorry excuse for an armed guard ready for us when we pulled up? Do you think I’m stupid? We’ve been scouting this settlement for 3 days. We’re not here to fuck around Martin. We’re here to acquire resources and offer you a chance to pay the toll.”

“Look, Blaise…”

“No Martin, you look! Those men and women over there armed from head to toe. That’s my own personal army. You have 4, I have 30. It’s a game of numbers Martin, and they’re in my favor. So I’ll give you one more chance to tell me what you have here, and this time be a bit more specific.”

“Alright, come with me.”

Blaise gives the signal to his men. They never intended on acquiring anything in any way other than force. Blaise and his contingent were off the reservation . Weeks ago they started to raid on the outskirts of The Colony. It was an easy enterprise. Blaise had his mind set on a piece of area that The Colony’s geologists had only recently discovered. He intended on getting there first. The deep water there would be difficult to drill for anyone other than the corporate colonies. Blaise intended to raid all of the settlements he passed by to stock up on necessary resources, settle his destination, and then wait for the bids to roll in from the other corporate colonies.

“Blaise, we’re getting word of a settlement 4 miles from here.”

Blaise grabs his GPS and checks the current route. He had plotted every known settlement on the route, and calculated exactly how many raids they would need to make in order to establish the new settlement and reside there for at least 2 years. Though he did this, he could not calculate how many of these settlements could provide the one thing he needed most to hold out for that long: whiskey.

“I’m not seeing this settlement on the route. Are you sure Karen?”

“Yes sir. The radio is picking up chatter and Evans just radioed me about a small industrial area spotted by the drone. It appears to have been settled.” Karen is Blaise’s number 2 and in charge of communications. She led her own police force at one point, but was relieved due to a disagreement with leadership over exactly how much force could be applied against new settlements during tribute acquisitions. Blaise recruited her the moment he decided to pursue his current destination.

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“Alright, we’ll scout the location tonight. Find us a nearby site to hole up for the night and organize a scouting party. If it looks good, we’ll take it.”

“Yes sir!”

Karen had some trepidation about the settlement not being on the route, but she would not question Blaise on it right away. They had come across an unspotted settlement shortly after leaving Las Cruces and it provided them with half the resources they needed. But she knew they got lucky. That settlement thought they were close enough to Colony HQ that no one would raid them. Their arsenal was limited and they were put down with ease. An uncharted settlement this far out could be more trouble than they could handle.

After dispatching the scouting party Karen had organized, Blaise retired for the night. He pulled his last bottle of whiskey with only an eighth left in it, and poured himself two fingers. His only release from the worries of leadership, he sipped it slowly. He knew he would need more soon. As the whiskey slowly drained from the cup, sip after sip, Blaise closed his eyes savoring each drop. When he finished he laid his head down and began to wonder if he would get so lucky that he might come across anymore whiskey in the last three settlements on the route. If not, he knew he’d have to open up trade with the New South. That would put his settlement on the radar sooner than he planned.

“Reporting in, sir!”

“And?” asked Blaise.

“Sir, we’ve found the settlement to be in possession of a large quantity of fresh water, some food stores, and is resided in by at least 40 men, women, and children. There were at 7 vehicles immediately identifiable. We were unable to determine the exact number of weapons they were in possession of, but there were at least 6 armed guards. However, they appeared to be civilians so the threat from them is minimal.”

“Was there any indication of how long they’ve been there?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright, get outta here.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Karen, what do you think?”

“I don’t think we have enough information just yet. Even if they were only able to spot 6 armed guards, it doesn’t mean there aren’t more. “

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“You’re right, but we’ll need as much as we can store once we set up shop. Can we have Evans send a drone out?”

“What if it’s spotted? They’ll know something’s up.”

“We take that risk. Worst case, we don’t move on them. Best case, we’re better prepared to make that move.”

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“I don’t like this Blaise. A settlement out this far that was not on the route. It’s possible they’re a bait settlement.”

“A bait settlement would’ve been on HQ’s radar. They would have dispatched a small force to route them out of The Colony. It’s bad PR if the outskirts of The Colony has a bait settlement. There’s no way they would have let it continue.”

“We left Las Cruces 65 days ago. These settlements open up shop in just 3 days. If we have a group of raiders on our asses because they spot the drone we’re going to have a big problem.”

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“Look, I get it. But we’re not exactly your average group of settlers. We can weather that storm with minimal casualties. I’m giving the go ahead. Dismissed.”

Blaise was taking a big chance. He knew Karen’s reservations about sending out a drone were well founded. This far out in The Colony raiders were able to operate with impunity. However, Blaise had participated in the most recent purge of bait settlements just some 13 months prior. That purge forced most of the remaining raiders to the New South and the OKC Colony. If any had made their way back, it was unknown to HQ when he and his contingent left.

A drone was dispatched and made its way over the settlement. All indications were positive. The settlement’s population estimate was upped to 53. The settlement had three large water purification systems, a small office building which had been converted to a storehouse, 4 makeshift towers used as guard posts, and the warehouse was turned into a living area. No weapons cache or armory was readily identifiable by the drone. Blaise had a decision to make.

