Witch Hunt

Louise Hughes

Illustration by Emma Howitt

From the Archive of the Guild of Wise Women. Matters relating to events on Proxima Hull in the year 64 by the Proxima Calendar (105 Martian Calendar)

Notice, from the Martian Port Authority. 17th April 105 MC

Dust Storm Warning. Until further notice, the port and surrounding residential areas will be in lockdown. 


Notice, from the Martian Port Authority. 19th April 105 MC

Travel is now suspended. Please remain in your homes. Further information is available through the feeds of the Meteorological Department.


Notice, from the Martian Port Authority. 21st April 105 MC

Temporary suspension of incoming visas is now in effect. Anyone with disaster relief, agricultural or construction experience, is hereby permitted to travel through the port without a full application.

Lockdown of trade decks remains in effect.

Port employees are requested to make their way to work as soon as safely possible to commence recovery operations.


Notice, from the Martian Port Authority. 30th April 105 MC

All governmental rationing restrictions are being implemented inside the port. Until further notice, all food vendors, cafés and restaurants are closed. All food stuffs in storage or transit are requisitioned for Port Authority use.


3rd April 64 PC

Subject: Shortages

Dear Ava,

Have you had any luck with the Martian Port Authority? My second shipment has now been cancelled and I’m running out of stock. I had a lad in yesterday telling me what a grand success this perfume he got from me was with his new lass, and did I have anything else, but I’ve had to divert everything to the medical potions for now. Can’t be making frivolities like that when there’s sick people at my door.

Yours in hope,

Loretta


Business details, IDCode: FinchlyHexes, located on the communal deck of Proxima Hull. 

Licensee (Loretta Finch) is a wise woman. The business has operated out of the current premises at 113 Star-side for eleven years and prior to that as a vending cart on the Rose Plaza. The main purpose is the sale of herbal remedies and potions. Tax, rates and profit reports are up-to-date. Licensee has been resident on the station for fourteen years. No family. Previous registration address: Mars. No known prior business.


4th April 65 PC

Subject: Re: Shortages

Dear Loretta,

By the goddess! No luck at all! I’ve got a few more days holiday down here on Proxima (the waterfalls! You should see them!) but I’ll send a note to the Guild and see what they say about it. In the meantime, do you want me to pick you up a few things while I’m here? I don’t know the suppliers as well but Mars are being very cagey about how long they think these delays will last.

Regards,

Ava


Business details, IDCode: Charmava, located on the communal deck of Proxima Hull.

Licensee (Ava Polson) operates as a wise woman. The business occupies premises at 12 Moon-side and primarily deals in charms, luck tokens, suncatchers, keepsakes etc. Licensee has been resident on the station for twenty-five years, in business for seven. Previous address: Earth. No known prior business. Licensee’s mother operated a cafe on the Arbour Plaza prior to her retirement two years ago.

Note (added by Steward): Ava Polson came to this station when she was only two years old and has been a valued member of the community, serving on various committees and boards in a voluntary capacity since her majority. She has a wife and three young children.


25th May 64 PC

Subject: Suspension of seller’s license

Dear Loretta Finch,

I am writing to notify you of a two week suspension to your license (IDcode: FinchlyHexes) to sell goods on the Proxima Hull station communal deck. At that time, your license status will be reviewed. Should you wish to appeal this decision, please apply to the Steward’s office (open between the hours of 1pm and 3pm, twice weekly, otherwise in writing). 

Thank you for your understanding in this matter,

Brin Holstock (he/him), Assistant Steward, Proxima Hull


25th May 64 PC

Re: suspension of peddler’s license

Dear Brin,

How is your mother? I heard she was moving out to Proxima soon. Please give her my best regards. 

I would appreciate some clarification regarding this suspension. It was my understanding that all license suspensions required a one week minimum advance notification.

Please advise,

Loretta Finch (she/her)


26th May 64 PC

Subject: congratulations

Dear Emmy Holstock,

Brin tells me you’re definitely moving to Proxima. And in the next few days. That is excellent news, as you know, all the best people live on Proxima now!

