Dake opened the front door cautiously.  The whining behind it told him there must be a dog inside.  By Gods, he detested Residents who left pets behind.

Yes, she was a lovely beagle who licked him happily.  She was older and Dake figured that's why they'd left her, the cowards.  He knew that he'd have to euthanize her before he left.  There weren't enough facilities to hold abandoned animals, and the laws were clear about not leaving them to slowly starve, if the elements didn't kill them first. 

The Residents wouldn't be returning from Wintertown for a full season or 1825 days.  They would live here again for spring until they had to leave for Summertown.  Wintertown and Summertown were specifically suited to the extreme temperatures inflicted on Earth due to its greatly elliptical orbit.  It hadn't always been this way, but an asteroid had altered their orbit when it barely missed Earth over 300 years earlier.

Though Checkers had final authority on migration matters, they weren't allowed to bother property in the houses.  This one rule was supposed to be sacrosanct since the laws didn't allow Residents to shuffle property between towns.  Each Resident's home in each town had to be independent of the others.

Oh, well, thought Dake.  He considered it his own little fine for the family's brazen indifference to their pet's life.  He found the mistress' jewelry box in her armoire.  He rummaged through it until he found a true prize, a sunfire diamond mined in Summertown.  Its flashes of orange and yellow were sure to please his mother on her birthday next week.  He sighed.  Pleasing her wasn't always easy.

"Put that back!"

Dake bobbled the gem in surprise and whipped his head around to see an older boy standing in the bedroom's bathroom doorway.

"Who are you?"  Dake asked loudly

The boy stomped forward to stand in front of Dake.  "Checkers aren't supposed to steal things."

"And you aren't supposed to be here," Dake said.  "Where are your parents?" 

"Gone already."

"They left you?"  Dake asked.

"No.  They each thought I went with the other," he said.

"Why would you do that?  You can't survive the winter here."

The boy squatted to pet the dog.  "Leaving Violet doesn't say much about my parents as people, so I chose her.  We'll manage."

"No, you won't, not in minus 200 degrees," Dake said.  An idea struck him.  The boy looked healthy enough, and he was certainly brave.  "How old are you?" 

"Three seasons," he said. 

"Of legal age," Dake muttered.  And then to the boy, "Would you want to train as a Checker?  With me as your sponsor?" 

The boy grinned.  "Really?  You guys are famous." 

Dake motioned for him to follow.  "Come, then.  Assist me today and we'll get you registered tonight.  The dog can stay with you in my quarters until you get your own." 

Dake tossed the diamond back into the pile of baubles.  He would take something far more valuable from the parents, and good assistants were always hard to come by.  



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