By Sonny Meadows
Brogan was washing glasses behind the bar when a poker game started to turn ugly.
“You’re just a sore loser.” The bald man sneered at the Dragunne and the alien stood up, its thin tongue wagging as it reverted to its native language.
“What did you say you lizard?”
The bartender knew the alien was angry, its tail curving stiffly up into the air. With his hand hidden behind the bar Brogan reached for his pistol as the Dragunne cussed his opponent in its hissing dialect. They would be reaching for their guns any moment. “Take it outside!” he yelled.
Everyone stopped. When Brogan talked like this, people listened. His patrons were often scum and hard people, but they recognized the man’s reputation for being able to handle trouble.
The bald man looked his way. “It’s okay Brogan... The fellow’s just on a losing streak,” he said as he went to put a friendly hand on the alien’s shoulder. “Come on friend, sit. Let’s play some cards.”
The alien seemed to calm down as Brogan eyed him dangerously. He sat, picking up his cards and hissing curses. Brogan went back to washing glasses.
Things seemed to be back to normal until a man came in the door followed by a young gunfighter. Shit. Nothing spelled trouble like a kid with a gun. The face of the young one was smooth and hairless. Brogan could see a tumbleweed roll by through the swinging doors as they walked up to the bar.
Brogan greeted them, “What can I getcha’ fellas?”
He poured and laid the two glasses in front of the men who dropped their coins on the bar. The kid spit on the floor.
Going back to his business Brogan could see the older man eyeing him while drinking his tequila.
Finally Brogan spoke up, “Can I help you?”
“I think I know you.”
Brogan froze inside.
“Oh?” Brogan said.
“Yeah, now I remember you,” the man said. “Killer Slim.” He turned to the young man next to him and said, “Hey kid this is Killer Slim.”
“The name is Brogan,” he menaced.
“Ah Come on. I was just a kid when I ran with you, but I’d remember that mug anywhere.” The man seemed to be too stupid to recognize that he was making Brogan angry.
“Hey, I’ve heard of you mister,” said the young gunfighter.
Brogan had heard those words before. He wanted to forget all the times a conversation had turned this way and he had ended up killing someone.
“What did you hear? I serve a mean tequila?”
“No,” the kid continued, “I heard you were the fastest gunslinger around.”
Brogan stopped wiping the glass in his hands. “My name’s Brogan. What’s your
name mister?” he asked the older man.
Brogan regarded the man with a scar on his cheek where a bullet had grazed it. “Never heard of ya',” he said and went back to wiping his glasses.
The kid smiled. “You don’t look like much to me.” His voice had raised so everyone could hear.
Brogan became grim. “Listen kid, I’m just tryin’ to run a business here.” It was not good for one’s reputation to back down, but he played the part of the peace making establishment owner. “I don’t want no trouble.”
The kid mistook the gesture for weakness. “Ha! Killer Slim don’t want no trouble!” The kid turned around to face everyone in the saloon. “I guess he must be afraid of me.”
Most of the people sitting around avoided eye contact with either Brogan or the kid. The room became tense.
‘Stupid kid’, thought Brogan, then said, “That’s right. Now why don’t you fellas’ leave?” He laid the glass down on the counter and casually draped the grimy towel over his shoulder. His hands were now free.
The kid reached for his gun, saying , “Leave?”, but the other man put his hand out to stop him. He whispered in the kid’s ear, and when the young gunfighter had heard what he had to say he smiled. “Yeah, okay,” said the kid softly.
The older man turned to Brogan and said, “Don’t worry Brogan. We don’t want no trouble either. I must have been mistaken. We’ll just be on our way.”
“Yeah,” added the kid. They walked slowly out of the saloon as the people watched solemnly.
Brogan sensed trouble had not walked out with them. He should have killed them, he thought. He was afraid they would spread the word that Killer Slim was still alive after all.
The pair of laser blasters had not been taken out of their box in all the time that Brogan had settled into his new, more peaceful life. They were worth a fortune, and they shined like new as he regarded them. Seeing them brought back memories. Banks with which they had been used to knock over and so-called friends with which they had been used to kill went briefly through his mind. Picking them up he got the feel of their balance, reacquainting himself with them, and put them into the holsters. He made sure they were hidden under his dusty jacket. The old beat up combustion pistol was put back in their place. He shut it and slid it beneath the bed.
Why now?, he thought. He wondered how one of the few people in the world who could actually recognize him had walked into his bar in such an out of the way place. After so long!
The man was an outlaw, he knew, like he had been. When one lives this life, it could lead you anywhere. It could lead you to hell itself if you lived long enough. Baker, he had called himself. He could not remember any Baker.
He had been the only one left after the Authority had finally caught up with them. Living by the gun was hard, but being the one left behind, the one left breathing, to live on when the only life you knew was destroyed was hard too.
The plan had been simple. It was the dream of every derelict who lived on this wasteland of a planet. It was to get enough money together to buy your way off. The dream had died in a hail of laser blasts.
He went downstairs. He was going to kill the two gunfighters.
The bustling of the patrons had returned to normal. As Brogan was coming down the stairs, an Authority walked through the door. Everybody got a little quieter, but they continued on with what they had been doing.
Brogan walked over to the man. “Any trouble Joe?”
