Space Colony: MaggiebyStorm62©
Maggie Bartowski looked up from checking the corn in her father's fields as the government transport made a perfect landing in the yard in front of the farmhouse. Her older sister, Stella, stepped from the craft and, seeing her, waved. Maggie trotted back towards the house. Stella had been a government official for nearly ten years now and this was her latest official errand. The township had advertised in the colony for some young men to come and help the farmers throughout the summer and the autumn harvest. There was an odd imbalance in the gender of the children on this planet. The colony had more boys than girls, and the opposite was true here in 'Sideways Landing', which was leading to a few difficulties as the original farmers aged. Stella was dropping off the fifteen or so volunteers who had recently arrived at the places who had asked for assistance.
"Hi big sis." Maggie said as Stella came back out of the house.
"Hiya little sis." Stella smiled back. "Brought you some help."
"I was coping you know." Maggie pouted.
"I know Mags, but dad didn't want to wear you out. After all, you're only just eighteen, and you work harder than some of the older boys."
"I wasn't complaining." She still pouted.
"All right, you can do it all. But you've got some help now." A frown crossed the older girl's brow. "How much I'm not sure."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this guy, he seems a bit...wet and weedy. That reminds me, Eve says you are not to torment him too much, she doesn't want a bad report about the town going back to the scheme HQ."
"WHAT! I can't tease him?"
"Maybe a little bit." Stella grinned. "I know how hard restraint will be for you."
"You can talk."
"Hey! I'm allowed to tease my husband, and Dee and Eve expect it. I've stopped with everyone else."
"Except me apparently."
"Well, you're my cute little sister."
"I'm not little!" Maggie said angrily and then stopped. They both burst out laughing. "We should talk more often Stells; we seem to be the only ones who enjoy winding each other up."
"You're right Mags." She hugged her younger sister. "Now, I gotta dash. Coming to the dance next week?"
"Probably. There is some serious tormenting to be done..."
"...And we're the girls to do it!" Stella laughed over her shoulder as she entered the transport.
Maggie waved her sister off and then went inside to meet the new arrival. Her father was talking with a boy of about her age.
"Margaret, this is Mark. You are not..."
"Yes, yes. I know dad. I'm not to pick on him. Stella told me already. So I promise."
"Good girl. He's going to be in the spare room, your old room. So get him settled in and then show him the farm."
"Yes sir." She turned to the boy, who was looking at her with amused interest. "This way, Mark wasn't it?"
He nodded and followed her as she led him to the room at the back of the house.
"What was that all about?" He asked when they were out of earshot of Mr Bartowski.
"What? Oh, the warning." Maggie sighed. "I'm afraid I have a bit of a bad reputation for teasing and tormenting people. I suppose I'm the nearest thing to a tearaway in 'Sideways'." She sighed again. "It's all my sister Stella's fault."
"The police pilot who just dropped me off? How?"
"My big sister was all set to be the chief delinquent until she decided to rebel and become the law instead."
"So how does that promote you?"
"Well, we're very alike and when she went to the academy she left me a detailed list of how to wind certain people up. I've never looked back since!" A huge grin spread across her face. "In any case, you look like you wouldn't be much of a challenge, no offence meant."
"Oh yes?" Mark smiled. It made him look kind of cute Maggie decided. "Like to try anyway? I might surprise you."
"I can't, I promised. You heard me."
"I won't tell if you won't." He grinned wickedly. Maggie grinned back.
"Okay, you're on. I can't resist a challenge." His smile made Maggie feel different about him than the local boys. "Just remember, you asked for it. But you'll have to say if I go too far, I don't want to upset my dad, or Eve."
"Agreed." He stuck out his hand and Maggie shook it. "Who's Eve?"
"The first born,. She's in charge of the scheme at this end and like a big sister to all of us born out here." She shook herself, she was talking too much. "Come on, I'll show you the rest of the place. And I'll warn you now to be on your guard at all times; you don't know when I'll strike!" She grinned mischievously.
"I'll be watching for you."
After a week Maggie was feeling a little frustrated. Mark seemed immune to her verbal sallies and mild insults and she was wondering how. He just smiled benignly at her, and that was the problem. She so loved the smile she couldn't get mad at him. None of the boys she grew up with had a smile like it, not that any of them smiled much when they saw her. Usually they tried to hide, such was her reputation. Perhaps she was losing her touch she mused. But tonight was the night of the dance, there would be plenty of opportunities to rediscover her mojo.
