Darcy was exhausted. He and Palmer and Shemp had struggled with the herding bot for hours, in the hot, enclosed garage. “Ink blotches!” Shemp swore and flung the wrench he’d been fruitlessly trying to use, working through the open service port, onto the floor. Not for the likes of them to have even a Tech’s knowledge or power to have machines fix themselves.
“Trouble, Illiterates?” The three of them blinked at the silhouette of the young Immoderate in the open door. They all leapt to their feet, respectfully. The boy was seething with the need to control someone, hurt someone... throw his weight around. His officers back in Xanadu had made this new colony his responsibility. Every one of the Illiterates knew, in their bones, that he'd probably work up to killing someone soon. Just to 'keep order'. If they were lucky he wouldn't torture the unfortunate to death publicly as an object lesson on who exactly was in charge.
“Beggin’ tha’s pardon, sir. We… well, if this here bot is fixable it 'taint by us. A tech sir, nor perhaps some ‘un who kin read t’manual, sir.”
The Immoderate Wexford Versace gave the offending old piece of equipment enough of a kick that it shifted on the hoist, sliding off with a screech. “I’ve been noticing you lot… along with that Haig fellow and Thomas boy. You’re all a bad bunch, pushing the limits of your education. This… I’m convinced is a plot to get one of you taught how to read. Vile men. Your positions will not be modified, except at the Font’s direct order and you will work with the tools you are given.”
“Beggin’ your most worshipful’s pardon, sir, this here land 'taint like Xanadu. Its…”
“Shut up, you uneducated cretinoid. You’ll be herding those sheep down to the river bottom yourselves. You’ve wasted enough time playing with this broken down toy. It will not work so you will have to. Get your moronic asses kitted with heavy filters and get those sheep out there.”
Palmer raised his hand for permission to speak and the boy nodded at him. “The dragon things, sir. We’d be outside t' wire…”
The boy snorted. “You’re afraid of the big, bad predators? They haven’t touched anyone. Who knows what they eat? It’s not like those flying glass bits or the slimes… Aww… “ He was just old enough to get the proper, First Class sneer into his voice. “Well then, if you’re that terrified, I shall certainly come along to protect you. I’ll have a platform and my lovely weapon here to defend the sheep. We can always replace you. Earthan sheep that can digest that grass are far more valuable.”
He stood looking around at them. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get out there and get moving. I’ll be along shortly.”
Darcy didn’t bother trying to say anything. Versace was clearly itching to shoot something and he was of no mind to offer himself as a target. What the Immoderate had said was true. The Font of All Knowledge, the Prime Mover, could always get more Illiterates for far cheaper than he could replace sheep.
*Sand-sheet form. Recording mode. Twenty metres up the bluff and dug in.*
*Don’t push it any further. Record from there, Two Hundred.*