The Aces and Eights Saloon was quiet as a grave. It was just as empty last year on the same day. Same as the year before, and the year before that, and...
In fact, the whole town of San Calvo was a graveyard. Everyone was holed up in their coffins, waiting with baited breath for the specter of death to pass over them once again. The only living soul about was the cemetery's caretaker. He sat at the bar, nursing a half-finished bottle in his shaky hands. He was young. The spattering of stubble on his chin did little to hide his round face and juvenile features. On any sane world there wouldn't be an iron strapped to his hip. The boy lifted his drink to his lips and sipped at its contents, wincing at the burn it left in his throat. Liquid courage, Miss Seong called it. He tried to pay his hands no mind.
The doors to the saloon slid open with a loud hiss. Three sets of spurs clinked against the floorboards. The boy at the bar turned to face them slowly, holding his hands up where they could see them. "Easy there, fellers."
He whispered, his throat hoarse.
Time to meet the specter."You must be the esteemed Mr. Haycock,"
the leading man gave a wide grin, his steel fangs flashing in the sunlight. "Its a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I have always said a personal touch is the most important part of maintaining a healthy business relationship."
He approached the bar, looming tall over Haycock as he took the liberty to pour himself a drink. The man was tall, broad-shouldered and bursting with chrome-enhanced muscle. His dress was as distinguished as his practiced twang: A fine purple vest, golden pocket-deck, charcoal long coat and too-small bowler hat. Clothes like that cost more than the cantina they stood in, Bill Haycock reckoned. That thought made the heat stir in his gullet."I propose a toast."
The specter smiled, lifting his glass. "To San Calvo's new sheriff. May he protect the fine people of this township for many'a year to come."
They clinked their glasses together and downed a shot in unison. "Or at least longer than the office's previous holder,"
the specter added, chuckling to himself. His bodyguards joined in, barking like jackals.
The heat previously in the sheriff's gullet moved up to his cheeks. He could feel his face twisting with anger, even as he tried to resist."Oh oh oh, Mr. Haycock,"
The man clicked his tongue. "You ought to learn how to control that temper of yours. Hate can make a moron out of any man."
His eyes slid down to the pistol on Billy's hip. "And you aren't stupid, are you, son?"
Billy took a deep, slow breath. He was right. The town had been through enough as it was. Nobody else was willing to pin on the badge after Jack McCaw was sent up river. If something happened to Bill then there'd be blood, and this vulture would take his pickings from San Calvo anyway. There wasn't an alternative. Not anymore. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry, Mr. Ducaine. Won't happen again.
" He assured, eyes on his boots."That's either Baron Ducaine or sir, boy. You had best remember your manners."
The baron paused, boring a hole into Haycock's skull with his eyes.
He held his gaze for half a minute before finally breaking it off to pour another shot, demeanor shifting back to the smooth-talker that'd stepped into the saloon just moments ago. "Now, onto the matter of this year's taxation..."
The Bridge, Fortuna | In Transit
February 21st, 3061
The bridge of the Fortuna
was quiet. Most of the hands were downstairs watching the mech simulations, leaving a small skeleton crew on watch for the time being. Captain Deckard Jones was among them. He sat reclined in his leather throne, staring up at the ceiling with an empty look in his eye. They'd been in transit for a month now and boredom had set in. There was little to do on extended voyages such as this one that he hadn't already gotten sick of in his three decades of service. An old man could only play cards and drink himself into a stupor so many times before it lost its appeal.
He dragged himself up, his captain's chair screeching in protest. Those hydraulics should've been replaced months ago if they had budget for it. Thirty years. Thirty years of trudging across the galaxy and he couldn't afford a decent chair. It might’ve been funny if he didn’t feel the weight of each of those years in his aching joints.
In front of his old, useless chair was a still old but slighter more useful deck. It was a hefty console that stretched in a semi-circle around his seat with half a dozen accompanying monitors brimming with information. From here the captain could see everything going on in his ship: internal security footage, live engine readings, oxygen levels and fuel reserves. Everything was low. They hadn’t found a decent port since they’d set off into the frontier in search of work. A friend of a friend sent Jones a tip about some corpo mining flotilla on the edge of known space looking for protection from lurking pirates; plenty of credits to be made, if one was willing to make such a long trek.Better be worth the damn fuel.’
He grumbled, swinging over in his chair to the navigational charts. There wasn’t much of worth out here: a handful of tiny settlements, a few research facilities, a Thedian listening post. Only one place that he could see might have a spaceport large enough to service the Fortuna. It was a backwater by core world standards, but its population was sizable by frontier standards. The real treasure was one of their main exports: refined N1-class fuel. Low grade, inefficient, and being pushed out of the market by better alternatives- it was exactly what the Fortuna needed.“Hey, Tex,”
he called across the bridge to his pilot, the old walrus in oversized shades and a bucket-shaped hat. “How many jumps would it take to get us to Arish IV?”
Texas Danger let a long trail of smoke slip between his lips as he set a fat cigar down on his console. His old fingers danced across the keys. It took a couple of minutes for the computer to make the calculations and a couple more for Danger’s scar-strewn brain to catch up. ”Uh..lookin’ like I could make it in one, if we wanna burn down to critical fuel. You in a hurry to get your boots dirty? Place looks like a shithole.””Oh yeah.”
Deckard chortled, standing up. ”Get me off this tub ‘fore it drives me to swallow a laser. I’m gonna go check on my pilots. Let ‘em hear the good news: we’re gettin’ some goddamn shore leave.”