Joe regarded him unusually. “No.. .no Brogan. No trouble.” The Authority’s worn laser blaster hung from his belt. “I’m just checkin’ things out.”
“Say Joe, you didn’t see two gunfighters around town did you?”
“Yeah,” Joe caught himself too late. “I mean yeah I saw two strangers.”
“They skipped their tab.”
Joe considered what to say. “Uh huh, and you want me to find ‘em for you?”
“Nah it’s okay Joe. I’ll find ‘em.” Brogan walked past him and out the door.
Joe said from behind, “I don’t want no trouble Brogan.”
He walked on. “No trouble Joe.”
There was only one place they were likely to be found. The Wild Beast Saloon was the only other dive in town.
They were standing at the bar, Baker slouched over his drink and the kid wearing a cocky smile, eyeing the prostitute in the corner. Brogan walked in and announced as he stood, “You two owe me some money!”
Everybody stopped. The two gunfighters slowly turned around.
The older one spoke up first. “Well, Killer Slim.”
“We don’t owe you no money,” the kid challenged him.
“This ain’t about money. Is it Slim?” The older man was smiling nervously. “See I was thinkin’ about how you backed down and I figured it out. You don’t want to be found.”
“Yeah that’s right. I should kill you both.”
“But it’s too late Slim. We already told the Authority about you and we’re gonna’ collect on a very long standing reward.”
The young gunfighter began to laugh. Brogan, in a rage, drew his pistols. Before the two knew what was happening they were in his sights. Patrons ducked under tables and behind anything that would give cover. The two gunfighters were caught with their guns half drawn.
Finally, the older gunfighter put up his hands and his arms began to shake. “Now come on Brogan. Killin’ us won’t help nothin’,” he said through a trembling smile.
Brogan gritted his teeth and struggled with his trigger finger.
Commotion could be heard outside as Joe’s voice was yelling at people to get out of the way. Brogan backed away towards the door, never taking his eyes off the two men.
Outside now he holstered his weapons and walked off down the street. Joe noticed him and yelled out from behind, “Brogan!”
He kept walking, pretending not to hear.
“Brogan!” The Authority drew his blaster then and yelled, “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
The old gunfighter froze but did not put up his hands. He did not turn around. After moments passed Brogan spoke up. “What’s the trouble Joe?”
“We just need to get a few things cleared up Brogan- come on now.”
Brogan did not move. The Authority walked up slowly. “Just come with me to the station and we’ll straighten this out.”
“I can’t do that Joe.”
Still facing away he eased his hands into position. He waited for the Authority to begin speaking again. The instant he did the two blasters were drawn and as Brogan turned he lunged sideways and fired them. The blasts struck Joe in the chest and he dropped.
Brogan walked immediately away towards his place. He had to get ready quick and be on the move. His life on the run had caught up with him.
The hover bike sped across the desert terrain. He knew of only one person who could help him now. He could not stop his mind from racing as the brush and tumbleweed flew by.
A long time ago he had decided what he would do in just this situation. If I’m ever found out, he had said, I’ll not run around after pittance. I’ll do the big one and get off this damn planet forever. What have I got to lose?, he asked himself. Brogan had a saloon and a normal life. Now he was Killer Slim again, and he had nothing worth having.
He could not do it alone. He would need the help of his old friend, Madigan.
When night fell he eased the bike to a stop and made camp. There would be no fire. He would have to deal with the cold night with just a few blankets. As he lay looking at the stars, he thought about his plan. He was confident it could work and, besides, there were no better options left. As he lay he also thought about the people he had come to know over the years. Most of them he would not miss. A couple he would. Knowing he may never see any of them again he breathed deeply, closing his eyes and feeling the hard ground against his back, like an old friend. He would arrive at his friend’s ranch tomorrow. Sleeping now he dreamed of a great pool of water. He swam naked and free.
Madigan was fixing some soup when he heard the whining of an engine outside. With a sigh the bike settled down to the ground. Looking out his window he whispered, “Well damn.”
He walked out the door and onto the patio. His ranch was out in the wild, and there was nothing else around to be seen. “Well well... What is the name again? Brogan?”
He walked up to Madigan, and his friend opened his arms. Joyously they embraced.
“So they finally figured it out did they?”
Brogan let the breath leak from between his lips. “Yeah.”
“Are they following you?”
“I don’t think so. Not yet anyways.”
Madigan stroked his grey beard. “Good.”
Madigan shook his head. “Died a few years back.” His friend’s gaze drooped. “It’s just me to look after the place now.”
Brogan had liked the woman. He could still recall how Madigan had told him about her when they were still running with the gang and also the time she had helped nurse him back to health when Brogan had been on the brink of death.
“Ah nevermind,” Madigan said, recovering. He put his arm around Brogan and led him into the house. “It’s good to see you.”
They had a meal and talked. When Madigan turned the subject to the old days Brogan stopped him, saying he did not want to talk about it.
Madigan had left the gang before the massacre had happened. He ran alone and made it out free and clear. He was one of the few outlaws ever to take his earnings and make a real life for himself. He met up with his woman and married her. Using the money he and Brogan’s gang had stolen from small banks he bought the ranch. Land on this planet was dirt cheap, and Madigan had enough money left to last him for years.
“So what are you going to do?” Madigan asked.
