The moon was a thin crescent like a bow bent toward the not-yet-risen sun. It back-lit more than a hundred low rafts coming in to the sand beaches south of the pier. Lookouts lit the fires and rang the bells.
Outnumbered twenty to one, the town militia still mustered behind the crude breastwork, just a row of sawhorses with corrugated iron sheets nailed to them, arranged in a line on each side of their single rocket launcher.
The old people, children, and others unable to fight picked up what they could carry in backpacks and wheelbarrows and set off north toward Allen Cove; there was little question the Daybreakers could chase them down if they wanted to, but perhaps they would choose to do something else. As the rafts neared, they could hear the singing and the drums, then the splashes of the oars, and finally the grunting of the rowers.
“Canoe with a truce flag!” one of the lookouts shouted, and a moment later, another cried, “They’re shipping oars.”
Still out of rocket range, the tribal armada paused in the water; a lone canoe, with a single passenger holding up a white flag, moved swiftly toward the beach.
On the sand still spattered with ice and snow, the mayor of Luna Pier confronted the Daybreaker representative. The mayor looked like what she was, a civic-minded grandmother, dressed in baggy pants and multiple sweaters, her helmet under her arm. The tribal representative wore a buffalo-horn hat that must have been stolen from some fraternal lodge; it was festooned with feathers, bits of metal, jewelry, and—the mayor saw to her disgust—a dried human hand. Below that he wore an old minister’s or professor’s gown, the three stripes of the doctorate still attached. He crossed his arms inside the big sleeves, mandarin-style, and bowed low.
“I shall begin by asking you to concede one obvious fact: if we storm your town and take it by force, we will get everything that doesn’t burn, we can kill all of you, and you not only won’t be able to stop us, you won’t even be able to hurt us much,” the Daybreaker said. “Therefore, by contrast, my offer is going to be generous.”
“I came here to hear it,” she pointed out, holding her voice level though she felt her bowels wanting to slither out of her and down into the ground.
Buffalo Hat turned and pointedly stared out into the lake, at the long column of rafts crowded with Daybreaker spearmen, stretching clear to the horizon along the red road the just-rising sun made on the smooth water. “Normally,” he said, “of course we would burn your plaztatic little town and end your brutal seizure of resources from Mother Gaia. Normally we would remove the filthy curse of your presence from the face of the Earth, and take away your children to be raised in harmony with the Earth. Normally we would do all those things. But.” He drew another breath, let it escape, turned back, and smiled slightly. “We’re in a hurry. I will send five hundred of our people into your city to carry out all the food, clothes, and blankets they can carry. Your people will open any door they are told to. If one shot is fired, if one hand is raised against us, if anyone even mutters one word of protest, we will butcher all of you like pigs, burn every building, knock down every wall, and pile your corpses right here where you and I stand. But if you stand quietly by while we take everything we want, we will march on and leave you alive and unharmed, with whatever is left.
“That is our offer. Make your people take it if you can.”
“I will.” Some impulse made her stick out her hand to shake on the deal.
The man in the buffalo horned hat looked at her hand as if she were holding out a piece of spoiled meat. “This is not an agreement. We will do one thing if you cooperate and another if you resist. That is all. Go talk to your people.”