“It’s your turn, Mom,” Amy said proudly. “Roll the dice!” Hannah, Amy, and Lucy were playing Settlers of Catan, and Lucy was not winning, and not on purpose either. This game depended so much on chance! She rolled the dice, rolling a three and a four.
“Oh, better watch out now, you two! I rolled a seven and that means I get to move the robber,” she put her fingers on the grey totem piece, deciding where to put it next. “Let’s see. Where should the robber go?” The three of them were sitting on the floor surrounding the coffee table at the front of the house. The sun was high in the sky, and the brightness shown through the double windows and onto the game board. The two dogs were flopped on opposite couch edges, having traded places with their humans that were on the floor. Lucy and both girls sat on throw pillows from the couch and were relaxing in socked feet, embracing the indoor comforts of their tiny, well-loved house.
The entire house was filled with treasures of homemade goodies. Jars of pickles and other marinated peppers dotted the open shelves in the kitchen. There were pressed flowers hanging in frames on the wall, a unique feature considering most artwork and décor was virtual these days. The wallpaper was a pastel pattern, but a modern design that faded and morphed on the glossy white background. Wooden shutters were on every window, for privacy and shade when they wanted, and the wood varnish made the red wood shine like it was brand new. It smelled like a hug, the smell of yeast from the bread dough rising silently under a kitchen towel. There was dried lavender tied in bunches and in a vase near the front door, the flowery scent chasing away the mud and manure stuck on the shoes by the door.
Lucy smiled mischievously at her daughters, the wooden game piece in her fingers teetering back and forth as she made it do a little jig on the board before picking it up and placing it on the yellow hexagon. “I’m going to move it here, so you can’t produce any more wheat in your fields.”
“Aww,” pouted Amy. She got up and made a big show of her displeasure. She put her hands on her hips and did a little sway with her hips side to side, making her cotton dress swirl. Lucy smiled. She didn’t mind the internet being gone; these moments were precious. She knew these munchkins minded, having no school to keep them busy and out of trouble, but right now they were just kids having fun, passing the time.
“Hannah, it’s your turn,” Lucy said, scooping up the dice and handing them to her eldest daughter. “Roll a ten for me, won’t you?” Hannah rolled her eyes before rolling the dice. The dice bounced and chattered against the coffee table and onto the carpet, coming to rest with a two and a one. Hannah beamed.
“Ha! A three! That means I get to make more bricks!” Hannah announced. Her blue road was already the longest and this certainly meant the game was going to end soon. How did this always happen? Lucy laughed as Hannah got up to pull Amy into a skipping lap around the coffee table to celebrate. The two of them twirled around the couch, the dogs raising a lazy eyebrow at the silly girls.
Hannah stopped skipping as she passed the front window. “Mom?”
“Well aren’t you going to come collect your bricks?” Lucy asked.
“Mom, there’s a drone outside,” Hannah pointed. Lucy got up, alarmed, and saw that Hannah was right. Hovering out front like it was waiting for something. Lucy knew that the delivery drones had stopped, and she hadn’t ordered anything. What was it doing here?
“Stay inside,” she instructed the girls. “I’ll go find out what it’s doing here.” Lucy opened the door and took the shovel propped up against the house. She didn’t know if she would be fast enough to hit it, but she didn’t want to get hit with those propeller blades if the drone was rogue.
As she moved closer, the drone sensed her and acted normally, its proximity sensors triggering and slowing its motors to settle on the ground. Lucy picked up the drone, turning it over and looking for why a package-less drone was here. On its underside, there was a taped message. She looked back to see where her girls were, both faces and hands pressed against the windows, watching her. Lucy decided to take a look, undoing the tape and unfolding the message to read it. Then she read it again:
All drones are needed to fight the arriving alien spaceship.
