New Frontier Gunfighter (One of Two)

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica, 2345 Edition: The Colonization Era took it's first faltering steps with the discovery of the first faster than light spacedrives. Once given the opportunity to flee a hideously overcrowded Earth, Mars or Venus humans leapt at the chance, scattering outward from their cradle worlds in a wave of ships. Some were part of organized colony expeditions while other were thrown together at the spur of the moment but the opening up of a new frontier called them all.

The dimly lit tavern was quiet, the wooden floor covered by a thin layer of dust. The sun beat down outside, a dry heat hanging in the air and making everyone feel sweaty and uncomfortable. Still, the beautiful redhead seemed largely unaffected by the climate as she raised her eyebrow from something the man had said.

"What do you mean there's a ship coming in a two days, Larry?" Bonnie asked.

"Exactly that," Larry wiped the dusty metal counter, the older man in the battered white apron frowning slightly until he could see his reflection in the glossy material, "the mayor got a message from the high orbitals about a warp transit at the edge of the system." He smiled slightly, "And he wants you on the welcoming committee, Bonnie."

"He's really scrapping the bottom of the barrel," Bonnie said archly, the tight little dress she wore hugging her generously endowed frame, "considering that I run the town brothel."

"You're also one of the few of us to have a high end education," Larry reminded her, his black hair falling into his eyes, "you can even fake cultured, if you have to."

"So some group of fools are out here visiting the backside of beyond," Bonnie quietly speculated, "but I wonder why?"

"It gets better," Larry shook his head. As Bonnie looked at him curiously he said, "It looks like it's a transit capable personal craft, which means wealthy."

"Damn," Bonnie's eyes widened. The cost of a warp transit capable craft was far beyond a single person's means, normally, which meant whoever was coming here had serious money or at least worked for someone like that.

"Exactly," Larry agreed. He turned to the bottles along the back wall of the bar, pulling down a flask of simulated brandy and pouring her a drink as he continued on, "The Mayor is taking a delegation out to the old landing field to meet him or her, made up of a few business representatives and a few councilors. Do you mind going, too?"

"I doubt that someone is coming here for pleasure," Bonnie pointed out, setting the metal coins on the table to cover her drink.

"Agreed," Larry said as he returned the container to it's usual place, "but he figures it's best to cover all of the bases."

"All right, I'll be along," Bonnie agreed, "now I'd better get going."

"Damn she's fine," Larry sighed softly, probably thinking Bonnie couldn't hear and the woman smiled to herself in pleasure.

Bonnie walked out through the swinging half doors, pausing to look over the small town, if you wanted to call it that. What had started out as thirty pre-fabricated structures had slowly swelled to fifty buildings, some made of local wood and others from components that had been shipped over, all looking slightly shabby somehow. The bar here, a weapon's shop, the grocer up the street, the sheriff's office across the way and the two story tall City Hall. The roads were merely packed dirt, wooden sidewalks lining main street, and horses were tied up in front of several buildings by watering troughs. Bonnie smiled as she saw her own place just up the street, the lower floor a dance hall and the upper floor made up of small bedrooms.

"Mother warned me the frontier was rough and filled with dangerous men," Bonnie muttered to herself as she moved off, "silly me, I just thought it was a selling point."

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica, 2345 Edition, continued: .... the rapid technological drop off out on the frontier was largely economic based. Shipping a piece of advanced technology out to a new colony was expensive, not to mention any replacement parts or other support. Instead of shipping a hover-transport it was more economical to ship a herd of horses, literally self-reproducing transport. A pulser weapon quickly ran out of energy charges while an primitive pistol could be re-armed using locally produced materials. And so on...

The sun had just risen when they saw the silvery spark far up in the sky. They stood by the old landing pad, a sheet of bare rock that had been fused early on in the colony's history when they had been more hopeful for visitors. Haven was too far from the commercial routes, though, and it had little to draw a potential tourist there, so the landing pad went largely unused.

'Which makes me wonder why someone is coming here in the first place?' Bonnie shook her head. She looked at Mayor Phillips, "Any more information?"

Phillips shook his head, his bald spot brightly shining in the fall sunlight. "I got a download from the ship's automated beacon but it's not very useful," he said, "the Sweet Charity, a private craft licensed off of New Terra."

"New Terra," Larry raised an eyebrow, his steely gray hair crisp and dressed in his best Sunday suit, "don't they have a bad reputation?"

"They're supposed to not ask too many questions when licensing, anyway," Rei noted, the grocer's daughter standing in for her busy father. Her mane of golden hair flowed down her back, the summer dress she wore a bit too short for modesty.

"Here it comes," Phillips cut them off.

The vessel came down with a rumble and displacement of air, steam pouring off of it's battered outer skin, the occasional long burn streak left on the surface. It was thirty feet long, a blocky wedge with it's atmospheric wings deployed on either side. On the top and sides blocky shapes were mounted, looking oddly sinister on the small craft.

