Ghintara: The bounty of Ghal Atymhar

Pshylaha was about as far removed from the core systems as you could get anti-spinward of the great spiral galaxy, months of travel and not a little bit of trouble just to get to. Located far off the main trade routes, Pshylaha was the last stop in the Hedaboran sector before hitting the Frontier eighteen light years and some change beyond. The small planet had no indigenous life and no mineral wealth to speak of, being little more than a barren rock in space with just enough gravity and atmosphere to make it worth setting up a third class waypoint station on the surface. Seventy years ago, Pshylaha had been the front door for the Union in this sector, supporting both a scout base and an extended ranger base. However, once the more hospitable world Utilyn had been discovered in the Chraba system forty years ago, Union operations had moved there and the trade route had curved back spinward to match, leaving Pshylaha once again alone in space save for those who had put down roots and who refused to leave.

After the scouts and the rangers had pulled out of Pshylaha, the shanty town, which folks called Junction, began to grow up quickly around the old waypoint station and the abandoned Union military bases. The squatters took over the bases and converted them to civilian use, making ad-hoc modifications as they went. Since the Union had removed all of the military grade hardware, the settlers just threw their own gear in where they could fit it. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, most of the time. Salvaged sensors and scanners provided early warning as well as traffic control for the tarmac. There was a heavy defense field generator, a relic from the Colonial War to be sure, but it still managed to work on the occasions when Junction needed it. Backing up the heavy defense field generator was a pair of salvaged blaster batteries taken from the wreckage of the Chaste Bride, a Sovereign class Union light cruiser which had gone down near the equator during some heavy action ninety years ago. The batteries were rigged to their own dedicated power generators and carrying enough juice to knock the small stuff right out of the sky, as well as hurt the bigger stuff bad enough to make it want to withdraw. There was even a militia fort, with its own breach loading blaster cannons, jacket cooled heavy repeating blasters, and backup defense field generator. Junction claimed it had a militia, but it was more in name than fact. Still, the few times that Junction had been threatened by outlaw gangs or tertiary raids from beyond the Veil by the bandit kings, it had been the whole town that had pulled together to defend itself; all the folks, men, women, and children. The militia fort held the town’s arsenal though the weapons in there were anything but standardized or modern.

Right after the Union pulled out of Pshylaha, Junction was faced with two fates; either start offering a variety of necessary services (both legal and illegal) to the many spacers and pilots who stopped at Pshylaha or become a ghost town in short order. Junction offered fuel and trade with the locals, as well as a low law level and enforcement presence that was congruent to the no-questions asked kind of trading that the Frontier was famous for. The few rangers and scouts that still called Junction their home were retired and tended to look the other way for stuff that wasn’t flagrant violations of Union Accords. Folks just got along with each other for the most part, living as best as they could, in what ever manner they could. There was even a scrap yard that held a myriad of parts for a variety of old robots, abandoned vehicles, and crashed ships, most of it relics from the first mining attempts on Pshylaha and some even dating back to the War. Every now and then a dispute would end in a splendid aerial duel between two or more ships, with the loser winding up as burning wreckage scattered across a good portion of Pshylaha’s surface. There was no shortage of scavengers who supplemented their living off of picking up the debris from other people’s lives and selling those debris for a tidy sum. Sometimes though, the scavs were a little too greedy, and their haste in collecting their treasure before the victors could often turned into bad luck when the victors finally showed up to claim their prize. There were many bones in the desert and rocky plains of Pshylaha; outlaws, scavs, raiders, and a lot of good folks caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Junction had quickly become the last chance stop for many a ship and crew heading out into deep, uncharted space, a chance to blow off some steam and store up some supplies before braving the unknown dangers of the Frontier. This far out on the rim, the law was thin, the black market was fat, and the shadows of Junction’s back alleys and restless streets hid more than hasty deals and hard sells. Junction was a good place to find booster spice, copied templates and rumor had it that there was even a viable slave trade flourishing underground with pipelines that reached from the Core all the way out to the edge of the Frontier. The mining companies needed cheap labor and those who ran afoul of the crime lords were just as likely to find their selves sold into indentured servitude as they were to wind up on the wrong end of a blaster. And of course, hard worked miners needed men and women for pleasure. Most of the time you didn’t ask where your next bit of fun came from, you just took what you had and enjoyed it while you had it.

