by C.E. Wilder
A gunfighter continues her battle with a crooked android manufacturer in a sci-fi western.
The Outlaw Torn
So on I wait my whole lifetime for you
The more I search, the more my need for you
The more I bless, the more I bleed for you
"Outlaw Torn" by Metallica
A harsh, dry wind blew across the dusty terrain, tossing Ellie's dark hair about her face. Her eyes were sharp and focused beneath the brim of her hat, her mouth a hard line as she rode on. She'd been in the saddle for days, barely taking the time to rest. But she finally had a real lead and if her target realized there had been a leak, she'd never catch him.
Her eyes remained set on the only sign of civilization she'd seen for miles. It appeared as a dot on the horizon and grew as she approached. A lone shack sat between two cacti, windows smashed in and door hanging off its hinges. So small as to be worthless even for shelter. Ellie dismounted well before reaching the dump and walked the rest of the way. Red Eye wouldn't go far without her and she wouldn't risk him in a fight.
She reached for the six shooters at her side as she slipped into the cramped building. Her six foot figure filled the whole thing, barely leaving room on either side of her. Still, she swept the room for danger. All she found were empty hooks on the wall and lizards scurrying out the windows.
Ellie holstered one of her pistols and started pulling and twisting at hooks frantically. Her informant had been able to tell her there was a secret entrance here, but he didn't know how to activate it. Ellie didn't have the patience for problem solving on the best of days and she defaulted to her brutish instincts. She ripped hooks right out of the wall and threw them to the floor as she searched for some kind of latch or trigger.
Finally, she felt one turn with a click and the shack shuddered, loose hooks clattering to the ground around her boots. Her stomach lurched as the floor began to sink into the ground. She drew her other pistol again, standing sideways with a barrel pointed in each direction. She didn't know for sure which end this would open on and she wasn't taking any chances.
Her eyes flicked from one wall to the other, fingers twitching at the triggers, acutely aware of the bead of sweat trailing down her forehead. She caught the sight of empty space rising and whipped both guns to the opening as it grew. Movement caught her eye and before she could give it a thought, she'd fired.
Two men hit the ground and Ellie ducked into the room, firing again. This time the bullets hit metal and ricocheted off. She'd hit a pair of androids leaning against a crate. It drew her attention to her surroundings. Her focus darted between the crates littering the warehouse floor and the robotic limbs hanging off the shelves.
The thundering of feet drew her focus back and she gripped the handles of her pistols as she took cover behind a stack of crates. The stampede came to a halt and for a moment there was silence. Then the sound of guns being drawn and cocked. Ellie steadied her breathing, then rolled to one side of her cover and accessed the distance between her and the next suitable stack.
A shot whizzed by her ear and she pulled back behind her cover, a hole through the brim of her hat. She cursed and started forward, guns blazing as she ran for the next stack of crates. She could hear another couple of bodies hit the floor as she slammed her back against the crates, breathing hard.
She checked her pistols and found them empty. She holstered them and pulled the rifle from her back, placing the barrel between two crates. She hoped these crates were as full of metal as she guessed they were. She took aim and started taking head shots, picking them off one at a time. They open fired the moment the first victim hit the floor, but Ellie had been right about the contents of the crates. Bullets ricocheted like crazy and a few even hit her opponents in the legs, taking them down to a knee.
It was over in moments. Ellie reloaded her rifle and moved quickly across the warehouse, sweeping the barrel back and forth in case there were any stragglers. She reached the office in the back and kicked the door open. She fired immediately and the man reaching for his gun fell over the ornate desk, bleeding heavily on a pile of papers.
The other man in the room, who had been sitting in the overstuffed chair, raised his arms slowly. Zeke Barren. Ellie barely controlled her trigger finger. It quivered and twitched as she watched the man. He slowly turned one of his hands to reveal a chip cupped there. Ellie gasped as he revealed it.
Zeke smirked, his other hand revealing a large magnet. Ellie's arms went lax and her gun lowered for a moment. They snapped tight again as rage spread from her eyes to the snarl on her lips.
"You wouldn't. You need her."
"Do I?" Zeke replied, letting the magnet pull itself closer. "Yes, this fascinates me. I want to find out how it became so human. Replicate and profit. I want it. But I don't need it. Not like you."
Ellie's eyes searched his and found nothing but apathy. He meant it. Her calculating eyes flicked from the magnet to the chip to the hole she wanted to put in his head.
"Don't even think about it," Zeke snapped. "How're ya gonna assure the magnet don't take her out once I drop it?"
Ellie could almost feel the pull of the magnet in her chest. Invisible, greedy hands reached for the metal in Melissa's chip eagerly. Risk it and take him out or let him go and try again? Her mind raced. In the end, she couldn't risk it. She kept her rifle trained on Zeke as she backed slowly out of the room.
"I ain't done with you," she growled. "I'll follow you to the depths of hell if I gotta. And then I'll show the devil how it's done."
She maintained eye contact until she'd found sufficient cover and ducked behind a stack of crates before high tailing it back to the elevator. She didn't expect him to pursue her. He was out of men and he wouldn't risk his own life. She cursed and kicked at the elevator as it took her back to the surface. Hooks and tool scattered about as she took her rage out on the walls.
The door creaked open and the dim light of a setting sun shone behind Ellie, dust motes dancing in the light that shone through her legs. One hand shut the door behind her and the other slid the hat from her head, dropping it to the floor absently. Her eyes were fixed on the chair by her bed where a young woman sat still as death. Ellie collapsed into the chair next to her and placed a hand over the thin, pale fingers resting on the woman's knee. Her lips quivered as she felt a slight rhythm beneath the skin which remained as warm and soft as the day they'd met. Her body still had all the semblance of life, but without her mind, there was nothing of Melissa left. Just synthetic flesh and mechanisms Ellie didn't even understand.
This wasn't her wife.
"Next time, Melissa. I promise."
Ellie lowered her face into her free hand and sobbed softly as darkness settled around them.