Brogan replied so matter-of-factly that his friend did not quite catch it. “Rob the 1st Central Bank.”
Madigan slurped his soup. When he realized what had been said, he finally laughed heartily. “No I’m serious...”
Brogan did not laugh. He sat silent, not eating his soup.
“You’re serious too.” Madigan shook his head.
The old gunfighter had rehearsed his argument as he lay beneath the stars. Now he put it to action. “I wouldn’t ask you to do this unless I knew there was a good reason.” Brogan paused, then continued, “Look outside. What do you see? Wasteland. Just like this whole planet...” He stopped, feeling the moment. “We were knocking off one small town bank after another and what did any of us get out of it?”
Madigan had taken to staring humbly into his folded hands. Brogan went on, “A saloon full of scum and a wasteland ranch.”
Madigan spoke up. “Some of us got a laser blast in the chest.”
Brogan continued. “If we knock off the main Authority bank, we both fly off this planet and live in some pleasure port for the rest of our lives.” He stopped and then added, “I can’t take living on the run again Madigan. Not after all this time. But you… if you don’t want to do it I’ll understand.”
Madigan stood up and walked to the window. There was nothing outside but windblown dust. He had to milk the cattle, and there was a fence which needed mending. The rear door was still off one of its hinges. He took a deep breath and let out a great sigh.
“We’ll need lots of explosives,” Madigan said.
Brogan was sitting in a saloon, trying to be inconspicuous, as Madigan was busy buying supplies. He sipped his tequila as the people around him faded and he remembered his last moments as a member of a gang of outlaws.
The last thing he remembered was when the Authority had them all surrounded. One after another the outlaws dropped. They were caught in the open, no cover. Laser blasts flooded in. He got up to run behind a rock when he felt the searing hit strike him.
He awoke moaning. His body had been piled onto the back of a truck, and he was lying atop his fellow outlaws, left for dead. He crawled out from under Garo’s legs and over to the back of the truck bed. Travelling along, the bumps sending pain through his shoulder, he tried not to moan. His skin was charred where he had been hit, and his head bled from where it had hit a rock as his limp body fell stricken. He lifted himself up and over the rear gate and fell onto the road.
Somehow he had found Madigan and his wife who helped him get back to health.
Brogan motioned to the bartender for another drink.
Apparently his body had been accounted for prior to being loaded on the truck. The rest of the bodies had been dumped in an unmarked grave and forgotten. It had been Madigan’s idea to retire as a dead man and it was a good idea. It had worked. Until, that is, the outlaw had visited his little saloon.
Over across Main street, in the general store, Madigan did not notice he was being observed. The clerk added up the items as he placed them into a wooden crate.
“That’s all the TNT we have. What do you need so much for?”
The clerk stopped, shook his head and went back to tallying his total. “That comes to 12 pieces.”
Handing over the coins Madigan took the crates under his arms and left the store.
As he walked over to the hover bikes an old gunfighter was following him.
Madigan nearly ran into two cultists in white robes. “Watch it,” one of them told
him. They looked at him dangerously and he walked on.
“Damn Doomsayers,” he said under his breath.
Madigan put the crates into his bike and went over to the saloon. Finding Brogan sitting at a corner table, he walked over and said, “All set.”
“Alright let’s get going.”
“We’re gonna’ need a lot more than TNT.”
Through the window Brogan was watching two of the Doomsayer cultists walk down the street. He said, “Yeah like what?”
Madigan looked around and whispered, “Like antimatter charges.”
“Okay. I already told you it would be no problem.”
“No problem? Where the hell are we gonna’ get antimatter charges?” Madigan stopped and noticed what Brogan was looking at.
The Doomsayer cultists were wearing long white robes with hoods drawn over their heads. Ammunition belts were draped across their chests, and they each carried big rifles. Madigan understood.
The Doomsday cult was thinly spread out across the whole inhabited part of the planet. They could often be seen marching together chanting things like, “The end is nigh!” What made this cult different from others of its kind was that they actually intended to bring this end about as quickly as possible, by their own hand.
They were rumored to have a vast arsenal of weaponry hidden away at their main temple. This temple was inside an active volcano and living in that kind of environment it may be no wonder that they were always talking about the ends of worlds and destruction and death.
“You wanna’ steal them from the Doomsayers...” Madigan smiled. “I like it.”
“But first we need to get some white robes from our friends there.”
Standing at the entrance of a shadowy alley Madigan watched the cultists walk by. He ‘psst’ed. They stopped, looked at him, and then at each other.
Madigan whispered so only they could hear, “The Father is a lizard.”
The Father was the leader of the cult. An ancient man, he had been foretelling the end for over eighty years. He hated anything non-human and consequently the two cultists could not leave Madigan’s insult unpunished.
Madigan ran back into the alley and the two men followed with their rifles readied. They ran past Brogan who was hidden in a shadow.
Two men in white robes walked out of the alley. Apparently nobody had noticed the scuffle.
“The robe suits you,” said Madigan.
“Think so?” replied Brogan.
Mounting the hover bikes and starting them the two men revved the whining engines. The people around went about their business as usual. Then, racing through the town and out into the desert they headed towards the volcanic Mt. Doom.
