Experiment #299

Two-Bit Town Part 1

Gideon straddled his Morse. “Morse,” Gideon said under his breath with contempt. “They ban weapons here, but not stupid names.” “Morse” was a combination of “mechanical” and “horse,” and, Gideon was certain, the idea of some hollow headed fool in one of the central marketing departments who’d never even been to the Aphelion Worlds. Worse yet, the Morse was made by the Slixx company who shipped nothing else out to the edge Worlds. In his short time on the planet he’d attempted to change the Morse’s name to “Slixx,” but after blank stairs and a few people thinking he’d named his Morse, he’d given up. He’d come here chasing ghosts from his past, not to rename the settlement’s machinery.

Gideon had paused on his Morse thinking about the name conundrum when he overheard two men talking.

“If we put the kettle on the burner the flames’ll get it,” said the first man.

The second man nodded knowingly. “We’ll have to put the water in a pan and slide it into the oven,” the second man said. “Before it knows it’s cooked.”

Gideon had spent long enough in law enforcement to understand the cadence of a bank robbers code, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think these guys needed to discuss the finer points of boiling water within eyesight of a bank.

The two men walked off.

Gideon sighed. He wasn’t in law enforcement anymore. He’d left the postal inspectors—the only federal law enforcement the Aphelion Worlds ever knew—after the death of his last partner, but he couldn’t let a crime happen either. He raised his Morse to full height and set off to see if there was a local lawman he could push this off on, but he was already sure that whatever lawman he found in this place wouldn’t be up to the job.

Gideon found the local lawman in the saloon playing cards with the town’s undertaker. A fair number of chips were partially stacked in the midst of the table. Half-finished drinks and a sheriff’s badge lay near the edge.

“You Sheriff Rodgers?” Gideon asked.

“My friends call me Buck, but you can call me Sheriff Rodgers,” Sheriff Rodgers said without looking up from his hand.

“May I speak with you in private?” Gideon asked.

“I think it’s obvious I’m in the middle of something right now.”

“It’s important, Sheriff.”

“So’s this hand.”

“Fine. I’ll wait till you lose it,” Gideon said.

The Sheriff looked at the undertaker and said, “Call.”

The undertaker smiled. He laid out his cards: four pink ladies and a couple of miners. The Sheriff threw down his hand and jumped up from the table in disgust.

Gideon called after him as he walked out the door. “Sheriff, can I speak with you?”

“I ain’t Sheriff no more,” Rodgers said and pointed towards the table. Gideon turned back to see the undertaker pinning the badge on his coat.

“Can I speak with you for a moment?”

“Pocho paquichmo?” the undertaker asked.

“You speak common?” Gideon asked.

“Pacha-pachooku.” The undertaker said with a smile.

Gideon sighed.

Experiment #300

Two-Bit Town Part 2

Gideon asked around town about a translator, but the former Sheriff Rodgers was the main one. There were others, but no one willing to help an outsider. No one spoke to the undertaker, or any undertaker unless they had to. Burying bodies was all it took to be an undertaker. Funerals weren’t much more than a few words and a prayer supplied by the bereaved. When there were no bereaved it didn’t much matter what language it was in.

The next day, Gideon found the Sheriff in the saloon again, passed out from a long afternoon of drinking.

With a twenty-credit chip, Gideon asked the bartender to let him know when the former Sheriff was vertical. As Gideon walked out the door, he heard, “Hey, I know who you are.”

Gideon turned to see the former Sheriff standing (barely) with an accusatory finger pointed at him.

“Gideon Bartholomew Wright. You’re the one who brought down the Ftharan’s Boss Clawf and saved her majesty the Grand Joogla beast herself,” the former Sheriff said.

“So you say,” Gideon replied.

“You’re a traitor and a cannibal. Eating your own people just to save your scrawny neck. You’re a piece of frabscht, you know that? You give Ftharans a bad name.”

“I’ve been called worse for things I have done.”

“Well you-” here the former Sheriff fell to the ground face first and stayed there.

Gideon shook his head. He looked at the bartender. “Let me know.”

The bartender nodded and Gideon left.

#

After he’d visited the post office, Gideon walked into the general store. He approached the clerk and whispered. “I’ve heard I can get weapons grade plasma here.” Without his badge and the strict weapons ban in place at this colony he couldn’t legally acquire what he needed to defend the bank.

The young clerk blinked at him. “Why, I do not know of what you speak there, captain,” he said in the stilted tones of one trying desperately to act natural. “Perhaps you should go into yon back and discuss such things withen my manager.” He winked at Gideon. He indicated the rear of the store with an overextended head movement.

“So, I should go in the back?” Gideon asked.

“Yes. I believe that would be beneficial for you and that which you seek.”

Once in back Gideon found a woman sitting behind a desk.

