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He was a Company man now, Adam Bradshaw had to keep reminding himself. The colonies were governed by a business, not an actual government. It was a dictatorship with a board of directors. His military rank was gone, Captain Bradshaw was no more. He was Mr. Bradshaw, level 3. Adam’s military pension was gone, his medical benefits – gone, wife – gone. As a result of his crime of defending the Intergalactic Republic, he’d been given a job only slightly better than scrubbing toilets, and something slightly suitable for his talents, Adam was often sent to find out why colonists were misbehaving.

“Adam we need you to go to TL-876,” said his “supervisor,” a man who was half the size of Adam, a foot shorter, and had not been old enough to fight in the Great War. Adam no longer had a superior officer, only levels of managers.

“Let me guess,” Adam began with sarcasm, “Colonists are late on resource shipments?” It was usually the only thing he really handled anymore. Sometimes the colonists, still loyal to the IR were withholding their ore or whatever the planet they were on was rich in, trying to cripple the Company, unfortunately there would be more effort needed than just a single colony on a single planet to do anything.

“This is actually a little different,” the supervisor made a spreading motion across the face of his tablet and a hologram appeared between the two men of a planet. It slowly rotated in full color. The planet was blue and red, not all habitable planets were the customary blue and green of mother Earth. Using his fingers to move the planet and zoom in small clearing next to what Adam realized was a red forest. The tree trunks were gray, and the leaves were red. The grass was red and a house looking like something out of old Earthen history books, was built out of the gray wood of the forest.

“Only half a dozen families went to TL-876, which they call Rubywood. We’ve completely lost contact with Rubywood. It isn’t so much as radio silence, it is as if no one is there, but here,” the supervisor manipulated the hologram again, the true color changed to blues, reds, greens, oranges and whites, heat signatures. A few he could tell were human shaped, others he was clueless as to what they were, except the human shapes were colder than they should’ve been. They were the body temperatures of the dead or dying and yet they were moving about as if uninjured.

“Where the hell is the protective dome?” Adam asked. There were other buildings other than the weird historical house, but nothing looked like it should’ve been. Most colonies had only a vague idea what lived on the planets they came to. So extreme measures were taken for colony safety, Adam could see none on this compound.

“This colony is a private undertaking, Rubywood belongs to Mr. Allen’s brother, Isaiah Allen,” the supervisor explained. Adam unfortunately did not have a choice to say he didn’t want to do it.