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Luna Stormdancer

After reading Gem’s wonderful new Joe Story, it got me thinking about the choices we make in life – and how much the living with our decisions, and the ‘what if’, can affect us.

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“You going to eat that, Joe, or just let it sit there and get all fly blown…”

“HOLY FUCK! …Jesus, Mary and Joseph…”

“So that’s a ‘no’ then?”

“Christ, lass, you scared the living daylights out of me. Where the hell did yer come from?”

“Oh, around about. Here and there. So, is it okay if I just pinch this leg then? I haven’t eaten in, like, ooh, a couple of days now and I could do with a morsel. That’s if you can spare some.”

“Spare some…oh the hare… yeah, yeah, help yersel’ like. Holy Mother, lass, yer shouldn’t sneak up on a man like that. I could’a had a bullet in yer …”

“I suppose. Well, you could have tried…hey, this is good. Who’d have thought hare could taste so good?”

“Yer’ve never eaten hare? Yer one of the lucky ones with a bank account with real money in it then, are yer? Not forced to live off the land like the rest of us…”

“No. I just don’t eat meat very often. Certainly not bunnies. I like bunnies too much to eat them.”

“Bunnies? Are you taking the piss, lass?”

“Wasn’t trying to, just answering your question. Can I wipe my hands on that?”

“Sure, it’s what it’s for. And seeing as yer up to answering some questions, can I be so bold as…”

“Astra. You should pop the rest away for breakfast, I only wanted a little and there’s enough there to last you for tomorrow. I’m guessing you started off with more than one.”

“I…yes, bagged me two of the little rascals….so, yer Astra then?”

“Yep, for the moment. And you’re Joe Byrne.”

“Right enough. Seems like yer’ve got me pegged, love. Can yer tell me what yer doing here then? This cave was fair empty when I landed here and I sure didn’t hear yer coming.”

“Well, I don’t rightly know, I’m guessing you needed me and…well, here I am.”

“Need yer? But I don’t know yer lass. Least ways, I don’t remember yer, and I usually remember all the ladies in my acquaintance, past and present.”

“We don’t have a past, Joe Byrne. We don’t have a future either. Just here and now.”

“No future? That sounds …disappointing.”

“Ha. You’re full of the blarney and that’s for sure.”

“Ah, yer can take a man out of Ireland…”

“But you can’t take Ireland out of his blood…”

“True enough, though I was born here and this is me country, I know me roots. Where are you from lass?”

“Didn’t I answer that before? Ah well, no matter. Tell you what though... I could go a drink, after that rabbit.”

“I’d offer yer some, if I had it. Yer’ll have to forgive me manners, me hospitality isn’t up to much being as how I’m holed up in the cave for the duration, but I have water. It’s tepid and not fresh, but it’s the best I can do.”

“Thanks Joe. And here I was with this bottle of whiskey in my pocket. Water will do nicely…unless you’d like to share…”

“Yer a cheeky lass and that’s the truth. “

“I take it that’s a ‘yes’ this time then?”

“Aye, it’s a ‘yes please’, and here’s to yer health…”

“And yours. Speaking of which, you’re looking a bit weathered. Times been a little challenging have they?”

“Aye, yer could say that.”

“I’m sorry, Joe. I am.”

“Ah, don’t yer be sorry for the likes of me, girl. Yer take it as it comes and make of it what you will.”

“Well, you have shelter, food, water…whiskey now too. Not ideal, but you’re well enough for the moment. Looking a little peaky though, it needs to be said. You should take better care of yourself.”

“I do all right.”

“I guess. I see you have taken care of…other needs as well.”

“That’s my business lass.”

“Never said it wasn’t -just stating a fact, really.”

“Ned states facts too, only usually with an edge to his words.”

“He doesn’t approve.”

“No. And neither do you, I’m thinking.”

“I don’t judge, Joe. You’re a free man. Wild and free and alive and what you do, is your business, like you said.”

“Aye! Well, it helps…now and then…”
“I understand. A man like you…”

“Yer professing to know me now, lass, when you yersel’ just admitted we have no past?”

“Well, no. But I know what makes you tick, Joe Byrne. What makes you do what you do - it’s not hard to understand that…which is partly why I’m here I guess.”

“Other than getting yerself lost in the bush?”

“Lost? I’m never lost. And who said I was in the bush?”

