Mason stood beside the sleek hovercar and took a swig from the bottle in his hands. Bloodshot hazel eyes swept the wide nearly deserted parking lot. It was a distraction. The only one he could think of to distract him from Jessica’s memory. Another drink. Her face danced in front of him. How could she leave? More than anything he wished things could go back to the way they used to be. Long before that fateful day on the space station. Once they’d been happy. Or at least he was. Now he couldn’t help but wonder if it hadn’t all been for nothing.
He took another swallow. A glance to the bottle. Already half empty. In his mind’s eye he could see the smile that so often decorated her face. The scene played out slowly. She danced in circles. Arms spread wide as the dress she wore twirled in a light spring breeze. They were on Meril 8 beside a gently flowing stream which would see them in its depths before a purple sun dipped below the horizon.
At the time he’d been hunting down a killer. Things hadn’t been going well either. Then she’d begged him to take her to the clear river. He’d hated the distraction. Now he wanted to go back and do it all again. To fix every mistake that drove her away. Each moment they’d spent together only reminded him of what a fool he’d been. Instead of cherishing her, he’d taken her for granted.
Long buried frustration wormed its way to the surface. He looked down at the bottle clenched bone knuckle white in his hands. Deep inside he wanted to throw it. To ease the pain her memory brought.
One last drink and he reared back to throw. The throaty roar of approaching hoverbikes stopped him. At the far end of the lot he watched as they pulled in. He counted at least twenty. A good mix of man and woman. Each one wore a black leather jacket and chaps. Much like the men who’d confronted him in New Beginnings. He took another drink as they came to a stop in front of the diner.
Mason risked a glance towards the bikers already starting to dismount. A man with a long blonde beard met his eyes. The man smiled. He took the bottles last swallow.
“YOU!” said the man pointing a gloved finger right at Mason.
“Somethin’ I can do for ya?” said Mason shifting to square up against the man.
Soon the one turned to twenty as the rest of the bikers joined him. Each one looked as if they were more than willing to kill him.
“You could get down on your knees and apologize… and… buy each one of us a drink,” said the man reaching for something hidden beneath the jacket.
“All out of whiskey,” said Mason letting a hand fall to the revolver on his hip.
“Could you at least apologize to Mad Bill here. Maybe save us the trouble of killing you,” said a red haired woman shaking out long curls until they half covered her thin face.
“Ain’t doin’ that either. As I see it y’all started the fight. Leavin’ me nothin’ to apologize for,” said Mason taking a wobbly step forward.
“There are twenty of us and one of you. Are you really that drunk to think you can win?”
“Seems like even odds from where I’m standin’,” said Mason blinking his eyes to get the three images of the crowd to turn back into one.
The man and woman walked closer. Mason matched their steps. Twenty feet soon seperated them. They went for their pistols. Mason threw the bottle with one hand while drawing and firing with the other.
The woman dodged. Mad Bill stumbled back, a single black hole appearing on his chest. Mason fired again and the woman dropped lifeless beside the body of a now fallen Mad Bill. Beside their bikes, the rest grabbed for whatever guns they could get ahold of the fastest. He fired twice more before retreating behind the safety of his hovercar. Peeking over the top of the car, he saw Durzak emerge at a run from the diner.
“Get behind something!” said Mason loud enough to carry over the din of angry biker voices.
Mason fired twice more. Bikers dove for cover. He quickly emptied the spent casings before trembling fingers fumbled to load fresh cartridges. A laser beam expended its energy into the side of his car. When he didn’t fire back the single beam became a flurry of shots.
He slipped the last round into place before slamming the loading ramp closed. Braving the inescapable fire, he rose up and sent a hasty shot into the mass of black. A biker screamed. They redoubled their efforts. Mason scooted along the side of the car until he was crouched behind the hood. From the other end of the lot, he noticed Durzak was doing his best to keep another group at bay. Both were hard pressed to silence the onslaught.
“Can ya get to a bike?” said Mason raising his voice to be heard over the screams of wounded bikers.
“Not with this group doing their best to help me quit breathing,” shouted Durzak.
Damn! He needed to do something. Anything to end the threat against both he and Durzak. Mason rose from the behind the hood and fired. In the blink of a bloodshot eye laser beams began burning holes in the hood of his car. Ducking low he made his way back to the trunk. Again he rose and fired. A biker stumbled and fell scant feet from the car. Mason scowled. They were trying to flank him. It was time to find new cover. Across the lot he took notice of a large redistributer beside the corner of the building. There was no arguing it was big enough to absorb a fair amount of punishment. Crouched beside the trunk he shifted into a runner’s stance.