As you will be passing through the Station, I thought we could get together for a cup of tea and a scone. I know the perfect little teashop that you’ll just love, in the fountain garden off the communal deck. It would be so nice to see you and catch up on everything going on back on Mars. It’s been years since I had a chance to visit the Red Plains.

Please let me know your estimated arrival date (and what ship you’re flying on if you can), so I can look out for you.

Much love, 

Loretta


Testimony of Paula O’Lair (she/her), parent of Jill O’Lair (they/them), Resident, Proxima Station

I have been getting our remedies from Ms. Finch for years. Ever since we moved to the station from Centauri. That must’ve been, what, six years ago now. My partner, he works in the municipal service and he took a posting. We thought we’d live down on the planet, if I’m honest, but we got this lovely apartment with a star view and so we opted to stay. 

I get these migraines and Ms. Finch had a powder for them that worked a treat. So when my Jill started getting bad heads, with all their studying – coming up on the end of school exams, down at the top school on Proxima – I went straight down there to get something.

Six days later, I get a call from the school. They’d been rushed into the A&E. Two days of dizziness, and the teachers thought that was just stress because the whole of their year is stressed right now. I don’t blame the school or anything. I blame that woman. She’s got no idea what she’s doing. My Jill, missed all their exams and had to take them weeks later. And they’re still not right mind. Gets these dizzy spells, tired days. Says there’s bright lights in their head. I don’t think they’ll ever be quite right again.


29th May 64 PC

Subject: on my way at last

Dear Loretta,

Just got through security and customs on Europa, and let me tell you, there’s no way that’s sustainable. So many passengers and no one with any idea where they’re meant to be. I don’t blame the Europa Port Authority of course. They’re not built for this kind of volume. Any suggestion that they start processing the trade routes as well is a joke. 

The sooner Mars gets back up and running properly, the better. Fingers-crossed these rumours of an industrial dispute, on top of the storm recovery, are put to bed before it gets out of hand.

I’ll send an update when I know my ETA at Proxima. Though, to be honest, if I know my Brin he’s tracking the ship’s real-time pings.

Yours wearily,

Emmy Holstock 


29th May 64 PC

Subject: inquiry into complaints made against FinchlyHexes

Dear Loretta Finch,

You are requested to attend a preliminary meeting at the Steward’s Hall on the 5th June. Following the receipt of several complaints and a report from the Chief Medical Office, we will be conducting an investigation into your license. 

Please be advised that in the interests of data privacy, we are unable to provide you with any further details as to the nature of these complaints in writing. 

Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

Kay McNamara (they/them), Deputy for Station Health, Proxima Hull


Report summary. Proxima Hull Medical Office. Presented for inquiry.

Number of people ill following purchase at FinchlyHexes: 100

Number of children: 46

Number of fatalities (inconclusive at this stage): 2


30th May 64 PC/105 MC

Subject: follow up on shipping delays

Dear Supervisor O’Connell,

I am writing on behalf of the trader’s council on Proxima Hull to inquire about the continued suspension of shipping from the Martian Port. Many of the members are now seeking alternative supplies and it would be unfortunate if the trade connections between us disappeared altogether.

Please could you advise as to when freight ships will be returning to the Proxima route.

Hans Ju (they/them), Deputy Commodities Officer and Guild Liaison, Proxima Hull


31st May 105 MC/64 PC

Dear Officer Ju,

Thank you for your inquiry. Supervisor O’Connell is currently on annual leave and I am responding on her behalf. Unfortunately, it is unclear when freight shipping will resume. Negotiations between the loaders and their technicians continue. 

Please rest assured that the Port Office is doing everything in their power to seek a resolution in this matter.

Yours in hope,

Assistant Supervisor Bell (they/them)


Witness testimony of Gerald Pool (he/him), Resident, Assistant Administrative Officer, Proxima Station

Look, I’m not usually one to go to witches. I’m an atheist and been one all my life. Never believed in any of that mumbo jumbo. But I was having awful trouble sleeping. Aches, bad dreams, you know the sort of thing. It was affecting my work and I work up in the administration office so it’s important I’m on top form, you know. Anyway, I got this stuff off her – recommended by a friend – and…oh, right, sorry, off Loretta, at FinchlyHexes, on the communal deck. Where was I? Right, yes, I got this stuff and it worked a treat. Slept great for, must’ve been three months. Never felt better. Dreams all settled down too. I felt ten years younger, I’m telling you. 