“Well, yer here aren’t yer? And the only way in is that way, and forgive me for stating the obvious, darlin’, but that’s a whole lot of bush out there.”

“Yes. It’s beautiful, particularly at dusk don’t you think? That burnt orange sky and those pink clouds hovering over acres of greens and greys and blacks and browns and oh, don’t you just love it? Nothing quite like it anywhere else in the Universe. Breathtaking!”

“Yer a strange one, Astra, and that’s a fact.”

“So many have said.”

“So why ARE yer here then? Seems to be all riddles with you.”

“I know. I’m sorry, I try not to do that, but sometimes it just can’t be helped. I’m here Joe, that’s what matters.”

“But why?”

“To talk to you.”

“Well, yer doing that. It’s nice and all, to have the company of a pretty lass, but yer simply raising more questions than answering right now.”

“I know. Annoying isn’t it!”

“And yet, still no explanation.”

“No, and sadly, not likely to be, but there you are. Here, pass me that bottle again. So, tell me Joe, why have you secluded yourself away up here. Just to smoke away reality for a bit, away from Ned’s disapproval?”

“I don’t know why I should answer your questions, when you seem so unwilling to answer me own. But yeah, I get the need sometimes, fearful strong. Time away from me life. Time away to think.”


“Ah? Yer sound like some doctor making a diagnosis.”

“Ha. I guess I am in a way. I see why I’m here now, I have to admit it had alluded me to a point. Look, I have some biscuits here too, I forgot about those. Must be those deep, blue eyes of yours, and that cheeky smile, making me forget myself. Have some.”

“You come here, filch half me dinner…”

“A leg! One leg, Joe. And you said you had two whole hares, and there’s only half of one left now. I’m guessing you ate just fine before I arrived.”

“…and you had food in your pocket all along.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t mine. It was for you. I have an apple, too, if you’d like that.”

“ You turn up out of the blue with whiskey and hard biscuits and fruit for me, apparently, and still try and profess you didn’t know you were coming?”

“Oh, I knew I was coming, I just didn’t know why. Not completely.”

“And you couldn’t eat dinner before you came…”

“You can wipe that mocking smile off your face Joe Byrne. I’ve been…busy. And I figured sharing a meal was a good ice breaker, you know?”

“Lulling me into a false sense of security while the coppers creep up on me, most like. I’m not stupid, lass. And it’s a well known fact that Joe Byrne likes the ladies. Of course, they like me too, but that can’t be helped now, can it? What better way to distract me…”

“What? NO! No coppers, no subterfuge. Just me, Joe. Just me. If I’d wanted to distract you, I’d have done this…”

“Well, now, I’m rather sad you didn’t do that right from the start, if that’s the view you’ve been hiding under that high neckline.”

“Oh, put your eyes back in. It’s just cleavage.”

“And rather nice cleavage at that, lass. I’m partial to creamy skin and soft swellings…..”

“Oh, you don’t disappoint Joe. You’re a character, right enough and that smile might work on most women, but not me. Not tonight.”

“Well, with the sun almost down it looks like you’re marooned here with me for the duration. I can think of some pleasurable ways to fill that time….all right, fine, I can read your expression well enough. What else is there to do then…more of this ‘talk’ you reckon?”

“Well, it’s…”

“…why yer here. So yer said.”

“Well, at least you’re listening. That’s a good start.”

“Tell me, what is it with women and talking? We men know how to communicate our meaning with the least amount of words involved, cleverly leaving time for more important pursuits…”

“Like smoking opium.”

“Yer said yer weren’t going to judge me.”

“I’m not. I just figured that’s what you felt was a more important pursuit. Less talk, more oblivion.”

“Are yer trying to bait me lass? Get me riled up? Attack me with sweet words, and soft tones and feminine wiles and yet dig the boot in at the same time?”

“No. Gosh, you’re very defensive. Take out the emotion and analyse the words. Am I speaking an untruth?”

“Well…no, but it’s not just about that.”

“What else is an important pursuit for you then, Joe?”

“Well, courting the ladies of course. Reading a good book. Having a drink and a laugh with me mates. Casting a watchful eye over me family when I can, helping out on occasion - though not many of those these days, and me Ma…well…you know…I’m somewhat of a disappointment to her. Me horses. Playing with the coppers…yer know, stuff.”

