Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chapter 1 - Stars End

They called it the frontier. It wasn't. A frontier is more than just the edge of the map, it was the jumping off point for exploration, it was vital, alive, and dynamic. Sure, most frontiers were hardscrabble, desolate, and not terribly impressive, but it couldn't be argued that people still wanted to go there. This place was none of those things. Sure it was the edge, but it was more periphery than frontier. There was no further expansion from here because there was no place to expand to. Nobody wanted to come here, in fact most people wanted to leave, and the word dynamic could hardly be applied. All in all, it was less a frontier than backwater, and although it lay on the outermost edge of our galaxy it could hardly even be considered a border area.

The place was the Lupus Cluster, better known as the Wolf Worlds, a nomme de guerre that seemed more than aptly appropriate. Located far in the Galactic north, anti-spinward of the great human capitol at Terra, this meager cluster of stars huddled together on the underbelly of the Milky Way, clinging to the local galaxy like piglets to a sow. Now that I think about it, that is probably the most apt description of this backwater pesthole I am likely to find. Not that the small star cluster was all bad, it did have its high points.

I stared again into the empty shotglass on the table. The liquor that it had formerly held was the obvious fuel for my ruminations, and now that the last drop was drained, I felt that I should probably stop philosophizing about what a crummy place the Wolf Worlds were and get on with my business. Having taken my liquid courage to dhore me up, it was on to work.

Looking up from my empty glass I scanned the bar once again. I already knew what was there, but it didn't hurt to reconfirm it. Three slender humans sat at one table, a happy looking sat at another, the third was taken up by an arguing pair of bhur'tashk, and the bar held tulosh and another three humans in addition to myself. The short, blond haired lass behind the bar caught me looking one of the humans at the end of the bar, quirked an eyebrow and asked in the local dialect if I wanted to send him a drink. I smiled and replied, "Not my type."

The blond bartender pulled a serving wand out from under the bar, and moved to refill my glass. Before she had even half completed the action I had my hand held over the glass in the universal sign of 'no more please', and it was then that I realized my blunder. My hand, my dominant gun hand, was now way out of position, sloppily held to prevent the refill of my drink by a woman who was obviously doing this for just such a reason.

I cursed, trying to pull myself back into position as my target, gun in hand began to draw on me. I recognized what was going to come next, and instead of straightening up to at least try and draw, I dove away from the bar, deeper into the restaurant. Well, at least I tried to.

I must have telegraphed the move a bit too much, and the bartender, who I was beginning to suspect did not work here at all, reached out and grabbed my wrist in a vice-like grip. The bones grinded together painfully, and I fell back against the bar.

Desperate to get out of my quarry's line of fire, I grabbed at the nearest patron with my free hand. Luckily, it was the young tulosh, whose canine features were already snarling into an ugly rictus as he grabbed at his pistol. Without paying any heed to the action around him, the seven foot tall, black caninoid swiped backwards at me, and I pulled my captured wrist up and into the line of attack, hoping the bartender would release it to avoid being clawed. She did, and I got lucky again as the swipe hit me on the armorweave instead of the flesh.

The big alien completed his swing, turning to face me, and I, finally free, dove for the floor as my target opened fire with a Teiger Mark IV flechette pistol. Nasty weapon, that, and probably illegal as all hell for a civilian to be lugging around. Luckily I had a Yanov 51 long pistol, and it was even now clearing its holster as my mark started to spray monofiliment needles across the area of the bar that I had recently occupied. A few shot whistled into the angered tulosh, and a few hit the bartender. I was just thankful that none hit me.

I hit the floor with a thud, the Yanov finally up and out, and I returned fire. I knew where the dumb bastard was standing, and while I couldn't see him, I could bet on where he was moving to to get a better position to end my life. Not likely, pal. I pulled the long pistol's trigger twice, and two bursts of fire belched from the gun. The first blew a hole clear through the bar, the second cut my target off at the knees, literally.

There was screaming all around me as I rolled onto my back to plant one into the face of the snarling bartender. As I continued to shift my aim, the tulosh decided that though his honor my be wounded, taking on a crazy human with a Yanov long pistol was a bit more than was necessary to restore it. The tulosh were many things, but suicidal was not among their racial traits.

The room was a whirling mass of chaos as I rose from the floor and yelled, "Everyone get down on the floor. I am an Imperial Arbiter, on official duties, and I will judge disobedience harshly."

Things quieted down pretty fast right about then. Nobody really wanted to mess with an official Arbitration, and the scary though of being held accountable by a man who was judge, jury, and executioner was more than these civilians wanted to face.

My target was wimpering and scrabbling in vain for the Teiger that he must have dropped when he fell. I stared hard into his eyes as I rounded the bar, raised my pistol, and solemnly intoned, "Arbiter Ramilles Jones hereby passes sentence of death on Charles Onassis for the crimes of treason, assaulting an officer, and other various and sundry vicious acts in keeping with his obviously low character," I paused a moment, pulled the trigger, and continued, "Gods, I need a drink."

Sadly, the bartender was already dead. Figures. Another day in the life of the long arm of the law...

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