Blood On The Snow
Smuggler’s Paradise, the perfect name for a planet on the edge of explored space. From the hate-filled looks on the faces of the ratty looking populace, he figured the rumors of it being a criminal haven were just about right. More than once, in the ten minutes since touchdown, he saw some poor wretch frozen where they’d laid down. He hadn’t been the only one to notice them either, the rest of the populace though, seemed to care less as they spit frozen saliva on the dead. It was his first time on a criminal run planet, and enough to make him never want to see another.
Mason Lecroix’ cold hazel eyes fixed on the drugged over expression on the face of the planets sole lawman. From the smell of him, Mason figured the fool hadn’t bothered to bathe in at least a few weeks. Addicts were seldom the hygienic type, but this man smelled worse than most. Wearing a tattered, booze stained compression shirt and worn jeans, the lawman was such in name only. On planets like this one, being the law meant you were on someone important’s bad side.
With a grim smile on his lips, Mason said; “Names Lecroix, and I wanted to stop by. Let ya know what I’m doing on your shithole of a planet.” It was his way of being nice. Being his first assignment as a Ranger, he was trying to follow the rules. No matter how much they chafed his temper.
“Whoever it is, he ain’t here. So, you can just do whatever you cowboys do, and leave this town. I’d suggest by nightfall,” said the lawman named Bleuss, if the nametag half falling off the man’s shirt was any indication.
“I’m sure ya won’t mind me sticking around a bit. Just to sort of… see for myself,” said Mason, turning to face the thin autodoor doing little to keep out the bitter cold of the blizzard raging outside.
Before Mason could even take a step, he heard a chair scrape against the worn-out synth-wood floor behind him. Quicker than a man could spit, Mason spun around, drawing a long-barreled black laser pistol as he went. Before he even had time to line up a shot, he felt the heat of a laser beam sizzle past his head. The smell of superheated ozone filled his nostrils as he watched Bleuss stare unbelieving into his hate-filled eyes. With his pistol held hip high, he tapped the firing nub sending a blue-white beam hissing through the air between them.
A microsecond after the beam hit the man’s unarmored chest, Mason heard the man gasping for air that wouldn’t come. A small black hole was centered perfectly in the man’s chest. Mason watched coldly as Bleuss’ lifeless body crumpled to the ground, the man’s glazed over eyes staring at the ceiling. “Hope I got that right,” said Mason, shaking his head at having to kill a fellow lawman so soon into his new career. Some small part of him felt bad for the no-good junkie pretending to be a lawman. Leaning down to close the man’s still open eyes, Mason said a quick prayer asking God to forgive the man for being on the stupid side of smart.
Standing up, Mason holstered his pistol before setting the enviro mask in place once more. Turning towards the door, he looked back at Bluess one last time. Letting a heavy sigh escape his tight chest, he walked through the thin autodoor of the station. Greeted by the lonesome howl of the storm, he found himself instantly assaulted by a torrent of bone-chilling sleet and blinding snow. If it hadn’t been for the enviro suit beneath his ice-covered duster, he knew he would have instantly froze in the sub-zero temps. On his way to the station, he had made sure to mark the location of the local bar on the thin screen of the interface on his forearm. Unable to hardly see his hand in front of his face, he was glad he had. Wandering frozen, ice slicked streets during a blizzard, looking for a rundown bar called “Temptations”, wasn’t exactly what he figured his first week on the job would be like. Sure as hell, wasn’t what the recruiter had told him when first they met.
“How you doing, kid,” said Gerald from the com set into the helmet of his enviro suit.
“Be better if it was you out here, and me nice and warm in the ship,” said Mason, his chuckle easing the anger and regret seething just below his surface.
“This is your test, boy… not mine. I’m just here to make sure you make it out of this one alive,” said Gerald with a hearty laugh of his own. Ever since first meeting, Mason knew there was something he liked about the older Ranger. As his appointed mentor, it was Gerald who’d decided on the mission to test Mason’s skills. Now, he was wishing the older man would have asked him first.
“Good job you seem to be doing. Hell, the sheriff almost shot me down for just mentioning I was here to find an outlaw,” said Mason, his temper growing, from the memory still nagging at his conscience, as he stared at the long red line in his visor leading to the bar.
“Guess I should have warned you about that. Sometimes, it’s better not to let the locals know you happen to be on their world. On a planet like this, it can get you in a heap of trouble real quick-like,” said Gerald with another hearty laugh.