“And yet here you are, Joe. No book, no drink except that whiskey, hey…leave me some. No mates, no family. Definitely no coppers. One lady, but she’s just a friend. Just you, on your own…for how many days now, Joe? No talk. Plenty of that black stuff though. Plenty of strange dreams and escaping from reality - and at times, like now, or just before I came, plenty of time to think.”

“Do yer mean to be so cruel?”

“No Joe. I just speak the truth, always. You might not like what you hear, but you can’t deny the reality of it.”

“Aye! But then when I’m done here, I’ll go back and do those other important things and live me life and do what I do and take each day as it comes. For however many I have left…”

“You sound sad, even when talking about things that make you happy.”

“It’s not an easy life, lass. It gets to a man sometimes, which I guess is why I come here on occasion. Time to breathe. Get my head together.”

“Get out of your head, more like.”



“No tone. I did notice that time. I was listening hard.”

“Good boy. And stop flashing those dimples at me, I’m not showing you my cleavage again.”
“Well, I’m sure yer’ve got a decent set of pins under those longs skirts of yers. Yer could always flash me an ankle like…”

“Cheap thrills.”

“I take what I can get, lass, its hard to sustain any kind of relationship, being who I am and all. Yer sure yer wouldn’t care to ease the suffering of a lonely, hunted man…”

“I’m not for you, Joe, as attractive as you are. I’m not here for that, though, I admit, in any other situation…”

“Ah, you’re tempted, I can see…”

“Look at that look of triumph on your face! Honestly. Has any woman ever turned you down?”

“Certainly. Dozens. But many more haven’t, and I prefer to dwell on me successes.”

“Do you think about stuff like that often, Joe?”

“What? Sure… keeps a man warm on cold, lonely nights…”

“No, not about your conquests, about the fact that you don’t have a relationship, that you can’t sustain one being who you are? Do you wonder about having a wife…a family of your own, that kind of thing?”

“Of course. But that’s private.”

“Well, there’s only two of us here, hardly a crowd.”

“I meant I’m not willing to discuss that kind of thing with yer lass. Leave it be.”

“Do you ever talk about these kinds of things to anyone, Joe? Or do you push it all away with the drugs and try to ignore it?”

“Jesus, lass. Yer sailing close to the wind here. Why can’t yer just leave me be?”

“I’m afraid, right now, that I can’t do that.”


“Well, it’s dark, and we’re miles from anywhere…”

“Didn’t stop yer arriving though, did it?”

“Well, true. Okay, so, the thing is that you seem to be at a turning point in your life here Joe, and you seem to need a little help in making your decision.”

“Who said I have a decision to make?”

“I just did. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Yer wrong.”

“Ah, taking me literally, very funny. So all this thinking you’ve been doing, alone up here now the drugs have worn off, all that thinking wasn’t because you’re wondering what to do?”

“About what?”

“About you, Joe. About your life. About all this…”

“Look, what the fuck do yer want, lass? No more kidding around now, I’m tired.”

“I want you to talk to me. Tell me what you’re thinking. Or at least let me help you sort through the chaos raging through your mind right now. I’m good at Chaos. It’s what I do…or try to prevent, at any rate. And right now, you’re at the very crossroads of a major turning point in your life and you need me, whether you realise it or not.”

“Yer seem to know everything already. Yer don’t need me to tell yer.”

“Yes I do, Joe. I need you to hear yourself tell me. I need you to say it out loud and get to the reality behind the dreams, and the tempting desires. You can trust me and you can share this with me, and tomorrow I’ll be gone and you’ll never see me again but maybe you’ll be better able to move forward more confidently because you’ll know what you should be doing.”

“What I should be doing? What I should be doing? Shit! I should be looking after me Ma and the family! I should be providing for them. I should be earning an honest living, if the damned coppers would leave us alone long enough, or if the world would just give us a break, a fighting chance. I should be making sure I’m around long enough to find some pretty lass and wed her and get meself some young ones of me own - not strung up like a thief before I’m 25. I should be living me life, free to walk down the street, not hunted like a dangerous animal. I should be able to use me brains for something other than keeping us one step ahead of the law and thinking up the next robbery, the next bolt hole. I shouldn’t be in this situation…I never wanted this…”

“Can you though? Can you do what you want? Now…after all that’s happened?”

