From the Sleepy Shade

The man who would become the Posologist slept beneath the shade of a broad-leafed shala tree. The dim red sun of his world was amplified into a noon-day sun by the orbital mirrors. The locatas hummed their nonsensical, insectile song in the distant brush. He napped several kilometers from his family's estate, so his uncle would not challenge him about the veterinary medicine tasks he'd automated earlier that year.

His rest was to be a short one. He was not aware when a press gang from the Ministry of Recruitment marched down the dirt road near the tree. Four burly figures surrounded him. Their eyes were concealed behind obsidian black visors, and they were clad in gold and black uniforms, which covered their whole bodies even in the midday heat. On their belts were an inventory of immobilization and restraint devices, from long-range agonizers to simple restraints. The largest of the abductors raised an electric prod to their victim's neck, while another slipped flexicuffs onto his rear.

Pendross Thale awoke as they tightened the restraints on his hands, nearly cutting them off. His eyes widened. Nonsensical words escaped his lips like a flock of frightened birds. He saw the sneering face of the Hegemony slaver as strong, black-gloved hands covered his face. His body stiffened, as though he prepared for a fight or flight. Instead, a cold metal object was placed beside his neck. He recognized it as a stun prod, a device originally used to herd livestock. He heard the familiar electrical buzz as it activated, and the world went black once more.

Penn did not know how much time passed while he was unconscious. His mind conjured elaborate fantasies of escape and flights of fancy, but subconsciously, he tried his best to deny what he already knew. His future was whatever the whim of his Hegemony captors desired: corvee labor, conscription as cannon fodder, or dozens of other unpleasant fates. It was not those threatening death or manual labor he feared the most.

Penn was blissfully aware of his homeworld of Thron's backwater status. It only joined the Old Federacy two centuries before the Replicator Wars. The Hegemon was blissfully distant, as was the civil war that erupted in response. He'd completed his education with a virtual intelligence tutor, a curriculum that had not changed much in all the time since the Old Federacy. As such, he hoped his captors were unaware of his medical training. That would be a ticket to being a combat medic or worse.

Unfortunately, Penn awoke to hear his captors discussing what they found on his ident card. He was blinded and immobilized, but he was cognizant enough to understand certain words and phrases. Those that caused him to flinch were pharmacist rating, medical training, livestock veterinarian, and digitally educated. Whomever had captured him claimed a large bounty, but it was not the Hegemony's Swarmtrooper Corps that wanted him.

Penn found himself awakened by a hawk-nosed man in an unremarkable gray suit. He introduced himself as Commandant Kres, and he introduced the round-faced young woman behind him as Cadet Treth. She entered notes on a holopad as he asked rudimentary questions about drugs and dosages. He replied without thinking, as though his conscious mind was stripped away. Satisfied with the answers, Kres tapped him on the shoulder.

Penn found himself in a dormitory that became his home for the next six months. He began the day watching a Hegemony propaganda video on the small console in the corner, before beginning a tutorial on intelligence and surveillance software. It detailed how he was selected by the Ministry of Internal Security as a communications intelligence analyst. It explained how his work was vital, and he was on probation until his training and trial period was completed. The next few days vanished into a blur.

Penn awoke each day by a shrill buzzer, and then a holographic trainer. It worked him through a regimen of body weight and calisthenics exercises, after which, a fresh change of clothes was extruded from a pneumatic delivery system. After he changed into it, a breakfast ration arrived by the same system. After consuming it and cleaning up, he'd begin his lessons for the day. He'd end his day thoroughly unimpressed.

The cycle repeated until the course was completed. Penn found himself released from his imprisonment when the computer reported his indoctrination was completed. He saw another person for the first time in six months, Commandant Kres. Cadet Treth led him to a cubicle with his name on it, and he saw the console before him. On the screen was a display of intercepted communications. They wanted him to weed out potential Insurgent sympathizers. He had other plans.

Penn got to work. He first noted the access to a local criminal database. He had a special loathing for the poachers and livestock rustlers that ruined livelihoods among the rural worlds. Many of them dabbled in pirate and slaver crews, as they were unable to exist in polite society. He accessed as many of the petty, violent criminals as he could, and he began to highlight every connection he could to known Insurgents. Kres nodded approvingly as he dispatched two swarmtroopers to apprehend a known poacher and slaver, Burlog the Brute.

Penn saw them drag the man in as a screaming, battered wreck pleading for mercy. Immediately, the resolve that he deluded himself into thinking he had evaporated like snow in the desert sun. The bearded man locked his black eye with Penn, puss still dripping from it. He reached into the medical kit he requested, pulling out a very specific cocktail of chemicals. He injected them into Burlog. While the Commandant stared quizzically, he requested a holopad.

Penn took down notes as Burlog babbled nonsensically. The chemicals he'd injected into the poacher would cause blissful hallucinations and verbal incoherence for the time. Kres stared with narrowed eyes, but Penn grinned confidently. After a half-hour of notes, he asked to see what the swarmtroopers recovered from their suspect.

Penn saw a number of items that would be common on Hegemony citizens. There was a personal communicator, a hygiene kit, a portable wound-dressing kit, and a Thunder's Judgment hand cannon. Personal weapons were common among many citizens, because at any moment, slavers or piraters might appear from shunt-space and raid settlements at random. It was not the possession of the weapon that Penn noted, but the type.

"He's a poacher who uses his activities to support the Insurgency," Penn said. "His sidearm is a type I've seen used only among big game hunters and poseurs, of which our friend is both."

"Good work," Kres said, nodding his head with an impressed look. "Why don't you take it as a souvenir?"

With that, Kres slid the sidearm to Penn. He accepted it.

So began the story of the Posologist. Penn did his best to redirect the Hegemony's deadliest tools at petty criminals and pirates, giving the ones with morals cause to join the Insurgency. Ironically, his deeds helped garner support for the Hegemony on the remote worlds, since he was removing the gangsters and criminals that preyed on isolated citizens. He'd told his colleagues that his hallucinogenic cocktail was a unique truth serum, but they never challenged him on it. Their careers and status rose due to their proximity to him, and they spread rumors exaggerating their own success.

Penn never believed any of them. Instead, he did his best to transfer to progressively more isolated worlds, as the Hegemon started acting more erratically. He wanted to be far from anyone that knew him when the system finally did collapse. As such, his transfer request to Aroha was approved in the final months of the war. Nevertheless, he cared little for the war, sleeping under the excuse he'd spent the whole night working. That was how he found himself the unwitting target of a Redband raid.