The biker’s stopped firing. He took a quick count of how many rounds remained between both revolvers and those on his belt. Only forty rounds. It would have to be enough. Taking a deep breath, Mason took off at a sprint across the lot. The revolver in his hand bucked once then twice more at bikers too close to miss. By the time the rest began to realize what was happening he had already dove behind the redistributer. A quick look to the lot. Five bikers lay dead with another three grabbing onto wounded legs and arms.
Mason took aim at the closest biker and fired. The man spun and fell to the pavement. Six dead. He fired again. Only the click of a hammer falling on an already spent chamber greeted his ears. In a single fluid move he holstered the empty revolver and drew the unfired one.
Two women remained. He thought of offering to let them surrender. They screamed and fired shot after shot into the redistributer. Mason slipped around to the non-sparking side of the machine. Across the lot Durzak roared. He looked towards his friend. The large Oregoth was on the ground clutching a wounded arm while bikers took aim. Time was up. A slow breath and he sprinted out from behind the redistributer firing as he went. Both women looked startled as laser beams tore into their bodies.
Holstering the spent revolver, Mason hurried to recover discarded laser pistols from where their previous owners had dropped them. The bikers facing Durzak began to close in. To his relief they weren’t in a hurry to kill the man. One reared back to kick the fallen Oregoth. Mason fired. A scream and the man fell. The rest of the gang spun around.
Laser beams crossed in the middle of the lot as Mason waded into the hell of fire in a desperate attempt to save his friend. Small craters began to scar his thick armor from where laser beams expended their energy. Undaunted he continued firing. Step by grueling step the distance between them and him shortened.
Durzak scrambled to reach his scatterer. Mason stumbled back. A beam had penetrated his armor only to tear into his shoulder a second later. Another bit deep into a heavily muscled quad. He fell to his knees. Behind the bikers Durzak fired. They turned. Mason sent a laser beam into the head of a nearby biker. Caught between the furious fire of the two men the remaining three raised their hands.
“Drop your guns,” said Durzak struggling to rise using only the good arm.
They did as he requested. Mason slowly stood up, his wounded arm hanging limp. The friends looked at each other. Both looked worse for wear yet each also wore a smile. Against all odds they’d survived.
“Now get on them bikes of yours and get gone,” said Durzak deciding to let Mason rest rather than take the lead.
“Ya can bury them after we’ve gone,” said Mason tossing the remaining pistol in his hand several feet away.
“So you’re just going to leave them there?” said a female biker whose short brown hair and wide jaw made her look far from feminine.
“Y’all started this fight not us. So whatever we choose to do… I think… we got… a right too,” said Mason grunting as a new wave of burning sent him reeling.
Durzak looked to his friend. Mason clenched his head. Before his eyes the world spun endlessly. He needed to reach the nano-injector hidden in the trunk of his car.
“I think it’s about time you all quit yapping and left,” said Durzak racking the scatterer for emphasis.
Without a word the remaining bikers hurried to help the wounded among them to still idling bikes. Mason stood on wobbly legs struggling to keep the darkness at bay as he watched the bikers race from the body littered lot. Every fiber of his being begged for him to lie down. To face the inevitable. He tore his eyes from the sight of the hastily retreating bikers to let them rest on Durzak’s pained face. The man’s arm was hanging limp at his side. Because of him the Oregoth had been wounded. Reality began to set in. Things weren’t as simple as they’d once been when he was only one to pay for his defiance. Now another depended on him. One whose loyalty and pride refused to let him back down when a friend was in trouble.
“You’re not looking so good,” said Durzak chuckling at the understatement.
“Ya don’t look so good yourself,” said Mason turning to take a hesitant step towards the hole riddled car.
“Where you going?”
“Got something in the trunk that will soothe both our wounds.”
“Go on and sit down. I know you want too. I can get whatever it is from the trunk. Besides you don’t look like you can hardly stand let alone make it all the way there and still sort through that mess you call a car,” said Durzak laughing as he walked towards Mason.
Speaking was too much to ask for. Mason hobbled forward a few more steps. The darkness creeping into the edge of his vision spread a little further. It wouldn’t be long before he passed out. Urging himself on he continued slowly towards the car. Durzak caught up to him swiftly. Lost in the fight to remain conscious Mason stumbled on. Black now nearly consumed all his sight.
“Hold on a second will you?” said Durzak taking Mason’s arm to drape over his shoulder.
With one hand around Mason’s waist and the Ranger’s arm draped over his shoulder, he continued towards the car. Gradually the two men limped their way to the trunk and waiting nano-injectors. Gently he sat Mason down beside the car while he scoured the trunk for what might be within.
“In the center… is a cubby… hidden beneath… the carpet. Nano-injectors… in case,” said Mason using the last of his strength to tell his friend where salvation lay.
“Save your breathe I already got them,” said Durzak, his head appearing from within the trunk with two injectors in his good hand only to see Mason slip to the ground unconscious.