"Are those weapons mounts on there?" Bonnie said softly, her green eyes narrowed.

There was a loud thump as the vessel came down, resting there as it rapidly cooled from the heat of atmospheric reentry. Finally the side hatch of the vessel split away from the hull, a ramp suddenly dropping with a clang on to the bare rock.

"Ah, welcome to Haven, I'm the Mayor...," the mayor stepped up to say only to trail off when they saw the figure appear in the hatch.

"Well, well," the slim young man walked down to the group and took a look around him, black hair that matched the long coat that he wore, "the reception committee." A stylized symbol was on a patch on his shoulder and just below it several star shaped insignia.

"Gunslinger," Rei whispered, recognizing the symbol almost instantly, counting with a certain sick fascination the emblems of each of the kills he had made.

"I prefer licensed independent peacekeeper," he drew a card from his coat pocket and passed it to the mayor, "Jan Clark."

"Are you here on business or pleasure, Mr. Clark?" Phillips asked, looking down glumly at the official identity card licensing him as a gunslinger before handing it back.

"Business," Jan answered him crisply, "though I'll try to keep any disruption to your community to a bare minimum." He looked about, "Do you have a town sheriff?"

"Yes, we do," Bonnie said coolly, studying the young man. She was a bit surprised at closely shaved he was, his chin was completely bare.

Jan looked her over thoughtfully before simply nodding, "Thanks."

Larry puffed out a nervous breath, "May I ask who you've come for?"

"No," Jan answered him bluntly. He ignored the bartender before turning to the mayor, "I'll be in town in a few hours, I'd like to see your sheriff then." With that he simply strode back aboard the ship, sealing up the hatch behind him.

"That was polite," Rei shook her head as the group piled into the city's only advanced transport, an old carrier buggy left over from the colonial wars.

"Ooof," Bonnie grit her teeth as they hit a bump, the vehicle bouncing. "Any idea why he's coming here?" she asked.

"I wish I knew," Phillips said grimly as he mused, "I don't think anyone here has a bounty that someone like that could be after." He thumped the dash angrily, "Why does someone like that have to come here, damn it?!"

An excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica, 2345 Edition, continued: ... as the colonies rapidly expanded outward the maintenance of law and order became increasingly difficult to manage. Police jurisdiction often ended at the edge of a planet's atmosphere and once a criminal got off planet he or she often got away scott free. The offering up of bounties for a criminal's capture, return or even death was originally resisted but it was ultimately seen as the only practical solution. In response a whole class of individual came forth, operatives who were quite willing to do whatever it took to earn those bounties.

A few hours later the small two wheel bike came to a stop out by the edge of the town, the rider looking on coolly. Jan wrinkled his nose at the scent of manure, both the human and animal kind, then he started up the bike again to coast into town. He quickly scanned the buildings, eventually spotting the traditional five pointed star of the sheriff's office.

Dismounting Jan could feel eyes on him and he twitched his long black coat, making sure that he could get at his pistol easily. With a sure step he walked over, opening the plastic door and heading into the little structure. A desk was in one corner of the room, an improvised door added to the back wall presumably leading out to the rough brick cells he had seen riding up.

'I've seen worse,' Jack thought as the man came out of the back room, 'and more than once.'

The sheriff was surprisingly a older woman, her long hair going to gray and round glasses perched on the end of her nose. The impression she first gave was motherly until you looked into her blue eyes, then you realized that this wasn't someone to mess with. "So," she settled behind the desk before giving him a look, "Jan Clark?"

"Obviously the planetary files haven't been updated with the guild," Jan took out his card as he continued, "they list Aristotle Gallant as sheriff."

"He was my husband," she explained as she took it from him, "he died a few years back, in a stupid accident." She studied the card for a moment as she added, "I'm Heather Gallant." She looked Jan over thoughtfully before mildly noting, "I'm well aware that New Terra would license a serial killer if he just waved around enough money."

Jan smiled just slightly, "You can check out my record if you like, I play by the rules."

Heather just shrugged. "We don't have the tech out here to do that," a moments pause, "as you know." All business she continued, "So what can I do for you?"

The disk was casually placed on top of the desk, then Jan pressed on the side to activate the self-contained holographic projector inside. A image of an older man appeared, smiling, his suit neatly pressed and neat, almost looking like a politician running for office. He wore glasses, the lenses gleaming, and his face was open and friendly. Text scrolled along the bottom, detailing name and the codes indicating the charges he was facing.

"His name is Taylor," Jan unnecessarily said as he pulled up a seat, looking suddenly tired as he sat down, "he's been convicted of fraud and several other minor and major offenses, but he still has a murder trial coming up."

"So he skipped to try and escape the rap," Heather offered.