“Ma’am,” Gideon said, “the well… strange young man at the counter suggested I come see you.”

“Oh?” she asked.

“Yeah, about some weapons grade plasma?”

“I see, well… as I’m sure you know, selling that without a license is illegal.”

“I’m not a postal, ma’am, at least not anymore.”

“Mr. Wright, I think you’ll always be a straight shooting postal.”

“I see my reputation precedes me. But I don’t have the pleasure of knowing your name.”

“No. You don’t.”

“Listen, I think something’s going down here and I want to stop it before anyone gets hurt. I’ve got my plasma pistols, but they won’t be enough to hold off what I expect is coming. I’m not looking to get you into trouble just stop a robbery.”

She smiled. “Aren’t we all?”

Gideon half smiled in return. “What do you want? I have credits.”

“Gideon, you wound me. You think I’m only interested in money? It’s both offensive and disappointing.”

“You’re not the type to trifle with something of so little value as money, but I’d hoped I could distract you with it.”

She smiled in a way he would have found beguiling if he hadn’t known she was dangerous. “Oh, Gideon, you do know me then.”

“What do you want?” He asked.

“Oh nothing much,” she said. “A way off this rock.”

“I’d think someone with your connections shouldn’t have trouble with that.”

“Oh, if only it were that simple. I’m just a girl in need of transport.”

“That seems a cheap price.”

“Oh, don’t worry there will be plenty to keep you busy in solving that issue. Plus with your legendary navigational skills it might be more a death wish than salvation.”

“You knew Seabrook?”

“Sure did, Starry.” She smiled in that same beguiling way and wore down his defenses a little more, even when she used Seabrook’s nickname for him, short for lodestar, something could actually tell you where to navigate to.

“Where to?”

“I don’t much care as long as it’s not here.”

“And the weapons?”

“You’ll be ready to outfit a small army.”

“And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

“Rille,” she said, “Rille Harbinger.”

Experiment #301

Two-Bit Town Part 3

That evening Gideon rode down Main Street and out of town on his Morse. He missed his Falsparian anti-grav bikes, but he’d lost both in the scuffle the former sheriff had referenced. And getting a new one from the central colonies would take more credits than he could legally get his hands on. Thus, he was stuck with the loaner Morse.

After nightfall, he returned to town with his Morse on silent. He stashed his Morse in a back alley and took up a position on the roof across from the bank. He pulled out his binoculars and took in an unfolding scene of nothing.

Hour of emptiness followed hour of emptiness, until he heard something. It turned out truly to be the wind. And so, hour of emptiness still followed hour of emptiness.

As dawn poured light onto the town, Gideon’s back ached and his legs were stiff. He shook himself and stood up, he gathered his gear and headed toward the door that led to the building’s stairwell.

“Papatachki poostah boof!” Gideon heard shouted from the street below. He walked back to the edge and looked over. The new sheriff seemed to preside over a gun duel. One featuring Rille Harbinger, and about a dozen yards from her, the former Sheriff Rodgers.

“He says state the grievance,” the former sheriff said.

“Who taught you Pookatawnktawnk ya vestigial spoozer? You think I need a translator?” Rille shouted.

“You could use help communicating in something other than insults.”

“Yeah, except that’s the language you taught me.”

The new sheriff jumped in, “Papatachki polustah boof?”

“My grievance is that he’s a liar, cheat, fool, dullard, and the worst husband any woman ever had.”

“And she’s a flirting menace, who can’t seem to stay on the right side of the law and whose cooking is rather terrible.”

“Maybe if you didn’t gamble away every filthy credit you got your hands on I wouldn’t need to pay the bills with ‘alternative’ jobs.”

“Papastahki pon poobaloos.”

Rille and Rodgers both turned away from each other and took a prescribed number of steps.

The crowd cheered.

“Don’t do this, Pischtiko,” she said addressing Rodgers. “You know how this will end. There’s only one way and you won’t make it.”

“We’ll see.  We’ll see,” he said.

Rille and Rodgers raised their weapons toward each other as the new Sheriff raised his hands.

“Pacolio pandanawamma.”

Rille and Rodgers both nodded.

“Pandanawummu.”

Gideon pulled his rifle out of his gear.

“Pandanaweemmee.”

Gideon brought the rifle to his shoulder and took aim.

“Pandanawamm-”

Three guns went off.

Gideon’s shot knocked the weapon out of Rille’s hand.

Rille’s shot went harmlessly wide.

Rodgers’s shot found it’s mark: Rille’s heart.

The force of the blasts spun Rille around and dropped her face down on the ground.

“No!” screamed Rodgers.

The Sheriff shot a look up at Gideon. He babbled to his deputies and pointed up at Gideon.