The land flew by. The tumbleweed was a blur, and the dust kicked up behind them, rising high into the sky. The rest of that day was spent flying across the desert until the sun began to set. Madigan stopped by a formation of rocks, and as his partner settled in beside him, Brogan said, “Camp here tonight?”
“Yeah, we can have a fire inside those rocks.”
With the dust cloud clearing behind them Madigan turned in the direction from which they had come. He saw two other clouds of dust in the distance, headed their way.
“Look,” he pointed.
Madigan saw them. “Two bikes.”
“Run or stay?”
“We can wait for ‘em up in the rocks. Surprise ‘em.”
They hid the bikes among the formation and climbed. Watching the bikes approach they waited with their rifles ready.
Brogan recognized the two gunfighters as they slowed down, approached the rocks, and stopped. The older one dismounted and walked forward a few steps. “Brogan!” he yelled and waited for a reply. “Brogan I know you’re there!”
“Come on we lost ‘em.”
“Shuddup.” He scanned the area in vain to catch a glimpse of the men they had been following. “Brogan!”
Brogan gripped his rifle and struggled to decide if he should answer.
“Come on Brogan we just wanna talk!”
“Whadya' want Baker?”
“Brogan we don’t wanna fight!”
“We got you in our sights Baker!”
The man raised his hands. “We know you’re up to something,” he said less loudly. “We wanna join your gang!”
Madigan and his partner looked at each other then, not knowing what to think.
“We ain’t up to _othing’!”
“Come on. What else do you need all that TNT for?”
Madigan whispered, “We could use some extra men.”
Brogan knew he was right, but he did not want these men in particular.
As if reading his thoughts Madigan said, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
He grimaced, saying, “My mother used to say that. I never liked that saying.” Gritting his teeth, he cursed and then yelled, “We’re comin’ down!”
The fire cast its heat against the cold night. Sitting among the rocks and under the stars the four men sat eating their beans. “So anyways,” the kid said as he chewed, “What bank we gonna’ hit?”
Madigan stirred his beans with a spoon and Brogan finished chewing before he answered. “1st Central.”
The newcomers stopped eating. “What?”
After a moment everyone went back to their chewing and let the news sink in.
Then Baker began to laugh. “Well damn!” he said. “You got some big balls Slim.”
The kid did not find it amusing. “How do you plan to do that?”
Then Madigan said, “Lots of explosives... big ones.”
The kid scooped a spoonful into his mouth. “Explosives eh?”
Brogan chewed. “Yup.”
The kid looked into his bowl of beans and stopped stirring. “I dunno’,” he said. “I don’t like it.”
“Get some sleep,” said Baker.
Brogan awoke. There, a twig snapping. Reaching over he shook Madigan who, grumbling, looked over to see his finger over his lips. “..sshh..” Then the sound of a bush being trampled. Madigan lifted his blaster from under the blanket and waited. Whatever it was, it did not care much about being heard.
‘Was it the Authority?’, Brogan asked himself. They were too disorganized out in these parts. It would take at least a week to organize a search of the area and it had only been three days. The feeling in his gut, however, reminded him that it was not beyond possibility.
Baker and the kid were across the fire pit, still sleeping soundly. Brogan took a small stone and threw it at Baker, hitting him on the side of the head. “Hunh!?” He swiped at his face and continued snoring.
Then the snuffling sound of an approaching animal was heard. The beast entered the formation, smelling food. Brogan and Madigan watched it amble over and sniff around the camp. Finding the bowls which had been used for supper it began to lick them clean.
Maybe it would go away, thought Brogan as he watched with his head still laying on the ground. Then the beast walked over to the kid and sniffled his face.
He knew the wyvern could be dangerous. They were dumb but they had sharp teeth and long claws, and the large thick scales covering their body made them hard to kill.
Then the kid opened his eyes and seeing the beast he screamed, tearing the silence with a jolt. The wyvern roared, rearing up.
Brogan fired, and then Madigan followed. The creature yelped, turning to face them.
Still laying on his blanket Brogan opened up with both guns as the wyvern charged them, bellowing. The blasts bore into the beast’s rough hide. Its head jerked in pain. The men’s clips were nearly empty when the beast stumbled forward, and fell, its head flopping lifeless onto the ground at Brogan’s feet.
Brogan stood and, walking over, he kicked the pliant corpse. The kid was still cowering over by a large rock. Lying in his blankets, Baker stared with wide eyes.
“We got dinner tomorrow,” quipped Brogan.
The journey to Mt. Doom was uneventful. It rose before them now on the horizon, belching its black fumes. The plan was for Brogan and Madigan to continue on in disguise. Baker and the kid would wait for them, quiet and hidden.
As the two men rushed up on their bikes, the cultists were going about the entrance of a system of caves at the base of the mountain. Sulfuric smoke rose from the mouth of the volcano above in a plume which caught the wind current and floated off in the sky. “Give them no time to think,” Brogan had said. They pulled up, acting like they naturally belonged there.
They stopped their bikes and Brogan said to two of the cultists, “You, help us with these crates. Take them to the armoury.”
Without a word the men came over and helped the intruders lift the crates out of the back of the bikes. When each had an armload Brogan said nonchalantly, “Lead on.”
The intruders followed the two cultists deeper into the tunnels towards the cache of weapons. The rock was black and smooth, created by the flowing lava of past eruptions. Having been blasted and carved the caves provided easy passage and as they turned, walked straight, and turned again, Brogan kept track mentally how to find their way back out.