“No, fuck it, NO! And that’s the problem. I swear lass, if I could see a way clear, if I could just get away…”

“What’s stopping you Joe, really? Why do you stay…what keeps you here, doing this, living this outlaw life?”

“What makes me stay? Me! I make me stay. I stay because I have to, don’t you see? Ned needs me, the Gang needs me and I won’t abandon my mates.”

“You sound so determined…”

“Because I am! I won’t leave my family and disappear just to save my own skin. We have a reason we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re making a stand; Ned has the right idea, you know? We’ve had enough, and the people need this – they need someone to look up to, someone willing to buck the system, be a voice for those that can’t speak for themselves. Someone to stand up to those bastards and fight for the cause; for our freedom. Look at the way of things now - honest men, treated like criminals. Coppers more corrupt that those they label thieves! All of us, scratching out an existence, treated worse than scum, dirt poor and our lives dirt cheap. But we’re showing them, Astra, we’re showing them what it is to have courage, and stand up against them and fight for what we believe in and bring that change that Ned dreams about. Oh, I’m determined all right, don’t ever doubt that!”

“And yet, you doubt it yourself…otherwise why would I be here?”

“Meaning exactly what?”

“You know what I mean, Joe. All this chaos in your mind; all that churning – reality versus desire. You know you have to stay, you want to stay, you need to stay – but you also want to leave, you want to live and have a future, a normal life.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“Of course! But right now, that’s your dilemma, isn’t it? The ache for what might be; the lure of a better life, a real future…”

“I won’t leave them…”

“But you’ve been thinking about it. Haven’t you?”


“Be honest with yourself, love. It’s not a betrayal to Ned to want those things. To think those thoughts. Hell, he probably wrestles with those same demons himself, he just doesn’t let on, like you. You hide away and lose yourself in the grey fog of your mind so you don’t have to look at it. And before you say it yet again, I’m not judging. I’m explaining. You’re a smart man, Joe Byrne, really smart, but like all intelligent children that aren’t challenged, that aren’t stimulated, they get bored and they find other ways to use that intellect, and usually end up making trouble, and lots of it. And those kids grow up, Joe, and if their minds aren’t put to good use even then, well, they find other ways to keep them occupied. This opium is just one way you use, outwitting the coppers is simply another. I told you, I don’t judge you, my dear Joe, I understand. You want what you can’t have – but then, don’t we all suffer from that to some extent?”

“How do yer know all this? How do yer know what I’m thinking?”

“I can’t answer that Joe…no, that’s not true. I won’t answer that because it’s not something you need to know, and this isn’t about what I can or can’t do, this is about what you will or won’t do. Will you leave? Will you steal away, over the border, as far as you can get and start a new life? Use that intelligence in other ways, start that normal life you so desperately yearn for? Or will you stay by Ned’s side and see this through to the end? That’s the decision you have to make, the one that keeps you awake at nights and reaching for the drug when it all gets too much.”

“There’s no decision Astra. Not when yer lay it out like that, not really. There’s just a realisation of what I will do, what I have to do, and an acknowledgement, or a yearning if yer like , for what might have been…if things were different. That’s what churns in me breast, lass. But I won’t leave Ned. I won’t leave the boys to face their fate without me. I won’t leave me family. I won’t turn tail and run like a coward from a situation I’ve helped create and sustain. I’m no quitter and I don’t turn on me mates. I won’t be that man. I won’t.”

“No, Joe. No, you won’t. It’s not the kind of man that you are. I know that.”

“I won’t…”

“But it doesn’t stop you thinking about it. And that’s normal. Just don’t punish yourself over it all too much. You have a destiny to fulfil Joe, we all do. And sometimes, sometimes we have to do things we hate, things we don’t want to do…but we do it because there’s no other way. Because it makes us who we are - and because it can affect so many others for the better. And you never know what the future might bring, because of your actions now…”

“Yer make it sound like I don’t have a choice. I already know that.”

“Oh Joe, of course you do, everything is about choice after all. Everything we do, every thought we have and act upon, it’s all choice and it’s all tied up with Destiny. You have a choice to make now…”

“I have no choice, lass, that’s the point. I can’t do anything but see this through. Ned talks about destiny sometimes, and how we’re part of history now and bringing about change that has to happen - and maybe he’s right. Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that as much as I want to leave, it’s not enough to make me go.”