As Gideon packed his rifle away, the deputies reached the roof. They took him into custody (only because he let them) and brought him down to the street. They shoved him to his knees before the angry babbling of the new Sheriff.

The Sheriff enlisted the sorrowful Rodgers as translator.

“You are under arrest for slaying of Rille Harbinger Rodgers.”

“She ain’t dead,” Gideon said.

“Do you deny shooting her?”

“I shot the weapon out of her hand so she wouldn’t kill this fool.”

“What right have you to interfere?”

“I’d say as a man I have every right to prevent another man’s death if I can. And, well, since the Federal Postal Inspectors made me acting head of law enforcement for the colony, I guess I’ve got that right too.”

“Words mean nothing.”

“True,” Gideon said. He fished in his pockets and pulled out some crumpled papers. “Here’s the official papers.”

“What about Rille?”

“Like I said she ain’t dead.” He turned towards Rille and shouted. “Come on, Rille, It’s safe.”

The townspeople held their breath. Rille’s arm twitched and then her leg and then as if life had been poured back into her, she raised her face off the ground and stood up.

A burn mark adorned her shoulder, but the dark, red-tinged skin underneath showed no marring.

Rodgers staggered back in disbelief.

“It’s true. The newcomer knocked the pistol from my hand. Lawful or not, I’m glad he prevented your death, Buck.”

“But you were hit.”

“The force of his shot spun me so that your blast only grazed the clothes on my shoulder. By a modern miracle I’m unscathed.” She looked down at Gideon and back up at Rodgers. “I think it’s time we put all this behind us.” She turned and walked back to the store. Rodgers covered his face with his hands and ran for the saloon. The townspeople dispersed.

“Patookitookie schwahbah,” the new Sheriff said as he removed Gideon’s restraints.

Gideon nodded to him, collected his gear and wandered back to the room he’d rented above the saloon.

Experiment #302

Two-Bit Town Part 4

Gideon woke at the knock on the door.

He pulled on his pants and tucked in his shirt. “Coming,” he growled.

He opened the door to see Rille in a revealing dress and leaning coquettishly again the door jamb. “Hello,” she said.

“Come back when you want to talk,” Gideon said and swung the door shut.

Rille pounded on the door. “Open up.”

Gideon opened the door again.

Rille pushed past him in a huff and sat on the bed.

Gideon turned, staying next to the door and keeping it open. “I’m sure you’re used to getting your own way,” he said, “particularly in that,” he motioned toward the dress. “But I didn’t come into town to get in between you and Rodgers. I’ve been fool enough with a dress like that in the past to know it comes with strings attached.”

“Why of all the-“

“Our deal’s off, Ms. Harbinger. I’ll return the guns and ammo as soon as you take your leave.”

A quiet moment passed while Rille pushed down her anger and indignation.

“How did you know?” she asked.

Gideon smiled. “I seen your kind before.”

“So has just about everybody. How did you know?”

“Oh, it was a hundred different reasons, some of which are too instinctual to name.”

“But how?”

“It’s the way you carried yourself. The way you ordered that fool clerk around. The way you measured your words. Moorvats are precise, even the second and third gens.”

“But no one knows. You took one look and-”

“It was also your price. A business woman of your status and connections shouldn’t have a problem with getting off the planet. What kind of person could smuggle munitions in, but couldn’t smuggle one person out?”

“And be on the run all my life?”

“They’ve got an M-coder here don’t they?”

“Installed it shortly after I got here. A shield against Moorvats about thirty miles out-of-town in any direction.”

“Any Moorvat passing through gets their skin turned red permanently; a giant ‘Come get me’ sign for bounty hunters, bigots, and fools.”

“Precisely, but an official like yourself can get it turned off for inspection or something.”

“Why didn’t you just blow it up?”

“The device has its own M-coder shield plus a regular force field. I can’t get to it. And I trust no one with my secrets.”

“What about Rodgers? Does he know?”

“I don’t think he does, but it’s definitely hovering on the edge of his mind. He’s seen too many weird things not to suspect something.”

“Well mores the pity. It’s hard to share a life with someone when they won’t share yours.”

Rille balled her fists but didn’t take the bait.

“All right, I’ll gather the guns and bring them back to you within the hour.”

“I don’t want the guns back. I want you to get me out of this two-bit, dung heap of a town.”

“That’s a much taller order than I can provide, Ms. Harbinger.”

“Then keep the guns. I have no use for them anyway.”

Gideon looked thoughtful. “How good are you with a pistol.”

“Better than you, Mr. Wright. You may be a deadeye but I’m better. Genetic engineering would be worthless if it could only make me as good as a sapien. No, they wanted a lot more for me and my abilities.”

“You up for helping me stop a robbery?”

“Will it get me out of this frabscht hole?”

“One way or another.”

“Then I’m in.”