It was going without a hitch. Heavily armed men in white robes paid them no mind as they walked by. Coming into a small chamber now the horde of weapons was before them.
“Thank you, you can go now.”
The two intruders started to follow them away but then slyly they slowed down, and stopped and let the two helpers walk on ahead.
With rows upon rows of filled rifle racks and crates full of TNT, two heavy blasters sitting on tripods, and who knows what else, the intruders felt like kids in an unattended candy store.
Alone now Madigan said, “Think we could get one of those babies outta’ here?” He was pointing at the heavy guns.
“Don’t get greedy yet. Just find the antimatter charges and let’s go.”
They rummaged through the various boxes and crates, trying not to make too much of a mess.
“Ah ha..” Madigan looked into a crate and smiled. “What do we have here?”
“You find ‘em?”
Reaching under his robe Madigan was already filling his pockets. He replied, “Oh ya'.”
Brogan filled up and the two intruders walked back the way they had come in, keeping their faces hidden under the hoods. Something was wrong. The tunnels were abandoned. On the way in they had passed cultists on whatever business they were on but now there was no one.
“It can’t be this easy.”
Alone, they walked.
Then, ahead, a solitary man rounded a corner coming the other way. They dipped their heads as he passed.
Stopping, the man looked at them walking away. He cried out, “Hey you!”
The two of them halted and turned to face him.
The cultist continued, “Why are you not at the ceremony? Come with me.”
The man turned to continue on and the two intruders had a moment to decide what to do about it. They looked at each other confused when two more cultists came up, blocking their escape. The man stopped again and said, “Come on, whatever you’re doing can’t be that important.”
Shrugging, they fell into step behind the man. He led them down a long tunnel ending in a large chamber where all the Doomsayers of the temple were kneeling before an ancient man. The cultist who led them took a place at the rear of the crowd and kneeled. They got down next to him.
The Father was standing on a ledge, speaking, and yelling with hatred in his voice. “They are scum on the ground we step on! All of them!” His hood reached over his brow, revealing only the sunken and time worn jaw which contorted as he spoke. “The Authority puts up with these aliens and criminals. But let it be known that the Almighty will not countenance the presence of degraded beings in his natural world.” He had a fragile body, but he summoned all his energy and put it forth into his diatribe. He urged his followers to fits of passion. “This world must end because it is full of filth. We, as the chosen ones, must do the Lord’s work!”
Feeling extremely uncomfortable Brogan considered trying to sneak away unnoticed. Turning his head he found that there were cultists behind him. He felt trapped.
“But we must be as brothers in arms! We must stand together and when the appointed time comes we will fight and die as one.” The Father clenched his bony hand into a fist. “Now rise my people and embrace each other.” As the crowd arose The Father continued, “Shake the hand of the man next to you and greet him as your brother.”
Brogan and Madigan stood up, feeling disoriented. The man who had led them here turned to Brogan and, extending his hand said, “Greetings brother.”
The gunfighter reached out and shook his hand. The man did not let go of his grip. He looked at Brogan oddly. “Why do you not use the grip of the brethren?”
Madigan had been hugging a cultist and now he heard what was being said. Brogan could say nothing in reply. As it dawned on the cultist that these men were not what they seemed he started to cry out, but Brogan was already reaching for his blaster and the voice was cut short by a shot to the chest.
The cavern erupted into chaos as the bewildered cultists uttered their surprise. The two men raced to the entrance, Madigan blasting one who tried to tackle them, and ran wildly down the hall. As they turned a corner laser blasts hit the walls behind them.
The tunnel was straight now and they turned as they ran, firing back at their pursuers.
The cultists stopped to aim their rifles and fired, the blast flying by the intruders and into the cavern walls. The two men ran on.
Taking an antimatter charge in his hand Madigan turned the timer slightly and dropped it behind him as he ran. Turning to aim behind him Brogan shot one of the cultists.
Finally the entrance was before them and they could see the light outside. Madigan slowed, looked back, and fired. Then a laser blast hit him in the ankle and he fell forward with a cry. Brogan ran back. Helping him up they continued towards the mouth of the cave.
“Hurry!” yelled Madigan as he pushed his pained leg to its limit. Waves of agony racked him with each hobbling step. Bursts of laser fire peppered the sides of the cavern around them as Brogan helped his friend along.
As they came out into the open a great explosion rocked the walls of the caverns behind. The dust and smoke enveloped the two old gunfighters.
They found their bikes amidst the clearing smoke and Brogan helped his friend to mount. The old gunfighter blasted the few other bikes to hell and started up his own. A coughing cultist in a blackened robe stumbled out through the smoke to see the men rushing down the base of the mountain.
Finding no rock cover to hide a fire the gang camped cold, out in the open. Night fell quickly as the desert temperature fell to near freezing. The air was alive with the sound of a cold wind. There was a half moon waxing in the sky.
Madigan squirmed and voiced his pain as Brogan attempted to take the burnt leather boot off of the injured foot. He was sitting on the ground with his leg up in the air.
“Careful!” he said.
With a groan the boot was off and in the moonlight they surveyed the wound.
“It’s not so bad.” The skin was blackened but the thick leather boot had taken most of the damage. “You won’t be walkin’ right for a while.”