“And that’s your decision?”

“Aye lass, it always was. And yer right, I guess I just needed to talk it through, hear it out loud. I can’t tell yer how fierce it burns inside me. How much I want to make a stand against them, make things right for everyone, or at least, better. Get Neddy’s Mam out of prison, and all the others that no more belong there than Jesus himsel’ ever did. Make a difference. Show them blighters what we’re made of, us dirt poor Irish Australian scum, eh? Make me life worth something, even if it’s only a short one! Go out in a blaze of glory rather than fade away as a safe, old man that never achieved much in his life…as much as I want a normal life, lass, I want this more.”

“Joe…you are an amazing human being, you know that? Come here…that’s it, lay your head there and just let me hold you…so much pain, so much turmoil for one so young…”

“Ah, you smell so good lass, all soft and warm. Are you sure you won’t reconsider your choice?”

“Ever the opportunist, huh Joe?”

“Well, yer can’t blame a man for trying!”

“A man. Aye, that you are Joe Bryne, and a good, brave man at that. It’s been a pleasure spending time with you.”

“It could be more pleasurable lass, I promise yer that. I might only be twenty-two but I know a thing or two about women….”

“So I’ve heard, Joe Byrne, so I’ve heard….”


“Is it done?”


“You sound so sad. “

“He’s so young, Drin. So very young.”

“I know it’s not easy, but there was no other way.”

“That was one of the hardest ones for some reason. It’s never easy but this one just got to me.”

“They all get to you, you don’t fool me, my love. But…it’s part of what we do. What we have to do. It’s necessary, you know that.”

“Well, ‘tis done now and all is well. He was wavering…if I hadn’t got him to talk when he did, it could well have turned out differently. Alone, and with a head full of opiates, it would have been so much easier for him to take the other choice and leave and then…oh, the fall out…”

“No armour, no siege, the future altered…the Event-line disrupted…”

“…and more work for us putting it right, even if we could. Who could have though so much might change because of one young man? He will never know just how much Ned was right in the end, how strong their Destinies were and how much they would affect the future. And it would all have been lost if he’d left and chosen that alternative that taunted him with the promise of a normal life, a family life. It would have been the wrong decision, but oh, he’d have lived, Drin, he’d have lived…”

“Tears? For a man long dead, my love?”

“I sent him to his death. I helped him to stay. I took away the chance of that future…”

“No, he made his own decision and chose his own future, you know that. Stop punishing yourself. History is unaltered, you already knew what was supposed to happen. And it was only a small Chaos Spike, easily fixed. A hugely successful outcome, it was seamless, the timing perfect. It could have been so much worse, and so much more difficult. Just one little decision – that’s probably the easiest we’ve ever dealt with. Definitely successful.”

“Successful? But don’t you see Drin? It’s not whether I was successful or not, or that he went to his death determined to make a difference. It’s the sheer bloody waste of it all! Can you imagine what someone like Joe Byrne could have been capable of, if circumstances were different? If he’d had a decent education past the fifth grade; if he’d had a chance to turn that stunning intellect into more worthwhile pursuits? If he hadn’t deadened his mind with drugs, but allowed it to fly free unclouded, undimmed, what he might have achieved in his life? If there was no Gang; just an opportunity of making something of himself? He only got twenty-two years, Drin, he was a boy! He never stood a chance, born as he was, where he was, in the time he was! God knows what he might have been, given a century’s grace…”

Astra Moonseeker….”

“Okay, hold the lecture, I know what you’re going to say. I just hate this part of it, okay? I just do. I have to be all calm and collected and clever and all-bloody-knowing when I’m dealing with these souls, but damn it all, I’m still human underneath and it still affects me, even after all this time! I’m allowed to vent now and then.”


“Yes, still…”

“….a little, Guardian, a little. Although none would recognize The Guardian at the moment, would they? I’ve not see you quite so emotional in some time, my beloved.”

“A lot human, Drin, more than you anyway, my love. And human enough to turn the likes of Joe Byrne on, and all.”

“He made a pass at you?”

“Several, but that’s Joe I’m thinking. He was a lovely man, Drin. You’d have liked him. You’d have liked him a lot.”

“You obviously did.”

“Yes. I really did.”

“Should I be..what do you Earth human’s say…jealous?”

“I don’t know – I guess it’s your choice, after all…..”


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