A lot of goods and cargo changed hands in Junction, in private booths, under the table at the taverns, in the many back rooms of the often rented store fronts, between two ship crews parked out in the desert trying not to draw attention, and even high above in orbit between ships docked together with crews doing the transfers via spacesuits and robots. There was a booming market for the rarer pleasure items from the core, stimulants, spirits, hard liquor, hardware and drugs for the over worked spacers and miners. There was money to be had in Junction, but everything had a cost as well; nothing came for free, not even your next meal.

A lot of weapons and illegal military grade hardware moved through Junction, most relics from previous wars that had been found in long forgotten caches. All bound for the Frontier where laws were few and far between. Most of the stuff was still stable and functional, some of it was twitchy though and you had to be careful transporting it. The occasional fresh corpse lying in the dirty street was proof that sudden death was just another way of settling a score or making good on a business deal gone bad. The high pitched whine of small arms fire echoing off of the dark alleyways and back streets during all hours was as common as the roar of landing and departing starships on the tarmac.

No one paid much attention to either unless it involved them directly.

Everyone carried a weapon or three and knew how to use them. The settlements around Junction took a beating every now and then from small bands of pirates, raiders and outlaws, so most folks took their weapons with them where ever they went, including into town. In a town like Junction, you could never carry enough weapons to feel safe all the time. It was a way of life that echoed the harshness of the nearby Frontier and common folks just got used to it if they stayed too long in Junction. You either adapted or you left. Sometimes you left of your own free will and accord, if you could or if you had the money to start over someplace else. Other times they carried you off, dead or alive, to places you probably didn’t want to go to if you really had a choice. All in all, Junction was like any other Rim settlement, you could find all kinds of folks from all walks of life in Junction, even folks like Ghal Atymhar.

Ghal had seen bad before and while Junction wasn’t the worst he had ever seen, not by a long shot, he still wasn’t intending to stay here very long. Even this far out, Junction was still just too damn close to the core systems for his liking. Ghal was a desperate man on the run with a sizeable bounty on his head and it had been placed there for good reason which meant that until he reached the Frontier, he didn’t want to slow down for very long, turn his back on anyone he didn’t know or stay in any one place any longer than he had to. Junction was his last stop before he hit the Frontier. Out there, in the black depths of the unknown, the law was a joke, might made right and an old pirate like Ghal could find any number of well established dens of ill repute to hold up in or ply his trades from. A man like Ghal had skills, hard skills that could be sold, special talents that could be appreciated, and select services that would be rewarded well among some circles of folks who thought like he did.

Ghal smiled at the memory of his own exploits for it was good to be notorious in his line of work. Folks were just easier to handle if they knew in advance who they were dealing with. However, even he was a realist, a necessary evil he admitted, in this day and age. You had to be a realist if you planned on living to an old age. Quick reflexes and being good with a weapon would only get you so far, you had to have some smarts past that. It helped if you started early, but Ghal had seen some dumb folks get smart right quick late in life and they had done all right. His crimes while certainly heinous and nigh on unforgivable by most decent hearted folks, were little more than a curious anecdote to the kind of terrors that the Frontier served up on a regular basis. When his realist nature frequently overruled his otherwise domineering ego, he honestly knew that in the big scheme of things, he was small time and probably not worth any serious effort should he make it all the way out to the Frontier. Of course, on the Frontier, you could see someone coming for you a long way away and there was a lot of wide open space to get lost in or keep low for a long time.

Ghal was a bounty of opportunity, but only in the core worlds and possibly, maybe here on Junction if his luck ran out and he didn’t keep moving. He comforted himself by believing that the price on his head wasn’t big enough to attract any serious bounty hunter this far out. There were easier pickings closer in towards the core systems and Ghal reasoned it was a matter of profit efficiency; no one was going to come this far out looking to collect on his bounty because the trip wasn’t worth the price being offered. If it wasn’t profitable to come after him on the rim, it certainly wouldn’t be profitable to go after him once he had reached the Frontier. Ghal’s realist nature assured him it was a matter of business and economics. The farther he ran, the less he was worth coming after. Even bounty hunters were realists and they watched the bottom line more often than he did for after all, it was a lot harder making a living by chasing down people who didn’t want to be found, and who would fight when you did find them than it was to, say, steal a ship and wash some cargo through a dealer. You had to be a realist to live a long life in these times, and Ghal liked to think he was a realist with a shrewd, if somewhat criminal mind for the business aspect of things.

