The weary Konterbeid closed the file for the last Emergent processed into the Starkal Cliffs rehabilitation complex in the icy north of Hekayt Prime’s main continent.

Thousands of new residents, crammed into a complex built to hold roughly three hundred small-time criminals. The outcast criminals who had called this place home each had been handed a sack of supplies and best wishes from the Overkeeper before they were hustled out into the blizzard to fend for themselves.

“If you can make it back to civilization,” Overkeeper Hjasne had told them, “then consider your freedom well earned.”

And if they couldn’t make it back, if they succumbed to the elements – well, that just meant they had settled their debt to Hekayti society once and for all.

But Hjasne suspected (in truth, he was almost certain) that the weather wouldn’t be the first thing to take a life out there. The smarter ones would realize they could last longer with more supplies, and their fellow travelers were nothing more than walking caches. They’d prey on each other until it became impractical to track one another.

He doubted any of them would make it out alive, but he happily took a piece of the action when the guards started a pool.

His hand was just reaching for the button to shut off his system before ending his work shift when the incoming holovid signal – a green light – started blinking. Hjasne frowned. The roq tournament began in less than an hour. He had planned to join the guards in the mess hall to watch the first game. Hopefully, this wouldn’t take very long.

The image resolved into that of Lodat Brosjar, aide to the Grand Moot council in the capital city of Hjernkor. A fellow Konterbeid, they had been educated together, but their careers had followed different paths. Lodat fit better in a political government climate, while Hjasne was much more comfortable with prisoner management. “Overkeeper,” the aide said, “you are looking well.”

“Lodat,” Hjasne replied. “I am surprised that you are not with the throngs in the arena.”

A smile from the flickering image. “Soon. First, I have one last duty to discharge for the day. I have been directed to tell you that the Grand Moot, on behalf of the colony of Ashkodt, has deemed it best to assign you with the task of questioning individuals suspected of complicity in the recent Emergent tainting. You are to seek them out on Comorro Station.”

The Overkeeper’s brow furrowed. “Excuse me, but why can’t Ashkodt send their own investigator? I’ve got a facility to run here.”

“The Grand Moot has determined that it would be best to have someone unaffiliated with the colony leading this arm of the investigation,” Lodat said. “Your assistant will have to manage the facility for a few days. Best get him up to speed as quickly as possible. The shuttle arrives for you at Starkal in forty-five minutes.”

Hjasne shook his head. “Ridiculous! That doesn’t even give me time to pack for the trip.”

“Apologies, Overkeeper,” Lodat said. “The orders are what they are. You depart as close to immediately as possible. We cannot afford to let these suspects elude questioning.”

By Brody

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