“I’ll be alright,” Madigan said and eased the foot onto the blanket beneath him. “As long as no more beasts decide to drop by.”
“Everyone get some sleep now. We’ll be in the Big City tomorrow.”
Blantris City was a cess pool but it was the largest cess pool on the planet. Riding along main street the four outlaws went past the 1st Central Bank. Two Authority guards stood by the door, menacing and stoic. The outlaws pulled up to a saloon a short way down the road and across the street. Walking in past aliens and various crude people they found an empty table and went over Madigan limping behind with a branch cane.
A waitress walked up. “What can I get for ya'’?”
“We need a room.”
“Well I’m sorry, all our girls are busy right now.”
“We don’t need a girl, we need a room.”
The woman paused. She asked, “For the night?” It was an unusual request. “Well I guess we got one free.”
“And while your at it, “ said Madigan, “get us four tequilas.”
“Comin’ right up.” The waitress floated through the crowd of patrons towards the bar.
The four men had one drink and walked upstairs together. Walking up to the room which faced the front of the building they stopped before the closed door. Sounds were coming from inside.
“We need this room,” Brogan announced.
He kicked in the door. On the bed were a woman and an alien with a bulbous head, peach colored and fuzzy. He yelped in surprise as Baker came up to him and grabbed him by the collar.
“Come on fella, we need your room.”
Baker dragged him through the door and he stood miserably outside with his pants down around his ankles.
“What are you doing!” yelled the woman.
“Just a little rearrangement of accommodations,” said Madigan as he walked up to the window. The bank was visible off to the right. “There’s another room free I hear. You can use that one.”
The woman walked to the door with the bedsheets around her. She turned and said, “Assholes!” and stormed off.
Brogan stood next to Madigan, watching the bank. “Two guards at the front door. One on the roof. And two inside by the vault.”
“This won’t be easy.”
“Just make as much mayhem as you can. I want them to think it’s a full frontal assault. I’ll take care of the vault and Baker and the kid will take the guards outside.”
Brogan turned then and went to leave the room.
“Where you goin’?” asked the kid.
“I need to make a deposit.”
Walking up to the bank, Brogan went past the guards without a sideward glance. He carried a lockbox. Standing in line behind a grey haired woman who was writing on a piece of paper, he scanned the inside of the bank. There was a camera behind the teller, facing towards the entrance. The rear of the bank was separated by a wall of black metal bars. There was a guard standing over by the door, but Brogan knew that after closing he would be inside the armoured room which housed the main safe.
He walked up to the teller then and placed the metal box on the counter. Just then he saw a wanted sign on the wall behind the teller. It had his face on it- Wanted Killer Slim, aka Brogan, Dead or Alive.
He was considering leaving quickly when the teller spoke up. “Can I help you sir?”
“Yes..” Brogan stammered. “I want to deposit this into your vault.”
“Very well, please fill this out,” he said handing him a form and a pen.
As Brogan wrote, the teller said, “Do I know you?”
Brogan continued moving his pen. “No, why?”
“You look familiar.”
“You’re probably thinking of someone else,” he said and the teller went back to his business with a shrug.
Then Brogan asked, “Is this bank secure?”
“Oh yes, you can see all the guards. And the vault is made of reinforced Titanium. It’s quite safe.”
“I see... it’s just,” Brogan hesitated.
“I understand sir, you’re worried about the safety of your deposit.”
“Here, come back with me and I’ll show you where your box will be stored.”
The teller led him over to the barred gate. Unlocking it he let Brogan through to the rear part of the bank. Leading him past the wanted sign to the silvery door of the armoured room the teller said, “Inside here is the vault. The walls and door of this room are made of the same titanium as the vault itself.” He pressed a code into a pad on the wall and the door could be heard to unlock with a click. Before he opened the door he stopped and said again, “I could swear I’ve seen you somewhere. Are you sure I don’t …?”
Brogan cut him off, “I’m sure.”
They entered to find another guard inside, standing with a rifle in his hand.
“Just showing a customer around,” said the teller. The guard grunted in reply and sat back in his chair.
“This is the vault.” It stretched from floor to ceiling, away from the wall and off to the side of the room. It had a large turnwheel lock. “It’s over a foot thick and the lock has a mechanical 10 digit code to keep unauthorized people from gaining access. Even if we were robbed there is a whole garrison of Authorities in this city who could be here in a matter of minutes.”
Brogan stood before the vault with his lockbox under his arm, then said, “I think I’m satisfied.” He handed over the box. If he did not know any better he would say his rock would be quite safe here at the 1st Central Bank.
Walking back to the saloon he found his gang seated at a table. The kid was keeping to himself, looking lost. Baker had a woman on his lap and he could hear him say as he approached, “There must be enough money in that bank to buy your own spaceship.”
Brogan walked up and said, “Get lost,” to the woman. She frowned and looked at Baker who reaffirmed, “Why don’t you go get me a drink, hon.”
When she was gone Brogan looked straight into Baker’s eyes, “What did you tell her?”
“I didn’t say nothin’”
“You better not have.” Brogan’s tone was murderous.
“We were just talkin’. I didn’t say nothin’ about the job.”
With this the kid got up and left, storming off to the room upstairs. Pointing at Baker, Brogan said to him, “Don’t say nothin’,” and then followed the kid.
