Defending the Homestead

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As the plow approached the end of the field, Preston eased it to a stop. Turning it off, he wiped the sweat from his brow and dropped to the ground rubbing his shoulders.

"You're always loafing," Wayne decreed, entering the newest field.

Preston grabbed his canteen and swigged half the water. Screwing the bottle closed, Preston hung it on his shoulder. "I just finished plowing the entire field, and you have the temerity to call me lazy."

"The smaller field," Bret mocked, clapping Wayne's back. "We plowed and planted the larger one, and we did it without the new steam plow."

"You used a team of horses," Preston countered as he rose. He opened the grate, smothering the flames. With the flick of his wrist, he opened the valve and let the pressure vanish. With a grunt, Preston lifted the blade out of the ground and locked it in place. Preston brushed the clinging dirt off and glared at the others. "They seemed to work fine."

Bret slapped the top of the fence. "What did he say?"

"I think he volunteered to switch fields next planting season," Wayne replied as he walked towards the plow.

"Nope," Preston retorted as he rolled the tool out of the field. "I helped Marcus make this plow, and I will not let you two abuse it."

"You may have assisted, but that's my property," Marcus declared, tossing a towel over his shoulder. "Do not forget that, Preston."

"I didn't mean to be presumptuous," Preston said as he grabbed the plow's cover. The farmhand flicked it open and draped the oilcloth over the steam plow.

"Don't worry," Marcus said, clapping Wayne and Bret. "I'll build another one for the other field before the next planting season, provided that I can find the time."

"And money," Brett added.

"That too," Marcus confirmed.

"How are the animals doing?" Wayne asked.

"They're doing well," Marcus answered while he headed for the small shed. "But, I'm here to grab the rifle for a check on the perimeter." He opened the door and hung the towel up. "I need to ensure the next batch of animals is ready to send to the Western Region."

"That's what, the third shipment?" Preston asked.

"Fourth," Marcus corrected as he turned to face his workers and flashed four fingers.

"Are you worried about the natural predators?" Wayne inquired.

"Talia has done wonders with the animals she wrangled out of Kethra's stock," Marcus said as he pulled his custom rifle from the wall inside the shed. "You know I think she's outperformed the Western Region with a sixth of the resources."

"Okay," Wane replied. "But what about the predators?"

"Ever since they showed up, I've been worried about those balls of teeth and claws," Marcus commented, pointing at the animal's fence. "I ended up rigging the entire perimeter with small explosives, but somehow they still get into the pens."

Preston cocked his head and asked, "Despite the bombs?"

"Have all the shipments gone to the Western Region?" Bret questioned.

"Only two went west," Marcus answered, closing the door. He rested the rifle on his shoulder and started walking back towards the animal pen.

"Where did you send the other group?" Wayne inquired.

"We've passed them around the Eastern Region," Marcus said. "Talia also visits them and makes sure they're taking care of the animals."

"How does she manage everything, with Bertram?" Preston asked.

Marcus laughed and opened the weapon. He pulled a bullet from his pouch and slipped it into the rifle and slammed the chamber shut. "That's something I still don't understand, Preston."

"What do you mean?" Brett questioned.

"Talia is dedicated to the animals, and this colony needs all that she can breed," Marcus started as he rested the firearm on his shoulder. Opening the pen, Marcus ushered his farmhands in before heading inside. He started walking along the left fence line until he reached the halfway point. Once there, Marcus slid the rifle over both shoulders and draped his forearms over the weapon. He stared out into the horizon, running his tongue over his teeth. "The biggest surprise it that Kethra sent Anneth to assist Talia and me with the little one."

"Who's she?" Wayne inquired.

"Who knows," Marcus replied. "My best guess is that she's a less productive assistant in the Western Region. And I'm sure Kethra dispatched the woman to leach as much information from Talia while we need help with Bertram."

"Is that what you honestly think?" Preston asked.

"It's Kethra's style, and she never forgave Talia or me for getting married, let alone having a kid." Marcus kneeled next to a damaged section of the fence and ran his fingers along the edge. He stood up and withdrew a small telescope from his waist. Placing one end against his eye, Marcus looked out into the distance. "It looks like we have five razer hounds."

"What are they doing?"

Marcus attached the sight to his rifle and took aim at the first razor hound. With a deep breath, he squeezed the trigger, dropping his target. The other predators howled in fury. Two of the beasts wheeled around and hurled themselves towards the barricade, while the other pair scattered. Marcus opened the weapon and swapped the empty shell for a new bullet and snapped it shut. He trained his gun on another, dropped the second animal with a single shot. When one of the surviving hounds attempted to tear a hole in the fence, a small explosion dispatched the single predator.

Reloading the rifle, Marcus searched for the other hounds but couldn't find them. Slamming the butt of his weapon into the ground, Marcus addressed his workers. "Get the bodies."

"Yes, sir," the hands answered in unison.

Marcus jogged over to the section of the fence that blew and ran his hand along the surface. "Preston, I'll need your help to fix this section of the fence."

"Got it, boss," Preston said, slinging a hound over his shoulders.

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