Then, right, must’ve been a couple of weeks ago, I felt really off. Thought I must’ve been coming down with something. Night sweats, stuffy head. Felt proper awful. Worn out all day as well, so I took twice as much one night. Right before my day off. Just to make sure I slept thought properly. 

Didn’t wake up for three days! Aye, three days! Woke up in the Medical Office, still half out of it. They’d thought for a bit there that I wasn’t going to wake up at all. It was scary as. I’ll never take anything like that again.

Aye, twice the dose. But it’s just herbs isn’t it. Can’t do me that much harm. That’s what I thought anyway. Except as soon as I stopped taking it, all that other stuff just cleared up.


3rd June 64 PC

Proxima Station, Internal 

Bulletin #T3LM920: FAO All Departments: RECALL NOTICE

All products purchased from FinchlyHexes to be returned for refund as soon as possible. Do not consume. If already ingested, please contact the Proxima Hull Medical Office.

Bulletin Ends.


Witness Testimony of Agatha Lynton (she/her) and Rick Helm (he/him). Provided in writing.

We went to Loretta Finch for a salve. Hildy was teething and we did the same for our eldest, Cameron.  Our baby is now in the Medical Office and won’t wake up.


8th June 64 PC

Proxima Station, For Wider Distribution

Bulletin #T5H780: FAO All Departments: MISSING PERSON

Reported missing from Proxima Hull Station. Loretta Carol Finch. A woman, seventy-five years of age, average height, larger build, with white hair and blue highlights, has not been seen for three days. No known medical problems and disappearance is out of character according to the concerned’s friends and acquaintances. Last seen wearing a navy blue coat and sky blue scarf. Left personal contact device behind. Any information, please contact Proxima Hull Steward’s office.

Filed by Brin Holstock, Assistant Steward, Proxima Hull


Witness testimony of Adelaide Beauchamps (she/her), Teacher, Proxima Hull Infant School

We have children getting ill all the time but this was nothing like that. But, what I want you to understand, is that those parents never should have been putting stuff like that into their kids. If I’d known that’s what was going on, I would have reported them, not her. Half my class couldn’t wake up enough in the mornings to concentrate. 

It should be illegal. If children are having trouble sleeping, it’s no good giving them a herbal tea just so you can get a good night’s rest. There’s always something else at play.

Ms Finch? No. Far as I know she sold the stuff to the parents on the understanding they were taking it themselves.

I can’t really help with anything like that. Sorry.


9th June 64 PC

Notice. To the Steward’s Office, Proxima Hull. From the Landkeeper of Green Lakes National Park, Proxima.

A woman matching the description posted on bulletin #T5H780 was seen boarding the  south-bound ferry yesterday at Windleside. According to witnesses, she did not appear to be in any distress. 

Will follow up to confirm once we’ve got in touch with the rangers up there. It’s a remote area and we’ve been having trouble with the radios. Something atmospheric. Been a bit stormy down here.


9th June 64 PC

Subject: review of peddler’s license

Dear Ava Polson,

I am writing to request your attendance at a meeting in the Steward’s Office. As you are aware, several reports have been received of defective products purchased at your shop over the last few weeks. Since you brought this matter to my attention yourself, I am happy to proceed at whatever date and time you prefer, providing it is in the next two weeks.

Regards,

Assistant Steward Brin Holstock (he/him)


10th June 64 PC

Notice. To the Steward’s Office, Proxima Hull. From the Landkeeper of Greek Lakes National Park, Proxima.

I went up the valley yesterday and had a look around. It appears your missing person stayed the night in one of the peak hostels and then joined the Founder’s Trail over the mountains. At quite a pace. I’ve radio-ed over to the rangers hut to see if they’ve spotted her.

I wouldn’t fancy doing that hike at this time of year.