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“Everyone, fall in.” Blaise didn’t bother to confer with Karen on this one. He made his decision quickly. The settlers did not appear to react to the drone flying overhead in any demonstrable way. “We’re going to move on this settlement. We’re going to do this today at 15:00. Here’s what we know…”

As Blaise briefed them on the settlement they were about to raid an uneasy feeling rushed over Karen. Blaise had never acted so impetuously when it came to these raids. He was always calculated in his approach and they hadn’t lost a single member of their contingent in any of the raids thus far. Making a move like this could cost lives. Karen spoke up:

“Excuse me, everyone!”

“What is it Karen?” asked Blaise annoyed by the interruption of his brief.

“There is a chance this is a bait settlement. You all need to understand the risk involved. If we move on them, we could find ourselves in a firefight. If that’s the case we’ll need to make a calculated retreat to the west; head to the location of the last settlement to regroup. We may have had it fairly easy so far, but we all know how bad things can get if we end up split or surrounded.”

“Feel better?”

“I would if you’d call off this raid and let us continue on to the next plotted settlement.”

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“That’s not going to happen. They’re not ready for what’s about to hit them. Hell, I’d wager we’ll be closing up shop by 19:00.”

Annoyed, Karen walked away. She wasn’t going to supersede his authority, and she had said what she needed. She only hoped she was wrong.

“My name is Blaise, I am the leader of this contingent and charged with the acquisition of resources from all those who have established a residency here in the Colony,” Blaise’s assertion of his charge rings out. “I ask that whoever is the head of this establishment meet me outside to discuss the terms of the acquisition and all future contributions to the Colony.”

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The two guards at the main gate had immediately alerted the settlers of the incursion of Blaise’s contingent. They stayed at their posts when Blaise and his contingent pulled up and assembled at the gate.

“You boys look nervous.” Blaise said, mocking the guards. “Don’t worry, we won’t be here long.”

“Hello there!” a friendly voice greets Blaise from behind the gate. As the gate opens, a tall thin woman appears to welcome them. “My name is Isabelle. We only recently settled here so you’ll excuse our appearance. We’ve had to overhaul these buildings quite a bit!” Isabelle’s manner seems friendly enough, but Blaise is wary of her. She reminds him of the elites back in Las Cruces.

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“Isabelle, eh? Well, as I said we’re representatives of The Colony and you’ve set up shop in their territory. All settlers within the bounds of The Colony are subject to certain taxes. Namely, resources we need to keep The Colony going. “

“Might I ask what The Colony is going to ask of us?”

“Of course! Here are the details.”

Blaise is careful to take note of what is happening behind the gates as Isabelle reviews the list Blaise gave to her. There isn’t a lot of movement in the living area they identified. Certainly far from out of the ordinary, but it’s enough to make Blaise question Isabelle about the settlement.

“So how many people do you have here?”

“Well we came here with about 60 people. Some of have left us since we first arrived unfortunately. Right now, I believe there are about 50 of us.”

“You don’t know for sure?”

“I can’t say there’s been much time to take a headcount as of late. There have been rumors swirling about a group of raiders sweeping settlements nearby. Last we heard they were headed this way. We’ve had to set up a defensive perimeter and reinforce a lot of our doors and windows.”

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“Raiders? Well that certainly explains these boys you’ve got posted up out here. I’m afraid they look a bit skittish though.”

“Wouldn’t you be if you were us?”

Just then Karen notices something on the video feed coming from the drone. She had Evans send a drone up prior to moving on this settlement. Blaise had no idea she ordered this, but it needed to be done. She’d gladly undermine his command if it meant keeping them out of harm’s way.

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“Blaise, you need to see this.” said Karen masking the urgency in her voice as best she could.

“What is it?”

Isabelle knew Karen was there, but hadn’t taken much note of her actions to this point. Her primary focus was Blaise. She detected some urgency in Karen’s voice and then whispered something into a guard’s ear.

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Blaise shuffles over to Karen, she is set up in their Humvee and watching her tablet. “What is it Karen? And what the hell are you watching?” Blaise realizes quickly that she’s watching a video feed from the drone. He’s pissed that it’s even in the air right now, but Blaise, looking into Karen’s face when he reaches her, knows something is very wrong.

No one heard the first round that was fired. Only Isabelle knew where it came from. All they heard was the thud of Blaise’s body hitting the side of the Humvee. The hole in his chest framed Karen’s face: a mixture of shock and fear. The contingent fell silent almost immediately. The next sound was the rushed march of a police force inside the settlement. Immediately recognizing what was happening, but frozen in disbelief Karen watched as the onrushing force begins gunning down Blaise’s entire contingent. A few of them were able to recover in time to return fire, but most were picked off with ease. Karen reaches for her sidearm, but Isabelle has walked up to the side of the Humvee and, grabbing Karen’s arm, administers a heavy blow to the side of her head rendering her unconscious. The massacre was measured and quick. Blaise’s entire contingent was gone.

“Isabelle Durand for co-chair Sherman, please.” Isabelle makes the call back to The Colony. “Co-chair, Blaise’s force has been put down. We’ve managed to keep one alive for conviction.”

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“Good work. Seize the vehicles and supplies, then head to Well 1673 and establish a presence. We’ll dispatch a relief force as soon as you’re established on the new well. “

“Yes sir!”