by Shannon H
Myn Othic wakes to find himself on the remote moon of Cercan with revenge in his heart.
|The room he found himself in was cool and dark. A welcome protection from the dry heat that had accosted him from the moment he had landed on the moon. He pulled the blanket away and winced. His torso and legs were an impressive mishmash of ugly purple bruising.
Streams of sunlight pierced through the gaps in the thin curtain. Othic groaned, trying to blink away the last of the grogginess. His head throbbed. He felt as though he had gone all night with a bottle of cheap whiskey for company. If it wasn’t for the rest of his body screaming in protest as he sat himself up in the bed, he would have assumed he had.
He lay back on the bed, his head swimming with the simple movement. It was perhaps a minute later when he heard footsteps approach. When the door to his room opened, Othic took it as a good sign that the woman looking back at him did not seem surprised to see a half naked man in her home. “You’re up,” she said, with the slightest of nods. “About damn time too.”
She was a handsome woman, perhaps a year of two older than Othic. Her chestnut brown hair was tied back into a messy bun and strands of loose hair framed a lean and tanned face. Dark green eyes watched him warily. The clothes she wore told Othic he hadn't woke up back in civilisation. Her hard leather boots worn almost up to her knees were scuffed from use and her pants, speckled with dust, clung tightly against a pair of long legs. Her light blue cotton shirt was unbuttoned at the collar with both sleeves rolled up to the elbows. On her left wrist she wore a large stainless steel chronograph watch.
“I’m up,” Othic agreed as he slowly swung himself out of the bed and stood. The floor beneath him wobbled and he took a breath to steady himself.
His own clothing had been folded across a chair sitting by a dresser at the far side of the room. The woman folded her arms and leaned against the frame of the door. She watched silently as Othic padded across the floor clad only in his underwear. He gave a silent thanks that he managed to reach the chair without passing out.
“I’d say you might be a tad weak,” the woman said as Othic reached for his pants. “You’ve been out the best part of two days.”
“I take it you pulled me from my shuttle?” The dresser had a mirror and he gave himself a quick once-over. Aside from the bruising, everything else seemed mostly intact, not that there was much to shout about. He kept himself in decent shape but his build was stocky rather than trim and athletic. His short blonde hair was thinning at the front and his trimmed beard couldn’t hide the long scar that ran down his left jaw.
“Me and a couple of my hands,” she replied. “Although we had a hearty discussion beforehand about whether it was worth the effort. Your craft just about landed on my property but came to a rest outside the boundary, taking a good chunk of my fencing along with it.”
Othic grunted with the effort of lifting his t-shirt over his head. “I’m sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, it wasn’t down to pilot error.”
“Figured not, judging by that big streak of fire coming from your left engine.”
Othic remembered clearly how his day had went to shit in seconds. The bang, the instant lick of flames on the fuselage and the sudden, almost total loss of the controls. It had been pure luck that he had been flying over relatively flat terrain. He couldn’t recall the crash but he doubted his emergency landing had been textbook.
“Doc said you’d be fine. Just need to look out for any sign of concussion,” the woman continued.
Othic nodded and reached for his jacket, going for the inside pocket and coming away empty handed.
“Your slate is in the drawer.”
Othic waited but she offered nothing more. “Just the slate?” he asked when it was clear she was waiting for him to speak.
“Ah. You’re looking for this, I take it?” She reached around the small of her back and came back with Othic’s pistol. “Hope you don’t mind, but bringing a stranger into my house, I like to have an idea who he is before I hand over any firearms.”
“Fair.” Othic crossed the room to seat himself back on the bed.
“So,” she asked, weighing the pistol in her palm, “Who are you?”
“You on the run, Mr Othic? You wouldn’t be the first person to come Cernan looking to escape the law. We’re a little out of the way here.”
“No ma’am.” Othic would stretch the truth but he didn't need the hassle of running afoul of any suspicious locals.
The woman rolled her eyes. “Ma’am,” she scoffed. “Name’s Adelyn, Mister Othic. Adelyn Harley.”
“Well, it looks like I owe you, Mrs Harley.”
“Miss,” she corrected, “And yes, you do. The doctor is a good man but isn’t cheap and neither is my fencing.”
Othic sighed. “I’m more than a little strapped for funds at the minute.”
“Of course you are,” Adelyn replied flatly. “Your debts can wait,” she said, waving the issue away. “Temporarily at least. “For now, maybe I can take it on good faith that you’re a man of upstanding character and virtue. That you won’t jump up, seize me roughly and carry me off for some nefarious purpose.”
Othic chuckled and regretted it immediately. “I would say that’s a safe bet, Miss Harley,” he said, gently massaging his ribs.
The faintest hint of a smile quirked on Adelyn’s lips. “Where is it you were heading?”
“Well, if it’s any comfort you almost made it. Just came down about twenty miles shy. Although why an off-worlder would come to Clearwater, I have no idea.”
“Not exactly a conversationalist, are you?” she said, shaking her head. Othic shrugged in reply. “Only work around these parts is down the mines. Forgive me for saying so, Mister Othic but you don’t look like the mining type.”
“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Not sure I would,” Adelyn replied, turning his pistol over in her hand before looking back to him. “Seems to me you’re hiding something.”
“I can see why you’d think that,” Othic conceded. “A mystery man crashing his shuttle on your land might be a break from the norm but there’s no law against having a gun on this moon.”
“No there ain’t but the broken case in the back of your shuttle holding a shotgun and rifle did raise a few eyebrows.”
Ah, Othic thought. Shit.