“I’ll show you when we get done here,” said Mason laughing at the crude joke to ease the rising nervousness he felt as he looked at the snow-covered door of the bar.
With a ragged, nerve rattled sigh, Mason clicked off the coms. Shaking his head, he told himself it was time to go to work. He could only hope things didn’t go as badly in the bar, as they had in the sheriff’s station. Stepping closer to the door, he silently hoped the place was empty; save for the man he was sent there to find. To his chagrin the thing didn’t open, only shook as the thick ice held it firmly in place. Once again, he found himself wondering if being a Ranger was worth all the trouble.
It didn’t matter, that at the time, he hadn’t had a choice. In the end, it all came down to either killing every hunter with an itching to collect the bounty his step-father put on his head, or become a Ranger. Gunning down a Ranger, was something not even the most unscrupulous bounty hunter wanted hanging over them. At the time, he signed up intending to stay only long enough to get the bounty off his head. Once that was done, he could go back home to Catherine.
“Not from around here huh, might want to try around back,” said a man Mason had never seen before. Judging by the man’s voice though, he must have been young. He couldn’t see him well enough through the snow to get a good read on the man though.
“Much obliged,” said Mason over his shoulder as he set off down the side of the building towards the back.
“Think nothing of it, friend. You must be rather thirsty to get out in this though,” said the man, the curious tone in his voice making the hair stand up on the back of Mason’s neck.
“Yep,” said Mason, turning to face the man who’d walked up nearly behind him. Under his breath, he cursed himself for not watching the man. Now, with him so close he could even smell the filth emanating off the man’s enviro suit, he realized it wasn’t a friendly conversation at all.
The two men flanking the man, on either side, didn’t put his mind at ease either. Sliding his gloved hands to the twin pistols on his hips, Mason stared at each man in turn. In his chest, his heart thundered until he swore it was about to burst out through the thin enviro suit. Despite the cold seeping through the suit, he felt beads of sweat dotting his forehead. He knew he should say something, maybe warn them of what they were getting into. Looking into the blackened visors of the men, nothing came to mind. To him, it didn’t quite feel like what he’d expected after watching a slew of old strinp vids. When the hero faced down a scum bag in those, he never failed to say something prophetic.
“You know anything about a stranger shooting the sheriff in cold blood?” said one of the men off to the far right. The sound of the man’s voice almost made Mason draw and shoot. He knew his nerves were about as taut as they could get. Any slight move made him flinch in anticipation. After being in the Fifth Velothian and more battles than he could count, he never took himself as the jumpy kind. This was different though. Back then, he had his fellow squad mates to watch his back. Now he was alone, with his only back-up warm on a ship.
Mason couldn’t think of a reason to lie; by the way the men held their laser rifles, they already knew the answer anyway. He wished he could back and start the whole day over. This time, without visiting the drugged-out Sheriff. After taking a second to take a breath and control the shake he knew would be in his voice, Mason said; “Wasn’t in cold blood. He tried to shoot me, I just happened to be the better aim. All I want is to find Peter McAllister. Once I do, I promise I will never bother y’all again.”
“Then I guess this is your lucky day Ranger. We just happen to know where he is,” said the man in the center, his laugh joining with those of the other men before he finished by saying; “You just drop those guns of yours, and we will take you too him.”
“I have a better idea! You drop yours, and tell the kid what he wants to know… or I plug you all so full of holes your own mothers won’t recognize you,” said Gerald, as Mason watched him walk up behind the men.
Time slowed to a crawl as he watched the men start to spin around, their rifles swinging up to get a bead on the man behind them. Instinctively, Mason drew his pistols, their black forms standing out from the white of the snow. To him, it felt like someone else was tapping the firing nubs of his pistols as he watched blue-white bolts hiss through the blinding snow.
In the blink of a cold eye it was over, the men lay dead where they had stood tall only seconds before. Gaping holes from exploding pulse bolts riddling their thin enviro suits. Before he could holster his pistols, he saw the men’s wounds filling with the falling snow. Mason shook his head at the waiste, they were his only lead to where McAllister was, now he was left to wander the frozen city without a clue where to go.
“Now what?” said Mason, raising his hands in confusion.
“What are you talking about, kid? You got him, now we just have to take his body back as proof,” said Gerald, kicking the center man with the heel of his boot.
“This is McAllister? How do you know?” said Mason his visored eyebrows raised in disbelief.
“Get him, and take off his mask if you don’t believe me. Just make it quick, this cold is freezing my bones,” said Gerald with a smile as he started back towards the ship, leaving Mason to stand there wondering what to do.