Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I’ve just got back from the pyre lighting when a grey and blue Mercy drone descends from the overcast and beeps cheerfully at me. I fish around in my pocket and pull out our fob. After I confirm my thumbprint, the provisions box drops to the ground.
The drone plays an audio clip before rising back into the clouds: “Hello, Mile Oak Foodbank. This message is to let you know this drone shipment will be your last. Due to resource contention amongst the orbital provisioning platforms, we are having to reduce Mercy coverage to areas with the most need. We wish you well, and have included a seed package containing a diversity of crops carefully selected to be compatible with your local area.”
There’s a grim synchronicity in this. The day we say goodbye to Gracie, the supplies stop. She’d always said they would, even though her partner, Minerva, disagreed. They started this place together soon after they arrived with refugees from Shoreham. They’d have gone to Bramber New Port, but couldn’t get a boat across – which was the saving of us up here.
“Tim, what do we do now?”
I turn to Sharon, Minerva’s daughter.
“All the ration bags get halved from tonight, and we give everybody warning. People need to start thinking about how they’re going to get over to Whitehawk, and Mayor Turner will need to negotiate safe passage with the Hangleton Century”.
“You think he can do it?”
“Not in this lifetime. But with him and his officers up there being self-important, we can sort out that alliance with the Portslade Irregulars the Mayor rejected.”
“Only because Drusilla ran off with their deputy. Rumour says she leads them now.”
“She does. But family disagreements are no reason to put us all in danger.”
I look into the provisions box.
“We’ve been given over full measure. Adding what we’ve got, that gives about twenty days for us to organise a merger, a mutiny, and a migration.”
“You going to lead us, Tim?”
Not likely.
“I’m going to let Drusilla take that honour. Gives some legitimacy for those of us who like the born-to-do-it thing. The mayor’s daughter leading us to safety. Cosy.” I grin at Sharon.
She giggles.
“True. The hardliners will like it, especially the ones who think Mayor Turner’s soft.”
“And where the hardliners go, the undecided will follow. End result, we migrate. Somewhere along the way, the hardliners will try to take over, and Drusilla will put them down. Which will neatly complete the merger.”
“The ringleaders are Fiskal and Drew. They’re cunning – Mayor Turner only ever catches their lackeys.”
“Which is why I’ll be pointing them out to Drusilla. With them known, intervention will be waiting when they try something. They’ll be dead before they can make further trouble.”
Sharon steps back and stares at me.
“You’ve been planning this with Drusilla for a while, haven’t you?”
“Gracie talked about the drones. It was Drusilla who explained it to her. I’m not planning anything. I’m just following the long-term vision of the one person I’m sure is up to the job of leading us through this.”
She thinks it over, then nods.
“Good enough for me. Let’s get busy. There’s a lot of packs to unpack, divide, then bag up again.”
Plus a lot of people to tell. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but a little hope goes a long way. It’s always a saving grace – unless it turns delusional. But we’ve become skilled at spotting and stopping that.
“Tim. Unpack while you daydream.”
I grin.