Mason basked in the warm water. The aging scars and pains from years of battle eased in the pools soothing embrace. A bottle sitting on the nearby shore did little to fill the hole in his heart. Every moment spent knowing Jessica was no longer his felt like a knife being violently thrust into his gut.
Overhead a swarm of multicolored birds chirped happily on stout limbs. Gone were the hidden dangers from countless beasts and natives. Leaving only a gentle peace behind. On any other day it would be a veritable paradise.
Mason spread his strong arms out wide, propelling himself gracefully forward. Thoughts of her lessened with every stroke until only a dull pain remained. It was still more than his heart wanted to bare. She’d been his life. The whole reason he awoke to face each new day. Now a half empty bottle replaced the love they’d shared.
A turn of his head and another gasp of breath faded into the air. With it went one more stinging memory.
Far from the shore, he rolled over until the warm sun bathed his face. Even that wasn’t enough to hold the tears at bay. Hidden in the droplets of water finding their way into pool were more than a fair share of tears. Gasping sob ridden breathes racked an aching chest. All the strength he had melted into nothingness, leaving him without the will to swim back towards his waiting clothes.
In the stillness a single chime repeated itself. Each interval growing louder until at last it forced its way through his grief. He wanted to ignore the chirping of the interface. To forget life outside the forest existed. A glance towards the bank. They would have to leave a message. There were more important things which needed tended to. Mostly fighting the ache draining him of any desire to be active.
The growing roar of thruster jets snapped him back to reality. Transports always seemed to ignore the air above the forest. Even before his first visit to the planet folks in New Beginnings and Providence didn’t seem too fond of each other. Which meant travel between the two was non-existent, or mostly so. There were exceptions. Not ones which required use of a transport though. Mason scanned the top of the treeline for any sign of it. If the passengers were thinking to collect on the bounty, he wanted to have to time to dress before greeting them. Fighting naked wasn’t exactly on any list of things he wanted to do.
His eyes looked first towards the North, then South. Not even a cloud filled the sky. The roar grew louder. Damn I wish X-ray was here. The AI always warned him whenever someone was inbound long before he heard their thruster jets. Without his long time partner around, he felt like a part of himself was gone.
Mason rolled over in the water to look into the sky behind him. The thruster jets drowned out all other noise. Still he couldn’t see any sign of them.
To the North a flock of brightly colored birds squaked in sudden anger. It was a sign Mason wasn’t going to put to chance. Swimming quickly towards the shore, he saw a ship rise high into the sky before stopping to hover over the clearing. He forced himself to swim faster. Red, puffy eyes never strayed from what he now knew was someone’s personal yacht. Only two men on Red Rock were wealthy enough to afford something like that. One was dead supposedly at his hand. While the other belonged to the previous Governor Valentine. Between the two he hoped it was full of mercs come to fight it out.
Nearly to shore he saw the ship begin to make its descent. His arms swung faster. Heated air began to buffet him. Twenty feet to go. It felt like a mile to the strong Ranger. What had been long looking strides turned into a fight for mere inches.
Twelve feet to go. His arms began to feel like lead weights. Yet thankfully the strong artificial wind had ceased as the ship settled on hard, stabbing grass. He cleared the distance in only a few sweeps of his powerful arms.
Mason easily hefted himself onto the bank. A scant forty feet ahead the rear ramp slowly lowered to the ground. He glanced at the clothes before deciding there wasn’t time to get dressed. In mid stride he lowered a hand to grasp the gunbelt where his revolvers lay holstered. Clumsily he wrapped it around a broad, bare waist. His heart thundered in his chest as he fought with the buckle. Still the ramp lowered further until its base lay halfway between the ship and ground.
Water dripped from a bare torso as he drew first one then the other revolver. Through cold eyes he watched as the ramp touched down. Slowly he brought both guns to bear on whoever dared to show themselves.
His heart pounded furiously despite the calm thoughtlessness of his mind. Drop by drop water fell free from his body while inside the ship came the clang of boots on metal. In the near darkness of the interior he saw a shadowy form standing in the doorway. Another was quick to join the first then a third followed suite. Mason slipped already twitching fingers onto the revolvers firing nubs. Soon all three started to walk down the ramp without so much as a word between them or to him. When the middle figure emerged from the darkness it was all he could do to hold onto the revolvers.
“Hi Mason, it looks like I caught you at a bad time,” said Jessica her cheeks becoming ever more red the more her eyes took in his bare water soaked frame.
“Jessica? What are you doing here? Wait. Better question is… how’d ya find me?” said Mason forgetting about the revolvers in his hands.
“Well this is certainly a side of you I never expected to see,” said Valentine turning his head before motioning towards the clothes resting near Mason’s feet.
“I’ll get dressed when I’m ready. Before that I’d like to know what y’all want,” said Mason holstering the revolvers.
“So this is who we have come to see? Doesn’t look so big outside of his armor does he?” said Reginald strolling down the ramp until he stood side by side with Jessica.
“Now where have I seen ya before?” said Mason locking eyes with the large Wuldrek.
“It would be when you kicked in Governor Vahn’s door. I am… or was his bodyguard,” said Reginald the thought of his old charge bringing a snarl to his black lips.
“That’s right. Now I remember ya. As I recall, I sent ya runnin’ too?” said Mason frowning as he slid his hands down to grip the handles of his revolvers.
“Do you care for another round? This time might be a whole different outcome,” said Reginald growling low in his throat a second later.
“Both of YOU! Knock it off. There are more important things going on than seeing who is the bigger man,” said Jessica blushing as her eyes strayed unbidden to Mason’s groin.
Both men remained staring at the other. Neither one willing to concede but unsure whether they wanted to face Jessica’s wrath either. After several long seconds, without even so much as a cough to disturb the silence, Mason was the first to move. Bending low, he grabbed the discarded clothes from the grass. With armor and undersuit in hand, he started towards the treeline. Jessica gasped. She always did say his backside was his best side. Behind her Mason heard a native’s clicking voice tell her about the injury to his shoulder. Even though it was all but healed, the bird-man had seen the miniscule scar remaining.
Soon enough everything would be answered, or so he hoped. A tear slipped down his eye as he disappeared into the forest’s thick mass.