Zorell was flushed as she staggered out onto the topmost turret of the Redstone Castle. It wasn't just the seven hundred odd steps that circled up there but also the size of each step that had exhausted her. They had been built hundreds of years earlier for a long extinct species who would have been larger than the humans who now populated the area. Each step was almost half a metre high while; in contrast, the support rail was a mere twenty centimetres above the steps. Archaeologists had discovered bones of the original inhabitants so she knew they were six limbed creatures with the middle pair of limbs seemly used as extra arms, hence the low rail.
She sat on an enlarged stone seat gathering her breath, brushed strands of hair out of her eyes and rubbed her aching calf muscles. She loved this turret and used it as a retreat whenever she wanted to get away from the crowded rooms below.
It was another summer day with a high of close to thirty degrees Celsius predicted. Now, at eight in the morning it was still cool and a perfect time to think about … she sighed...well everything ...the rumours, her own situation and the future?
The Theist were humans, too but their values and life philosophies were based on ancient superstitions that had been long discarded by the modern society of the enclave in which she lived. Nothing could be proved her history professor at the local university she had graduated from had suggested that, like themselves, the Theist were not native inhabitants of Terra. Though not supported by other academics at the university he maintained that the Theists came from the same planet at themselves, a supposedly mythical place called Earth that orbited a star called the sun a thousand light years away.
The trouble was that all historical records had been lost in antiquity so much was based on rumours and opinions that led to the Great Split three generations earlier. This was the war that became a stalemate. The following treaty kept the Theist and her own kind, the Pioneers separated into zones. In the original agreement their own enclave of Redstone, a rural farming community in a valley ten by five kilometres in size, was all that the Pioneers kept in the Southern Zone. There was a twenty kilometre long right-of-way; it could hardly be called a road, that they used to connect with the Northern Zone controlled by the Pioneers. Surrounding both zones were deserts called The Forbidden Lands and further still in the east were forests while in the opposite direction was the Western Ocean, something she had never seen.
After she recovered from the effort used to reach the top, Zorell walked across to the parapet that reached almost to her chin. She glanced down at North Redstone that had been her home all her life. It had increased in size over the last five years as rural families and also those from the Pioneer Zone had shifted in to take advantage of the lower taxes, subsidised housing and the educational opportunities available. Now over ten thousand Pioneers lived within the city limits while another couple of thousand Theorists crossed the border from South Redstone every day to work in the local factories. In her eyes, it was a sad situation for only male workers were allowed to leave the Theist Zone and had to return before nightfall or their families would be punished. In the distance she could see the three-metre high stone border wall with the workers filing in on foot with an occasional horse and wagon coming through the ancient raised gate. On agreement with Theorists the gate was lowered at nine o'clock and not reopened until sixteen hundred hours for the workers to return back to the south
The only other exit from the Redstone Enclave was a smaller gate to the right-of-way that only Pioneers were permitted to use to reach their own zone. Theist Parishioner Co-ordinators, the feared TPCs who were really military police, made sure that no Pioneers left the right-a-way or Theist parishioners became polluted by trespassing onto this trail. Of course their own PMCs, Pioneer Mounted Constabulary patrolled the road and made sure no infringements of the international treaty were made. Their advanced muskets were more than a match than the pistols the TPC used so confrontation between the two opposing forces was rare. Though both sides spoke the same language they seldom said a word or even glanced at each other across the shoulder of the right-of-way.
Zorell remembered that as a teenager she almost giggled at the sight of two mounted men five metres apart, one on a sleek black PMC horse and the other on an equally sleek but brown TPC horse, completely ignoring each other. Even then she thought how childish the opposing forces were and if the situation hadn't been so serious she would have told them so. She was though, proud of the blue jackets, khaki lemon squeezer caps and riding trousers her constabulary wore compared with the completely white capes and coats with black trousers that was the Co-ordinators' uniform.
A cough made her turn to see the Redstone Shire Council secretary and her friend standing at the top of the stairs gasping for breath.
"Zorell, do you always have to come up here to get away from everyone?" Adair Dunstan spluttered. "Those damn steps..." She coughed into a handkerchief and wiped her perspiring brow. "The council wants to see you, as of ten minutes ago!" Her eyes rolled. "Took me that long to get up here."
Zorell frowned. The shire council wasn't due to start their meeting until that evening. As one of the nine elected councillors and chairperson of the Health and Welfare Committee she was due to give her yearly report. One of the reasons she'd come up to the turret was to give herself time to think about her recommendations. The health budget was exhausted with almost half the costs going towards provision of emergency health to the day workers from South Redstone in the local hospital. However, their central government had refused to increase their allowance that was based on their permanent population and didn't take into account day workers from over the border.
The shire council was divided on the issue with four councillors insisting that their own citizens should have priority while two supported her own reasoning that it was only humane to treat the workers and they should request more funding. The remaining two could swing either way in the vote that was to be taken after her report was presented.
"Forget the Health Report," Adair retorted as if she had read Zorell's mind. "This is something more important."
"I'll come," Zorell whispered. Her friend was unusually serious and a morning meeting was also unusual.
... So the scene is set