Mark knocked timidly on her bedroom door.
"Margaret, are you ready yet?"
"Just a second, and don't call me 'Margaret', only Mom and Dad do that."
"But it is your name."
"Everyone, my sister, even Mr and Mrs Lynton, calls me 'Maggie'."
"All right, if you insist Maggie. Why do we have to get there so early any way?"
"I want to see Stells or Eve about something before it gets noisy."
"Fair enough. I wouldn't mind talking with some of the other colony lads, to see how they're getting on." At this point Maggie opened the door and stepped out. "Gosh!" Mark exclaimed, staring at her.
"What's the matter?" She asked in surprise.
"Nothing, nothing at all. That's a very pretty dress if I may say."
"This?" She waved her hand down over the dress dismissively. " It used to be a bridesmaid dress, when I was seven from Evie and then when I was eight for Stella."
"You must have been extraordinarily tall for your age." He grinned.
"Don't be silly." She giggled. "Me and Mom have been altering it ever since, though it's getting a bit short now." She looked down at the hemline half way up her thigh and sighed. "It used to reach the ground."
"It suits you. You look even prettier."
She blushed deeply at this.
"How come you can wind me up with such simple statements, and I can't get at you no matter how hard I try?"
"Beats me." He shrugged. "Let's go to this dance shall we?"
"Stella! I need to talk."
"What's up sis?" Stella was stood outside the door of the village hall, waiting for her.
"It's Mark. He makes me feel...funny. And I can't wind him up!"
"You're not supposed to, remember?"
"He wanted me to, honest."
"All right, ignoring that, how does he make you feel 'funny'?"
"Well, just...funny. Not like usual. You know normally I have no trouble winding someone up? Well, with Mark, it's a real effort to try. He looks so timid, but he's withstood everything I could think of; I think you might have a job getting him to bite; and, and he teases me without trying, and his smile is soooo cute." Maggie looked at her sister who was giving her a laughing look.
"Oh dear! It sounds like you've finally fallen." Stella smirked.
"Mags, it sounds like you've met your match at last, like me with Mikey."
"Don't say that! I hardly know Mark."
"I think I'd better post a notice saying that everyone is safe, the reign of teasing is over. Mighty Maggie has fallen." Stella laughed.
"In love dopey."
"I have?" Maggie was genuinely surprised.
"Sounds like it to me. Listen, you know how alike we are?" Maggie nodded. "Well I needed someone to withstand my teasing and I got Mikey. All the other boys crumpled. It looks like the same thing with you. All the locals couldn't take it, but you've found someone who can."
"Oh." Maggie went bright red. "Don't tell anyone, especially him. I want to know how he feels first."
"All right Mags. I won't even tell Mikey or Evie. Come on, let's go in and find someone to tease."
"I don't know if I still can." Now she looked unhappy.
"Course you can, if you want to that is. It's a knack we have."
She still had the knack she soon found. After an hour or so Maggie decided to find Eve and ask her the same thing she had asked Stella. Eve had apparently popped outside for a breath of fresh air so Maggie followed. Before she found Eve though she came upon three of the colony boys talking and drinking around the dark side of the hall. She stopped and listened, a bad habit.
"These country girls are so simple." One of them was saying. "They believe anything you tell them!" The other two laughed in agreement.
"Yeah! It's gonna be easy."
"Too right, we'll love 'em and leave 'em." All three laughed.
That was too much for Maggie. She stepped out in front of them.
"Not a chance. I'm telling them all what you said."
They looked at her and smirked.
"Who's gonna believe you! I know you, the so called 'Terror of Sideways'. No-one will believe you."
"Maybe not me, but they'll believe Evie." She said, skipping away from a desperate lunge from the lad closest to her and running off to find Eve.
"You're sure that's what they said?" Eve asked.
"Honestly Evie. I'm not making this up."
"Okay, I believe you, though I wish I didn't. I'll warn all the girls and get Dee to keep an eye out. Could you recognise which three boys it was?"
"Sorry, it was dark."
"That means we have to suspect all of them I'm afraid."
"I'm sorry, but I don't believe he could be one of them."
"Because of his smile, Evie. He just..." She tailed off. Eve just smiled in understanding.