"You got it," Jan deactivated the hologram and then slipped it away in his coat as he asked her, "so do you recognize him?"

"He looks familiar," Heather acknowledged, "like someone from the most recent group of homesteaders." She looked apologetic, "I can't be certain, however."

"That's fair enough," Jan rubbed at his eyes, looking clearly tired. "So do the homesteaders come to town very often?" he asked.

Heather looked at Jan without commenting then, "And if you do see him, are you just going to gun him down?"

Jan shook his head, his expression mildly irritable. "I want him to stand trial," he said firmly, "the man deserves to face the punishment for his crimes."

Heather nodded thoughtfully, clearly weighing his words. "All right," she said, "there's a cattle drive and fair in a few days, the homesteaders almost have to come in for supplies and to sell whatever they've managed to raise or grow."

"Thanks," Jan got up, resting a hand on the back of the chair. With a wry smile he asked, "Looks like I'm stuck in town a few days, is there a hotel or anything?"

"The hotel is pretty much booked up for the cattle drive," Heather answered, "but I think you might be able to get a room at Bonnie's, if you don't mind the company."

"Bonnie's is?" Jan raised a elegant eyebrow.

"The town dance hall and whore house," Heather said simply.

Jan turned to walk out of the office, a wry smile on his face as he said mildly, "I've probably stayed in worse before."

'Whoever he is,' Heather found herself thinking as the door opened and shut to let Jan out of the office, 'he isn't just a typical bounty hunter.'

The sun beat down as Jan stepped outside on the wooden sidewalk, shading her face from the glare. 'Better grab a hat,' he thought as he saw the children gathered around his bike, looking at it in fascination. "Buzz off," he said to them curtly as he collected the vehicle, the fleeing kids as frightened by his being a stranger as his tone of voice.

A visit to the little hotel, really just a bunch of roughly connected prefabs, pretty much confirmed what Heather had just said. Not only did they not have any rooms now but they weren't going to have any open up soon, either. Jan went outside, getting his bearings then headed up the boardwalk to where Bonnie's place was.

The sound of a piano playing reached the street as Jan reached it and he was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded. The twin doors swung open easily as he walked in, scanning the room with wary eyes. Attractive young women danced out on the floor with young men, the place not too crowded this time of day. The man behind the bar gave him an unfriendly glance, serving drinks with casual capability while a young woman played the piano that was sitting in the corner.

A woman Jan recognized from the reception committee stood by the bar, their eyes meeting as Jan entered, a quizzical look appearing on her face. 'Wonderful,' Jan thought as she skirted the edge of the dance floor, 'I wonder how bad of an first impression I made earlier?'

A dainty blonde, her long dress swirling around her legs, swiftly made her way from where a group of young women waited patiently. As she neared Jan noticed how dangerously low the front of her dress was cut, the rising swell of her breasts boldly visible. "Hi," her breath smelt faintly of whisky as she put her hand on Jan's arm and purred, "would you like to... dance?"

Jan felt his cheeks redden, doing his best not to look down into the valley between her breasts. "Sorry," he croaked, "I'm here to see Bonnie?"

The woman looked disappointed but back off a bit. "She's up at the bar," the girl nodded to the redhead. With a slight smile she turned away, rounded hips swaying wickedly as she added, "I hope you'll come see me again.. later."

Jan reached the bar and Bonnie smiled, sipping some of her drink. "Sorry if Angel was a bit aggressive," she offered, "but she likes the boys, especially the good looking ones."

"Then she'd probably be disappointed," Jan muttered.

"Huh?" Bonnie blinked.

"Never mind," Jan shook his head, "I was talking to the sheriff earlier, she mentioned you might have a room available?"

"One of my girls left to get married," Bonnie said, clearly enjoying the discomfort on Jan's face as she continued, "I suppose I could let you rent it for a few days."

"Thank you," Jan said with as much dignity as he could muster.

After collecting a bag from his cycle outside Jan was lead up the stairs to the bedrooms, thankfully by Bonnie and not the aggressive Angel. "Meals will be had with me and the girls," she said as she opened up the door to a clean and comfortable looking room, "and you're on the corner so the noise shouldn't be so bad."

Jan thanked her again then puffed out a sigh of relief as the woman left. Smoothly he stripped his long coat off, fingering the gunslinger emblem on the shoulder a moment before setting it aside. The sweaty white shirt was swiftly unbuttoned, and as he was puling it off the door opened again.

"By the way I wanted to ask..." Bonnie started to say only to freeze.

Bandages tightly circled Jan's slim chest, squeezing down her small breasts to create the illusion of a flat if muscular chest. Without the shirt of coat to hide it the absence of an Adam's apple was telling, as was the lack of any facial hair.

Jan puffed out a sigh as the woman calmly asked Bonnie, "Could you please close the door?"

To be continued....