Set before the episode "Westride". An explanation why Annie participated in the land rush.

Thanks to Robyn for beta-reading.

Disclaimer: 'The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers' is copyrighted by Hearst Entertainment, Inc.

This is a work of fanfiction, and I make no profit of it.

„Annie, can I have a word with you?"

Annie stopped brushing Bellestar's hide. The horse neighed, disappointed, but she had been groomed enough. "Of course, Father."

Her father walked away from the stable toward the fields. It was late autumn, and only a few yellow stalks remained. She wondered what he wanted to talk about that couldn't wait for dinner time.

"Were you able to deliver the serum to Dora Town in time?"

"Yes, the child will recover. Thankfully, black viper poison works slowly."

The call for help had come in late yesterday afternoon. Greymalkin Ville had been the only village within five hour's traveling to still have antivenin in stock. Annie had ridden until late into the night to deliver it.

"And they treated you well?"

"They did. Let me sleep in the mayor's guest room and even gave oats to Bellestar." She faltered, not wanting to recount the pointless arguments of the evening.

"But...?" her father prodded.

Annie sighed. Her gaze wondered across the empty fields. All theirs: rye, wheat, barley, spelt, potatoes. Enough to live on, hard won by their labor.

"There was too much talk of politics. The young people believe League membership will mean free everything, and the older ones think we're selling away our land and independence."

Her father nodded understanding. "It was clear that League membership would bring dissent among people."

Annie looked up sharply. She had argued well past midnight that opening Ozark to the League was a necessity if they did not want to slowly fall back on a medieval level of technology, that technology in itself was not bad, and expanded trade was also way to meet new friends.

"Father! You voted for it on the region council."

"I did, and I stand by that. But many of us would have preferred to delay the arrival of new settlers.

We cannot simply sit back and hope that all the changes League membership brings are better access to medicine and computers."

So far, Ozark traded only a set quota of precious metals for drugs and blasters with Earth. League membership would allow them to receive more goods without becoming an Earth colony, but it too came with a price. All League worlds below a certain population density needed to open territories to new settlers.

"So the decision to have a land rush is final then?"

Her father sighed. "Yes. This spring, there will be a land rush in the territory north of the Alamo fault line. We insisted on a maximum allotment of ten hectares and a minimum tenure of five years. The land won't become a commodity to sell."

He must have seen her frown because he added: "The land doesn't belong to us. How can we keep it from others who need it?"

On Ozark, you did not own the land. It was entrusted to you, and you were not allowed to cultivate more than you needed to feed your family. The thought of owning land went against everything Annie had been taught. She believe in helping people, but lacked her father's strong generosity and charitable benevolence. She could just picture outlaws like the Blackhole Gang strutting in to claim the best pieces and turn them into money.

"We'll need referees to make sure they follow the rules of allotment. And they have to be armed."

Annie had learned the hard way that between people who did not know each other, the law often only went as far as a blaster could shoot. The rivaling communities of Ozark were sad proof of that.

"The League will send some galaxy rangers." Her father's voice sounded strained as he said that.

"The galaxy rangers are upright people."

Her father did not take up the discussion. He never did when she mentioned the galaxy rangers.

"A couple of families from David's Corner plan to relocate. Some people from the region around Eyre may follow suit. The new land is open plains, ideal for cattle raising.

If there are enough Ozarkians, there's a chance the settlers will choose to be part of the region council instead of being an independent territory."

"That won't happen." Annie liked to dream in her few idle hours, but she was realistic as to which dreams could come true.

Her father continued as though she had not said anything.

"We've not finalized the laws of the new territory yet. Once there are 1000 inhabitants, they can choose themselves if they want Basic League Law or our our Statues of Independence combined with laws of old Nebraska and a seat on the region council for each community."

They had reached a small apple orchard. Her father stopped to look at the trees. They were hardly taller than an adult person and had been picked clean of the few apples they had born. Annie made a mental note to cut them before spring to increase their yield.