Disciplinary record of Brin Holstock, Assistant Steward, Proxima Hull. 

It is noted that on this day (13th June 64 PC), the above named received five points and a two week suspension, pending further action.

At 5 am on the morning of the 12th, Assistant Holstock, without authorisation, departed the station in a micro-transport heading in the direction of Proxima Port. He was accompanied by station residents Agatha Lynton (she/her) and Rick Helm (he/him), plus two minors. 

Three attempts were made by the night monitor to contact the vessel. Contact with the location ping was lost at 7:18 am.


Witness Testimony: Grace Tuppence Langside, Resident of Proxima Station, Commercial Traveller

I go all over really. Camp in the holds of the freight ships for the most part. Lots of trips to the New Settlements, that sort of thing. No, I’ve been off-station for a few weeks and you know what, it didn’t really cross my mind. I was too busy getting everything sort out. That’s my business, you know, my livelihood.

Yes, yes, I know. I wear a charm. Most of us do. We travel around a lot, we’re on our own a lot and it’s nice to know someone’s watching out for you. I had a one for years. On a silver chain around my neck. A little swan that I got from a wise woman before leaving home. Must’ve been thirty years ago now. Anyway, somewhere between here and Mar, on my last trip that way, I lost it. Got myself a new one from a shop on the com deck, over by the charge hub. Bonny little thing it was. Made of light wood. Walnut maybe. Or elm. A dove this time. I’ve got it here if you want to see it. Don’t rely on it though.

In all the years I’ve been working, all the years I’ve carried that swan, I’ve never once been attacked. Not even a card stolen, or a phone. But, two days out to the New Sets, someone jumped me at a service station, outside the toilets. Took my swipe and half my stock, and I’ve done nothing but try to make up for it since. That and send messages for the insurance people to ignore.

That charm doesn’t work. Simple as that. Waste of money, bonny as it is.


Bulletin. Issued 14th June 105 MC by the Martian Port Authority.

Shipping from the Martian Port will resume on limited routes from the 16th June. We ask for your understanding as we work through the backlog of deliveries. 

Full trade will hopefully resume in the next two weeks.

Please contact your local port authority for details on insurance claims and perishable goods policies.

Bulletin Ends.


Subject: Inquiry request

To the Steward of Proxima Station,

We, the elected representatives of the Guild of Wise Women, request an immediate inquiry into the charges levelled against our members. Two women with established businesses on your station are having their reputations ruined by groundless accusations. On behalf of our members we are reviewing our advice regarding your station and its designation as a safe place to do business.

This sort of thing was not tolerated centuries ago and we do not believe it should be now.

Signed,

Cally Mean (they/them), Secretary of the Guild of Wise Women

Thomas Joy (he/him), President of the Guild of Wise Women

Co-signed by the Guild of Glassblowers; The Association of Embroiderers; The Knitting, Crochet and Fibre Arts Guild; The Register of Engineering Apprentices; Freight Pilots Alliance; and the Mercantile Adventurers. 


Witness Testimony: Vera Ortega, Resident of Proxima Hull

I’ve always gone to the wise women. My mother did too and her mother before her. She used to give me something for my anxiety. A tea. And when I had trouble with my cycle, the pain, she had something for that as well. She’d got something for every little thing.

This wasn’t a little thing. I’m not saying that it was. At the time, it was a very big thing. There was this bloke at the Solstice Feast. We got to talking, then to dancing, and then we met for breakfast the next day. He wasn’t stopping on the station and we never planned anything permanent. I don’t mind a few days or weeks but I’m not really into long term commitment at this point in my life.

Anyway, the inevitable happened. Now, you could say I should’ve had something ready in advance. I mean, he wasn’t my first. Not even my first this year. I did. It failed this time. But you can’t blame anyone for that.

I can for what happened next. I got a potion from the wise woman and I took it like she said. That didn’t work either. By the time I knew that, I had to go to the Medical Office. Again, not a problem. The only problem here is that I paid for something that didn’t work. 

I wasn’t going to bother, but then all this talk started and I thought, you know what, sometimes it’s just not right to let things pass.