Maggie and Mark were walking slowly back to the farm. Both of them quiet, lost in their own thoughts. Mark because that was how he was; Maggie because she was worried that she had spoilt the evening for everyone. But she couldn't let her friends be taken advantage of could she? Suddenly three figures stepped in front of them, blocking the way.
"You interfering little country bumpkin. You ruined our fun and now we're going to take out our frustrations on you."
"Guys, what's this about?" Mark stepped between Maggie and the three. "It looks like you had too much to drink."
"You keep out of this college boy; this is between us and her." All three jumped at once. One clubbed Mark to the ground, the other two grabbing Maggie. She tried to get free but they held her tightly. Mark tried to get up but was kicked in the head. The last thing he saw before blacking out was a screaming Maggie being carried off.
Mark wasn't unconscious for long, but there was no sign of anyone around when he came round. He had to find help, he knew. He turned and ran as fast as he could back to the town. The first person he ran into was Stella. He managed to gasp out what had happened to Maggie. Stella went white with rage. She managed to control it with difficulty and called Dee, telling him what had happened and that she was going on ahead.
"Now show me where." She ordered Mark.
He took her back to the ambush spot and she began to look around. As she found a torn piece of Maggie's dress, Dee, Mikey and two other locals Mark didn't recognise arrived. "This way." Stella said.
They found another fragment of cloth a minute or so later.
"Good girl Maggie." D breathed. "She's leaving us a trail."
"Well, we'd better be quick. There wasn't much left of that dress to start with." Stella said, plunging on.
"Over there!" Mark suddenly said. "A campfire." There was a small glow about two hundred yards away.
"Stella. You stay here with Mark." Dee ordered.
"That's my sister." She objected.
"That's why you're staying here."
"NO!" Stella ran towards the light, the others following her quickly.
There was no need to rush. The three colony youths were all asleep; their alcohol intake had been too much. Maggie was tied to a tree but apparently unharmed, although she was crying. Mark ran over to her and set her free. He held her close, stroking her hair, soothing her. Dee and Mikey roused the slumbering miscreants, cuffing them as they did so.
Stella was seething now, she drew her night stick.
"Stella, put that away!" Dee ordered.
"Because I say! We uphold the law; we DO NOT take it into our own hands and mete out punishment."
"STELLA!" Mikey said warningly. "Put it away love."
She slowly obeyed.
"But she's my little sister." She started to sob.
"She'll be fine." Dee said quietly. "Take her home, and Mark too. He's a brave lad."
"Yes, yes he is. Thank you Mark."
Mark looked up from where he was holding Maggie.
"She won't blame me for this will she?"
"Ask her." Mikey said, noticing the look Maggie was giving the boy.
"No Mark. You stood up for me. Nobody but Stella ever did that before. Take me home please." She passed out. Mark swept her up in his arms and with Stella following, started back towards the farm.
"What happened to Rob and George?" Mikey asked, spotting the absence of the other two locals.
"I'm afraid they've gone back to the town. We may need some help here." Dee took out his radio. "Evie, are you listening?"
"Yes." His wife answered.
"Good. Get your dad to go to the transport and get her started. I need to get these three out of here quickly." Dee ordered.
"Unharmed, but shaken up. Go get your dad."
"Doing it now."
"Come on you three. The quicker we are, the more chance you have of getting out of here alive." He said to the youths.
"What do you mean mister?" They were frightened now.
"Maggie may be a pain sometimes, but she's ours. Despite what you might expect, most people here are fond of her. There may be a party waiting that you won't want to attend. So shut up, get moving, and do it NOW!"
"Mark, you need me to spell you carrying Mags?" Stella asked.
"I can manage thanks, but you might want to run ahead and warn your folks. It might not look too good just arriving like this."
"Brave, strong and smart; I can see why she likes you. I'll go get some help."
With that she ran on ahead. Maggie came round and looked up into Mark's determined face.
"Mark? I...need to... ask you something."
"Go on." He said, getting out of breath.
"Do... do you like me?"
"Of course, you're a very nice, very pretty girl." He replied, a puzzled look on his face.
"Is that all?"
"What do you want me to say Maggie? I've only known you a week after all."
"So you just like me?"
"I like you a lot. But that's all I can say at the moment. Why?"
