Rain on the Scarecrow


gh0d (Administrator)
[This is something that's been on a slow boil in the back of my mind for the last few days. As one might guess from the title, it's inspired by the John Mellencamp song "Rain on the Scarecrow", the lyrics of which you can find here.]

Rain on the Scarecrow

"Captain Johnathan Princeton to the CO's office."

One wouldn't think those simple words would have kicked off a new life - or two, as I'll get to later - but for me they did, though I didn't know it at the time.

After permission to enter, I stepped into the office, popping tall and snapping off a salute. That salute was probably the most military thing about my bearing, but in the war, the niceties like uniforms and such took a back seat to ability. "You wished to see me, sir?" I asked after he returned my salute.

"Yes, Captain. I have some bad news for you. Kat attack on Blake Three plastered the planet, including a piece of your family's farm."

Well, gee-whiz, sir, so nice of you to be considerate of my feelings from behind your nice safe desk, instead of flying with the wing and putting your ass on the line. I didn't say it, but you can't be charged with insubordination for thinking it.

"Your father didn't survive the attack, nor your brother. As the last surviving head of the family, you're eligible for a hardship discharge. I have the paperwork ready for you, just need to fill in a few more blanks and add your signature." Apparently, my expression wasn't as neutral as I would've liked. "I'm sorry, John. I can't say I know what you feel like now, but I think I can make a good guess."

I thought that he was full of shit, but later I found I was wrong. Very wrong.

"Anyway, with a bit of cooperation from the Fairy Godmother Department, fine fickle woman that old decrepit biddy happens to be, you should be back home by the end of the week."

That trip was the last bit of cooperation I'd get from her. The rest of my time from then on was firmly in the hands of the Surprise Party and Practical Joke departments, even after being discharged.

After a thoroughly uneventful trip - or as uneventful as you can get when your trip takes you within spitting distance of the Kilrathi Empire - I arrived to find that Colonel O'Reily, like Murphy, had been an optimist. The kats got more than a piece of the farm, half of the 1.6 square kilometers - or about 400 acres if you don't have much use of or appreciation for the metric system, like some frontier farmers - was nothing more than charcoal, with a touch of that involving the outer perimeter of the house.

It was a good thing that I hadn't spent much of my princely Space Force salary while wearing the uniform, because I needed it to get things back into shape, over the next few years of busting my ass, with the help of neighbors - none of which expected me to last beyond 2 years, even with my having grown up farming before I signed up with Confed to fight the war knocking at our front door. The farm was back into productivity, but at the expense of all my savings and then some more with a loan. Subsequent seasons never rebuilt my depleted funds, though I did at least break even after expenses were paid, sometimes even getting a little extra.

Until 2662.

I'm pretty sure you never heard anything really special about that year, being before you were born, but Blake III was hit with a continent-wide drought. None of what I was farming was particularly survivable without constant irrigation, but when your only water feed is a couple of clunky and ancient desalinators, and you're not a big agricorp with deep pockets, you make due with what you have, and hope it's enough. It wasn't. The crops I did manage to grow that summer weren't selling for high enough a price to make up for the lost productivity, or enough to cover the loan. I tried to haggle with the Farmer's Bank to give me a little time and some funds for more seed the next spring, but with that drought a lot of folks were hit hard, and they didn't have any room to maneuver.

I had an old family friend, Schepman, come by to auction off the farm. I didn't want to, and I don't think he did, either, but it was his job, even if calling it that didn't make it right. He declined my offer to pray for his soul, and looking back I don't rightly know I can blame him for it.

That's why I wrote this, son. It's the only legacy I've left you, if you're reading this letter. I'm flying - or was flying, as when you see this news of my death will have reached you - with a shipping firm that sometimes handles hazardous deliveries on the frontier.

I'm truly sorry I couldn't have been the father you deserved, while trying to pay for the life you also deserved. Please say a prayer for me, you and mom may be the only ones who would.

Love always,


P.S. I hope at least I'll have died doing something important, like saving a world under a blockade or something. It'd be just my luck that it's just some three credit widget that failed at the worst possible time, though, on the way back from a boring milk run of no importance.


"How did he... what happened?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Princeton, but no one really knows. The best anyone can figure out is a mechanical failure on re-entry, and he wasn't given enough time to recover."