Report from the Security Office, Proxima Hull, by Jim Renfrew (he/him), De-escalation Officer

At 3:14 pm today, 16th June 64 PC, a call came in that two women were engaged in a verbal protest on the communal deck. I proceeded to the location to find that they (later identified as Ava Polson, Resident, and Emmy Holstock, Visitor), were blocking the entrance to the Steward’s Office. A handful of residents and shop owners were also in attendance. Some people had attempted to start a counter-protest, after which a fight broke out. Neither of the women previously mentioned were involved in this. With their help, I persuaded the later arrivals to depart and file written protests. Both women were then admitted to the Steward’s Office. I accompanied them to help with mediation.


16th June 64 PC

Update.

Landkeeper of Green Lakes National Park to Proxima Hull.

She’s only gone and hiked over the high pass. All the way over. We limit travel around that region because of the ecological importance but there’s a lot of small farms up there. We got word on the radio just an hour ago that your missing person has turned up at one of them. So you can relax. They’ve given her a cup of tea and word is she’s hail and hearty. Also, no longer missing.

If you really need to speak to her, I would suggest pinging the relay in Apple Bower. That’s AB995.

Best of luck.


17th June 64 PC

Subject: Proxima supplier

Dear Cally Mead, Secretary of the Guild of Wise Woman,

I went into the mountains today. The air is all wrong. The earth tastes different. It’s no wonder that my remedies don’t work as they should.

Regards,

Loretta Finch


Disciplinary record of Brin Holstock, Assistant Steward, Proxima Hull

The above mentioned is hereby suspended from his position for four weeks (commencing today, 21st June 64 PC). No more will be said with regards this matter.


Report. Steward’s Office, Proxima Hull.

It has been brought to my attention that a series of complaints against the wise women of this station may be connected to the recent difficulties in trade with the Martian Port. At least two sellers have had to seek alternative suppliers for their goods, including herbs, wood, fruits etc. Most of these alternatives are from small farms located on Proxima. At least two of our wise woman began their trade on Mars and have, up to this point, continued to use Martian sourced raw materials.

Following input from the Guild of Wise Women, I have established an inquiry into the effect of planetary conditions on traditional remedies and crafts. 

 I have appointed Loretta Finch (she/her) as the head of this inquiry, with assistance from Ava Polson (she/her). Both are experienced wise women with shops on the Proxima Hull communal deck. I have also assigned our Medical Officer to the inquiry committee, as well as Adelaide Beauchamps. It is hoped that we can prevent any further issues.


Witness Testimony of Agatha Lyton (she/her). Provided in writing.

We took Hildy to Loretta Finch, as the Medical Office could do nothing for her. We found her, thanks to a staff member, in a hostel in the Green Lakes National Park. Our baby is awake and well. We would like this to be added to the record.


Notice. Compensation scheme.

Applications are now being taken from those affected by the recent issues regarding natural supplies. Please apply in writing to the Proxima Hull Steward’s Office. Funds supplied by the Guild of Wise Women.


Report summary. Proxima Hull Medical Office. Presented for inquiry.

Updated 29th June 64 PC

Number of fatalities: 0


1st August 64 PC

Report. For distribution to ports and trade posts in the known and settled galaxy.

Care must be taken when changing suppliers of goods required for purposes including (but not limited to) herbal remedies, medicinal compounds, protective charms, fortune telling. If in doubt, it is advised that practitioners of the above visit the origin of their supplies and assess the difference for themselves. If you are unsure, please consult a more experienced colleague.

Loretta Finch, Wise Woman

Ava Polson, Wise Woman

Nicholas Dee, Steward, Proxima Hull


Notice, from the Martian Port Authority. 23rd August 105 MC

We are pleased to announce the full resumption of all freight and passenger services from the Martian Port.

Sorry for any inconvenience caused.


Louise Hughes is a speculative fiction writer and time traveller from the north east of England. She enjoys illusively wandering around the hills and dales, fictionally, metaphorically, literally, and preferably with a flask of tea. Her work has also appeared or is upcoming in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Kaleidotrope.


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