Adelyn tucked the pistol back into the belt. “And before you ask, no, we didn’t get them. Too busy saving you whilst trying to ignore the flames licking up my ass.”
“Pulling me out was kindness enough, Miss Harley.”
The woman grunted. Othic politely waited as she seemed to size him up. “I’ve got a ranch to run, Mister Othic,” she said eventually, tapping the face of her watch, “And a whole lotta malingering hands who don’t need an excuse to get idle. Why don’t you join me? I could use the company while I make my rounds and we can discuss how exactly you plan on paying me back.”
Before Othic could refuse, Adelyn crossed over to his bed and offered a hand, making the decision for him. Her grip was strong and the skin rough and calloused. Evidently Adelyn Harley had not grown up workshy. Othic groaned as she helped him to his feet. “Oh, man up,” she scolded as she led the way from the room and into the hallway.
The house was an impressive size and had a rustic charm although Othic suspected that was a design choice rather than circumstance. They descended a wooden staircase into the hallway. “My grandfather was one of the first settlers on Cernan and managed to carve himself out a place here. Built this house himself.”
"It's your place now?"
"My father owns the ranch. I'm the one child that stayed behind to make sure the whole place doesn't go belly up."
Othic winced as they stepped outside. Even in the shade of the porch, the summer heat reached out and took a firm hold. Two dogs lay by the front door and both just about raised their heads to take a look at the pair before flopping back down onto the ground. Othic looked back jealously as they stepped out of the cover of the porch and into a small and tidy front garden.
“Nowadays we have a few hundred cattle and a couple of thousand acres we can call her own.” Adelyn continued, either unaware or uncaring about Othic’s discomfort. Her strides were long and he hurried his pace to keep in step with her.
A dusty road ran past Adelyn’s house, leading to a group of sturdy, single storey brick buildings built in a close cluster. “Workers quarters," she said as she pointed. “Past them is the barn. We put that up close to twenty five years ago when I was a little girl.”
Two men on horseback approached, tilting their hats to the pair. “Good to see you join the land of the living,” the older of the riders said to Othic as they passed.
“Good to be there.”
“Morrissey, my foreman,” Adelyn explained as the steady beat of hooves faded behind them. “He was the one who actually carried you out of the wreck.”
“Ah, so it’s really him I should be thanking?”
“Maybe. But he did take a bit of convincing not to let the fire have you.” Her smile took a mischievous edge as she spoke.
“Remind me here, which one of us is actually trouble?”
Adelyn laughed as she led him past the foreman’s office. The tour ended at the corral where a number of horses lazed in the sun, tails swatting at whatever local insect wildlife existed on Cernan. “So, what do you think?” she asked, resting an elbow against the corral fence.
Adelyn was clearly proud of what she had and was more than happy for the chance to show it off. Othic could see why. It was pretty close to his own idea of idyllic. Over her shoulder, rolling green prairie land stretched into the distance. “Well, I know nothing about ranching but all in all, I’d say you’ve got yourself a damn fine ranch."
A distant memory tugged at his consciousness. Fireside talk and foxhole gossip about getting his own bit of land after the war and settling down in peace. No one shooting at him and no one to answer to but himself. He wasn’t quite sure when that plan had fallen away exactly. He supposed boyish fantasies had been knocked out of him a long time ago.
“Figure I’ll give you a day then put you to work,” Adelyn said, breaking him from his reverie. “Start working that debt back. I take it you’re a decent shot?”
“I’m handy enough.”
“Good. We tend to get a few critters poking about here at night time.”
“I can take care of that.” Hanging around a ranch, picturesque as it was, and shooting at the local vermin was not in his plan but he owed the woman. She had saved his life and then shown him kindness. A rare quality Othic had not seen enough off in his travels. He'd work the debt and then move on.
“I expect you can. I’ll come with you, all the same. Make sure you don’t go shooting some of my livestock in the dark. “For now, there’s one last place I want to show you.”
She took him out past the buildings and up to a small hillock, giving them a view of the surrounding land. A tall evergreen provided welcome shade and Othic gave a contented sigh as he closed his eyes and sat against the tree. In terms of crash landing locations, he doubted he could have fared any better if he’d been allowed to pick it himself.
Adelyn stood at the edge of the hillock, clasping both thumbs around her belt and admired the view. “So,” she said after a few minutes of silence. “You going to tell me what you’re actually doing on our little moon?” She didn’t look back at him.
“Thought I already did. Looking for work.”
Adelyn laughed but not nearly as warm as before. “Nice try. Gun in the jacket, rifles on the shuttle and then your craft gets sabotaged.
Othic opened his eyes. “Sabotage?” He did his best to sound convincing.
“Don’t play stupid with me, Mister Othic,” Adelyn said as she turned to look at him. “I saw your craft. Those Cibola Shuttles are as reliable as they come. Awful dramatics aside, you might have fooled me if I hadn’t saw the blast marks with my own eyes.”
Othic scratched at his beard. As a rule, he wasn’t the trusting sort and he had known Adelyn Harley for little more than an hour. He told himself that involving the woman was a bad idea. And then he did it anyway. “I’m looking for a man,” he replied, looking out into the distance. “Clay Donos.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Didn’t expect you would have. But I heard he runs with a bunch of people out of Clearwater. They follow someone called Deke Holden.”
Adelyn gave a low whistle. “Now, that’s a name I know. He's one of the worst bandits around these parts. He's a murdering and robbing scumbag and he pays the sheriff to look the other way.”
"And the sheriff knew I was coming. That explains the sabotage.”
Adelyn kicked at a rock by her feet. “Why are you looking for this Clay Donos?”
“I plan to kill him, Miss Harley.”