Entering the room quietly he saw the young gunfighter standing by the window, staring at the bank. When the kid noticed him he acted like he was caught doing something wrong, quickly recomposing himself.
“How you doin’?” Brogan asked.
“We need you sharp tomorrow.”
What the kid said next seemed to arise spontaneously from his psyche. “I ain’t scared.”
“I know that.”
“Those guards are dead men, no problem.”
Brogan suddenly had a sense of compassion for the kid and his attempts at self-assurance. He could still remember how he had been when he was a young outlaw, and this kid could have been him twenty years ago. This was the big one, and before Brogan had stopped caring he might have been afraid as well. “Get some rest kid.”
The captain stroked his chin. “You’re sure it was him?”
“Yes, I knew he looked like someone I should know and then, after he left I saw the Wanted poster and it hit me.”
“We don’t know what he’s up to, but I’ll keep my men on high alert and we’ll be ready to roll at the first sign of trouble. If he hits the bank we’ll be there before he has time to get away.”
“Will you put more guards at the bank?”
“No. I don’t want to scare him off. I want to catch him.”
The next morning the streets were mostly empty. The guards by the front door were at the end of their shift, tired and looking forward to relief. A lone carriage was drawn down the street, pulled by a desert animal. It passed without commotion.
Brogan was in position on the side road behind the bank, bike parked nearby. The street was lined with dilapidated buildings and warehouses. As he watched his watch tick he felt the angst of a lifetime of trying to escape a planet coming to a moment of truth. It was not the possibility of dying which bothered him. Perhaps it was the notion of a complete change of lifestyle and environment which all the gold would bring. He did not know.
He thought about his childhood and the first gang he had run with. He had eventually ended up being the leader. Not one of those kids had lived past twenty. He realized then, as the silence of the street was broken briefly by a window slamming shut, that all the people he had run with, and now the men he was with- he had been using them all along. Using them to survive, it was true, and he was still alive, but none of the others could say the same. As he thought of Madigan, his last remaining friend, he suddenly feared being left alone. No time, he thought, we gotta’ do this. He gripped an explosive in his hand. One charge to blow an entrance to the room, one TNT to kill the guards, and one more charge to blow open the vault- all while the guards out front are too busy to help. It was a sound plan.
He checked his watch. Twenty seconds. The digital numbers counted upwards to 6:15 am.
The kid was still back in the room looking out the window towards the two guards in front of the bank. He had his rifle hidden below the sill as he peeked through the drawn curtains. He was summoning his courage as the clock ticked on the bedstand. There was no backing down, he told himself. He thought about the world knowing his name, knowing that it was he who had knocked off the biggest bank in the land, but not so much because he wanted to be famous, which he did- it was because he had to think about anything other than running and abandoning his friends right now.
Hidden in an alley down the street and across from the front of the bank, Madigan and Baker watched as a guard yawned. Two hover bikes were sitting behind them. Madigan had a lighter and a stick of TNT in his hands. He checked his watch, five seconds. He lit the fuse.
The explosion was Brogan’s cue. He walked slowly up to the rear wall of the bank. If he was lucky, he thought, the guards inside would run out front to help. Turning the timer on the antimatter charge he placed it next to the building and ran.
The guards had jumped behind the stairs with a yell when they saw the TNT roll by their feet. When the smoke cleared the kid saw that they were wounded but still alive. He fired, hitting the one nearest him. The other guard by the stairs fired into the alley and the guard on the roof first took aim at the kid, hitting the window next to him, then fired down at Baker.
Back inside the bank a guard pressed the panic button and then a great blast knocked him over, pieces of the wall embedding into his thigh.
Holding both blasters Brogan went up to the newly formed entrance in the bank. Debris was still settling on the ground around him as he stood next to the hole in the wall. He lit the fuse of a stick of dynamite and, letting it burn down, he threw it inside. He could hear the guards yelling in surprise. Moments later the blast shot out next to him.
The captain had been sleeping at the station when he was shaken by one of his men. “Wake up! We gotta’ go!” As the Authority ran again out of the room he yelled, “It’s the bank!” The captain jumped up, already dressed.
As Brogan looked to point his guns inside, he saw the two guards lying dead. He could still hear the mayhem out front as he climbed through the rubble and placed another charge next to the vault.
The captain ran out to where the car was waiting. Another man was already manning the large machine gun in the rear, and another car just like it was starting up next to it. Stepping into the driver seat he turned the ignition- nothing but the resistant whining of the electrical system. “Come on,” he urged, “start damnit!” The men on bikes were waiting for him when he yelled, “Go!” As they pulled out down the street he turned the key again and the engine roared to life.
As Brogan took cover across the street he waited, his hands tightly over his ears. Then, suddenly, the blast caused the whole building to shudder. Walking up again he saw that the room was in a tangled mess. The vault was open.
Back out front Madigan heaved a stick of TNT up through the air and onto the roof. It landed next to the guard who picked it up and dropped it quickly over the side. It detonated as it was falling.
Brogan stuffed the sack full of gold coins as he rummaged through the debris. Should I take the jewelry?, he thought to himself. Making a split decision to spend more time he blasted the locks on the boxes and spilled the contents onto the floor, picking out the gold necklaces and jewelled rings.