There was a fond expression on her father's face that Annie couldn't quite place as he looked at the bark and the twigs. "Your mother and I planted these trees together shortly after you were born."

Her mother had died of cancer six years ago. She and her sisters had taken over their mother's duties, but an irreplaceable hole remained where her love and laughter had been. Their parents had been devoted to each other. Even as a widower, her father never looked at another woman.

Annie finally spoke. "With better medicine, fewer people will die."

"I know. That's why I think you should go live in the new territory."

She felt like he had slapped her. "You're sending me away?"

There were a few people who called her an outworlder's whore, though never to her face if they valued their teeth, but she couldn't believe her father would listen to that type of evil gossip. He had always said he would take her word of honor above all rumors.

Her father stepped closer and put a hand on her shoulder.

"I'm not banishing you, Annie. I'm asking you to undertake an important mission."

Annie wiped away a furtive tear.

"What do you mean?" She wanted to travel, not give up her home.

Her father's face grew solemn as it did when he preached at church.

"If your neighbor didn't give you bread when you were hungry, would you believe anything he preached about charity?"

"He'd be a hypocrite, but his teachings could still be right."

"We've been living here for three generations." Her father indicated the fields, the distant houses of their village and the native woods with a wide gesture.

"We know the seasons and the wild animals and how to make a bunch of hard-headed people work together. If we leave those new settlers alone, we'll be partly responsible for any death among them, and we're losing a chance to show them that small communities and small-scale agriculture are worth the trade-off against the convenience of industrialization."

Her father rarely used the language of the anti-modernists. If he did, she knew he was serious. She fought for composure but didn't trust her voice to come out steady.

Her father put his second hand on her left shoulder so that she was forced to look at him.

"We can put clauses in the treaty with the League, but these settlers will only learn to put down roots if we show them how."

"Father. I'm only 22, and I'm not a teacher."

"Your actions will speak louder than your words."

"But you and my family are here."

"You will find new friends, Annie. You have proven that you can. You've accompanied me to meetings with other villages since you were 12, and you've ridden on explorer teams since you were 14."

"I don't have a calling to go there."

Her father's features grew soft and oddly sad.

"You don't have a calling to stay here, Annie. You should long have started your own family, but you turned down three serious offers of marriage. "

"The right husband will come." It was a reassurance she kept repeating to herself ever since she had graduated high school and her former classmates had gotten engaged one after the other. But for her, mutual respect and shard love of the land wasn't enough as a basis for marriage.

"Maybe he will. And maybe you should stop waiting for him. You should start your own homestead. This village is too small for all your energy. You're doing good work on the farm, but I can also see that you ride out whenever you can."

Annie swallowed. She could see that her father had given the matter significant consideration. She owed it to him to at least think about it.

She looked at their village: the mill, the library, the communal tool shed, the town hall. There could have been more luxuries, but their life lacked no essential things. The settlers in the new territory would have to start from scratch.

"I could found my own horse farm. Most people will need horses because robosteeds are too expensive to import. It wouldn't take any fancy tools. But I'd still need buildings and supplies and..." Even as she started to formulate her plan, she realized how enormous the undertaking was.

"You wouldn't be alone in setting up the farm. We're not casting you out. All the family will help you. Consider it an early dowry."

She nodded, drawing courage from her father's confidence. "Is that what you want me to do, Father?"

He drew her into an embrace. "I think if you look into your heart, you'll see that it is what you want yourself. I'm not saying that it won't be difficult, but you've dreamed of seeing other worlds since you were a child. You should go now."

Annie leaned against her father for a moment longer, then straightened her shoulders and looked at the small apple trees. She thought of her mother's determined love and how she never shrunk from a task because it was hard.

"I will. And I need to feed my horses now. I'm going to keep the new foals for breeding my own herd."

He looked after his eldest as she walked back to the village. Once she had decided to give her loyalty and energy to someone or something, it was very hard to change her mind. He sometimes wished she wouldn't be so hasty in her judgments. But he was proud of her.