All of them? She didn’t think they were joking. That would be millions of drones from commercial business and private homes. But whomever was asking common folk like her to pick up arms, they were not thinking about what was going to happen afterwards. If she donated her drones to the cause, she would be stuck like the rest of them. No food. No job. No money. No way! She wasn’t going to give up the few essential drones she had. She needed them! They watered her fields, sprinkled fertilizer, patrolled her land and chased away predators. Her farmette was hers, and she wasn’t about to give it up for a one-night stand. There would be other drones, enough other people contributing to the cause that hers wouldn’t be missed. She set the mysterious drone down, walking away and letting it take off empty-handed. She watched it rise into the sky and speed off on its own before she tuned to return to the house. She crumbled the note in her hand and stuffed it into her boot.
The screen door banged behind her, as Hannah and Amy looked at her expectantly. Lucy didn’t offer any information. How could she? No internet and now this? She wanted to protect her girls, not answer their questions about a war.
“What was it doing here?” Hannah asked. She was always curious about drones, whether here on the farm or from the city. She was such a smart one, coding field patterns and all sorts of things.
“It wanted to trade with us, just like the settlers in our game,” Lucy tried, looking at Hannah and Amy.
“What did it want to trade?” Hannah asked.
“Yeah, did it want Hannah’s bricks? Because it can’t have it!” Amy said.
“You’re right! So, I sent it away. We don’t have what it needs,” Lucy agreed. Hannah didn’t look convinced but didn’t say anything.
“Amy, did you roll the dice and win while I was gone? How about we start some chores around here, hm?” Lucy needed to get her hands busy. She wanted to continue with her rounds even though the kids were at home today. “Today we have raking to do. Do you want to help with that?”
“No,” Amy said, pouting again.
“What about moving some rocks then? I’ll let you wear the floppy hat.” This got Amy’s attention, who contemplate the new offer with crossed arms.
“Okay,” she conceded. Amy ran to put on her mud boots and find her favorite hat, the winter one, still lying on the floor from earlier in the week. It was a winter hat with ear flaps that they never needed out here near the California coast. But it was her favorite because that was what her favorite cartoon character wore. Lucy had made it for her last Christmas, with a fuzzy trim and custom yarn poofs on the end. Amy had complained when the poofs weren’t the right color, but Lucy explained that Amy wasn’t the cartoon herself but one of her matching best friends. It had worked, but it did mean that Lucy had needed to repair the pompoms twice this year so far since she wore it all the time and chewed on the ends.
The three of them went to the garden beds and worked on the mulch pile. Back and forth, Lucy scrapped back and forth, spreading out the mixture of hay and wood chips with some chicken poop and clumps of dirt and rocks mixed in here and there. She was of course thinking about the drone and the message. She wasn’t stupid, she had seen the alien ship pass over the past couple days. It was big and it wasn’t something that she wanted to pick a fight with. And those trespassers yesterday? She was worried, and legitimately. She knew what having a farm meant. It meant she had food and if things got worse, she was going to have even more hungry and entitled people coming to her and they weren’t going to asking nicely. She would rather stand her ground against the weather than aliens and she would rather stand her ground against aliens than other humans.
Lucy finished the job, then the three of them dusted off the solar panels. Next, Lucy sent the girls off to play with the chickens before going back to the house alone. She went to the bedroom and opened the gun safe. She had a good armory: a shotgun, two rifles, and four handguns. Until yesterday, the last time she had used them was when she had to put down the mother goat who had given birth to more than just a baby kid. Her whole insides had come out with it and Lucy did what she could, but the loss of blood was too much.
It’s probably time to clean these things properly and make sure they’re ready for whatever is coming, she thought. She disassembled the shotgun first. She racked the slide back, checking the barrel first. She removed the magazine cap and the spring carefully before removing the barrel itself. Next, she punched out the two pins to remove the trigger assembly. Then she removed the forend and bolt carrier. Laying all the parts out on a cloth, she sprayed, rubbed, and wiped the parts clean before assembling them again. The whole time, Lucy moved her hands methodically, but her brain was churning over the question of to what ends was she willing to go? What would she do to protect her family and her home? Wasn’t Earth her home, on a larger scale? Couldn’t she do something? Was there something she could do without putting her family at risk of the aftermath? She kept thinking about that stupid Catan robber. Was it premonition that she sent it collect on her own daughter’s grain?