As the kid was aiming he heard an engine in the distance. He turned to look and saw a car and four bikes coming fast in their direction. He aimed and shot at the Authority manning the rear gun. Seeing him, two of the men on bikes stopped and fired up into the window.
With the guard on the roof dead, Madigan said, “We’re clear, let’s go,” and Baker went to mount his bike.
With a half burnt fuse Madigan waited as Baker pulled out of the alley. Rat-tat-tat came the sound of a machine gun and ripped through the man and his bike before Madigan’s eyes. “Oh my god..,” he said.
Brogan stepped out of the building to see a car behind the bank, headed his way. As the man in the rear gun took aim he dived back inside, the bullets bouncing off the metal walls where he had just been. “Shit!”
Back out front, around the corner Madigan saw the approaching car and its large gun coming down the street. As bullets were flying, striking randomly the walls of the alley, he tossed the TNT and ducked behind the corner. The dynamite exploded as the vehicle went by, tossing it into the air.
He ran to his bike and, starting it, rushed out of the alley and down the street. Two Authorities on bikes chased him.
Brogan was pinned. The only way out was through the hole in the rear wall of the bank and scattered bursts of bullets kept laying into it. Finally, with a curse, he took his last three charges and set all the timers at once. His bike would be destroyed, he knew, and he would have no escape. Reaching over he threw them, scattering them across the street outside, and took cover inside the safe. Bullets kept ripping through the hole in the wall and then, with sudden violence, the charges went off. The eruption sent a shock wave throughout the block. People who had been hiding away in their rooms crawled deeper into cover and moaned as if the end of the world really was nigh.
Brogan did not bother to check if there were any survivors as he ran out onto the street. The buildings were wrecked and burning. A solitary wheel rolled by him, its rubber tire in tatters.
Down the street Madigan turned a corner and raced towards Brogan, weaving to avoid the fire from the two men chasing him. The two Authorities were trying to line him up with their pistols. As the bikes approached Madigan was struck by a blast, hitting him in the back. His head snapped back and he struggled with the bike, getting it back on course, and continued on.
Brogan drew his two guns and as Madigan flew by he aimed one at each of the two Authorities. They came directly at him, looking to run him over. The gunfighter shot, and both riders fell, their bikes flying off and into the buildings by the side of the road.
Madigan steered around the burned out car and stopped, groaning in pain.
As Brogan ran up to him he went to mount the bike, but Madigan, feeling he would lose consciousness, uttered, “No, you drive,” and shifted back so Brogan could sit in front.
As they rode off down the road Brogan heard the kid yelling and shooting a street over as he made his final stand. They rode on through the abandoned streets.
As they passed the city limits and got into the open desert Brogan said, “You seem to be making a habit of getting shot.” Madigan laughed, but it hurt.
It was two days ride to the rift valley where the garbage of countless planets was dumped. The shanty town on its edge sprawled like a maze of shambles. People with nothing but the leftovers and discarded materials of richer places watched as Brogan rode by on his bike with a man passed out and leaning against his back. The air was filled with the smell of the chemicals used to treat the waste.
The reason that leaving the planet was so expensive was because the garbage carriers were practically the only ships which came to the planet. It was not illegal, but it was looked down upon to take passengers from the dumpsite. Bribes were necessary for the captain to overlook a possible reprimand from his company.
A fee was also required by the Yardman just to get a meeting with the captain. This was the man who ran the black market. He would pay for all kinds of items which the captain would bring along on his route. All the mechanics who built vehicles out of discarded parts worked for him, and he dealt with all kinds of organizations, supplying weapons and other various ‘luxury’ items. He was a rich and powerful man.
Brogan was directed to this man by someone with some disease which was decaying his face. The Yardman had his own army, and some of these were standing outside his red tent. Brogan pulled up.
“I wanna see the Yardman.”
“Fuck off,” said the soldier, pointing with his thumb.
Brogan reached into his pocket and produced a gold coin. He tossed it to the man.
He caught it and said, “Right this way,” with a flourish of his arm.
As Brogan was easing off the bike he steadied his friend who flopped forward and moaned. He would stay.
Inside the tent there were chests and crates and tables. The Yardman was a big man in a yellow silk robe. He had no visible weapons.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“My name is Brogan. I would like a meeting with the captain.”
“Can you pay?”
Brogan let a handful of coins answer for him.
Three hundred and twenty gold coins and a hover bike was the price to escape a planet which was basically a habitable waste dump. It was more than most people there would see in a lifetime. The captain had to be convinced with a few extra coins that Madigan was fit to travel.
Helping his half-conscious friend up the ramp Brogan entered the belly of the hulking spaceship. The captain had told them they could stay on the bridge until he could get a couple cots into a storage room.
Sitting behind the pilot Madigan began to mumble. Brogan leaned in close to hear what he was saying.
“Brogan..”, he struggled to say.
“What is it?”
“Did you know they have pools of water at the pleasure port just for swimming around in?”
The injured man coughed and laughed. “We made it.”
“Yes. We made it.”
As the ship rumbled it began to ascend slowly through the sky. Leaving the sun cooked atmosphere behind they entered that vast portion of the sky which was empty space. The stars became spectacular. “Look at it Madigan,” Brogan said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
He turned to his friend. Madigan was not breathing.