"Nothing, nothing at all, just something Stella said earlier. It's not important really." She looked away so that he couldn't see the tears forming in her eyes.
Mr Bartowski appeared out of the night breathing hard.
"Is she all right?" He asked concernedly.
"They didn't touch her sir, I swear."
"Pretty much thanks to you I hear."
"Possibly, but if I'd have been a better fighter it would never have got that far."
"Not your fault son, I promise."
"Thank you for that sir."
"Now run on ahead and get your head looked at." Mark nodded and went on ahead.
"Oh Daddy, I think I love him, but he doesn't seem to love me. What am I going to do?" Maggie sobbed into her father's broad chest.
"Give him time princess, he's only just arrived. Just give it time. You do know he might not know himself?"
Dee and Mikey had arrived back at the transport and there was indeed a 'welcoming committee' waiting. They stopped with the prisoners in the dark on the far side of the vehicle and tried to decide what to do. Then Dave Lynton stepped out of the transport and stood and looked hard at the gathered crowd.
"I know why you're all here." He said. "And I'm afraid you'll all be disappointed. Officer Dee is taking those lads back to the colony to receive their punishment. That is what he is supposed to do. Although in one way it's good that you all feel so strongly about Maggie, strong enough to contemplate this...this stupidity. You should all be ashamed, I know I am. I thought I knew you all better. No go, before our lawman has to start arresting you as well. Go on, back to your homes. NOW!" It was a long time since anybody had seen Dave so angry and the crowd began sheepishly to break up. Dave let his head slump. When he looked up there was no-one about, the mob had dispersed in the night. Dee and Mikey brought the three by now terrified lads to the transport's hatch. As Mikey took them aboard Dee put his hand on Dave's shoulder and nodded his thanks. "Just get them out of here." Dave said. Dee nodded again and boarded the ship.
No-one really mentioned the events of that night again. It was referred to darkly as 'the incident'. Most of the settlers, when they remembered it, were ashamed of their actions. They made efforts to treat the other youths from the colony as if they were members of their families. The lads in return worked harder, covering the work of the boys who had been sent away, and helping each other if they needed it. For some reason things between Mark and Maggie were strained and Mark couldn't understand why. He did think it was something to do with 'the incident'. Perhaps she held him responsible. He just didn't know. He did miss her attempts to tease him; she wasn't teasing anyone at all. It didn't seem natural, Maggie not teasing. So he'd shrugged and left it alone, left her to sort out whatever it was that was bothering her.
And now it was time for him to leave. The harvest was in and the 'contract' was up. Mark would be sad to go, all the lads were, but there seemed to be nothing more to do. He picked up his bag and went to the door. Mr and Mrs Bartowski thanked him and wished him well, hoping he could come back again. For some reason he blushed.
"Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed working here. Can I say goodbye to Maggie?"
"You could if we knew where she had gone Mark. I'm sorry." The older man sighed. "I'm also sorry for the way she's been for the past couple of months. I think I know why, but from the look you're giving me, you don't."
"Is it something I've done?"
"Actually, I think it's more something you didn't do, or more specifically, say." He lapsed into silence.
Stella came in.
"Hiya Mark! Thought I'd walk into town with you and Mags."
"Maggie isn't here. And I did want to say goodbye." He looked down sadly.
Stella looked thoughtful for a moment.
"I can find her. You go into town and go and see Evie. She has something she wants to say to all of you boys. I'll catch you there." With that she shot out of the back door. Mark shook hands with the Bartowski's and began a slow trudge into the town.
Stella ran down to the edge of the lake. A quick look was all she needed to realise that Maggie had taken their secret canoe to the island. Luckily her father had a rowboat further along the bank. She jumped in and rowed her way to the island. The old camp wasn't used so much these days, but it was still there. Stella was reminded of the day Eve had run away to the island; it seemed to have a pull for unhappy girls. She made her way to the camp and found Maggie sitting on her own.
"Mags? Are you all right?"
Maggie span round, saw it was Stella and burst into tears.
"Maggie, tell me what's wrong, maybe I can help."
"I can't get anything to happen the way I want it too." Maggie sobbed. "You were supposed to be Mark."
"Oh! I see. Sorry. You thought hiding on the island like Evie did would bring Mark here like Dee?" The younger girl nodded sadly. "But Mark doesn't know about the camp. It was you that told Dee where to find Eve."