Quick Review of a Short Story: House of Refuge by Michael DiBaggio, Illustrated by Shell DiBaggio
The action and suspense of this tale of maritime rescue do not require the science-fiction details of the Plata Raft, seasteads, clades and states, or indeed the houses of refuge.You do not need to be familiar with the world of Ascension Epoch novels in which the house of refuge is placed.
DiBaggio has given us all we need in the opening paragraphs: a lifeboat beached on the deck of an armed and armored raft manned by a single rescue worker, Justin Agnarsson. This is South Atlantic House of Refuge #49.
Agnarsson's sole task is to be ready to signal his employers when refugees arrive from the nearby mainland of Argentina, or to assist nearby seasteads when they are damaged by storms or battles with other seasteaders. The Plata Raft of local boats housing people who live at sea is presented, but not explained. It doesn't need to be, because this story concerns Agnarsson and the two refugees from the lifeboat, father and daughter, who may not be victims, but combatants in the war on the mainland.
To violate a house of refuge was a grave crime under both treaties and customary law. It was an act of piracy, rendering one a hostis humani generis—an enemy of humanity—and inviting the most severe retribution that no flag or writ would shield one from.
The Argentine gunboat Furibundo—Furious, or quite literally, "rage-filled"—that approaches with a demand for the surrender of these two "war criminals" poses a challenge Agnarsson thus did not expect, and he must decide how to respond. His choice is valiant and deeply principled:
This isn't just about the here and now! It's about every man, woman, and child who will ever set foot on a refuge, every innocent huddled in a camp or hiding in their home! This is about civilization itself. I won't give that away, not in the face of all the bombs and guns on the planet!
At 66 pages, the illustrated version is an easy purchase at 99¢. It's a wonderful story that made me hungry to read more of the Ascension Epoch novels.