When the bounty on his head had first been issued, Ghal had cut his losses and sold out his motley gang for what they were worth all in order to buy him the time he had needed to start running far and fast. The bounty hunters had swooped in fast on his little troop, isolating his folks one by one and taking them down until only he was left. He felt kind of bad for abandoning Dira on Apalus, she had been warm in bed, but there were other women and when that bounty hunter had come for them, well, better her than him. He felt sure she hadn’t felt the same way, the look of betrayal on her face said as much as he switched off the soligram projector. He had jacked a Trandian modular freighter right there on the tarmac, blasting out of the port, leaving her behind to fend for herself. Dira was good, in more ways than one and not hard on the eyes either. She had probably lasted three minutes against that bounty hunter, five if she had been smart and run instead of stand and fight. He never knew that her last minutes of life had been spent staring skyward, watching his jacked ship depart rapidly for space. He never knew that she didn’t even see the blaster bolt that hit her squarely from behind, killing her instantly. She hadn’t seen her death coming because she was too busy staring skyward in disbelief, sobbing and cursing at her only hope accelerating away, at her misplaced trust and wasted affection.

Dira, he thought. Yeah, he would miss her more than any of the others.

Ghal’s outward flight from deep in the core had involved the theft of no less than three different ships after he had ditched the Trandian modular freighter. Through ruse and guile, he had found a new ship each time and coerced each crew to do his bidding, murdering them when they had become useless to him, all just to escape the rapidly closing net of bounty hunters that had smelled the rich scent of a fresh mark in their sector. Oh, he had enjoyed his flight, the crews that had folks like him were playthings for a while, especially the women. Old Ghal liked his women, mostly tied and gagged. It just made things easier, he reckoned, even if he was a little rough on the merchandise and tended to break his toys with an alarming tendency. Ah, but he had enjoyed some very fine toys in his life, some very fine toys.

Five months now he had been running for the Frontier. A few bounty hunters had tried to collect the price on his head, crafty, quick folks who had managed to be a step or two ahead of Ghal in the short run but Ghal was no new born. He picked his targets at random, his path made no sense to anyone but him. Yet still they had found him. One on Iphar, two on Yythh and the last one had come for him in broad daylight on the tarmac at Altrajhad. Ghal had sent each one of their miserable souls to Hell and never thought twice about his actions either. Ghal’s soul had been hocked a long time ago to the darker forces of the universe and he made no excuses for who or what he was. He had modified his morals to fit his pleasures, an easy thing to do in hindsight and he wondered why more folks didn’t see the universe the same way that he did. It might be a different place if they did, he thought, but he didn’t think on that too long because it came to his attention that if there were more folks like him out there, then there would be a hell of a lot more competition and Ghal just didn’t take kindly to competition in his line of work. It tended to split his share of the spoils.

Ghal’s long, frantic flight had been bloody, of that there was no doubt, and his jump to the Frontier might be as abrupt and just as bloody if anybody got in his way. Ghal was a desperate man. No one was looking out for old Ghal except old Ghal himself, which suited him just fine. His realist nature reminded him that while no one was looking out for him, there sure were a lot of folks who were looking for him. Sometimes, his realist nature scared him with its cold logic and unwavering truth but he found long ago that he could quiet his realist nature with a good amount of liquor, drugs and spirits.

Yes, Junction wasn’t a bad place to hang low for a day or two and spend some of his ill-gained wealth in preparation for his big jump out to the Frontier. Ghal had heard the pickings were good among the miners, especially out in the asteroids. Why, an old pirate like Ghal could pick and choose his prey among the hard working little colonist families out there with little chance for any retribution save from a few mercenaries that the wealthier colonies hired to protect their interests. Those hired guns though didn’t stray too far from their benefactors or care for anyone who wasn’t paying their ticket. There weren’t a lot of hired guns that matched Ghal’s speed and skill or his viciousness, at least not this far out, which went even further in reassuring him. Hell, he could live like a king on the Frontier once he got established and started getting back up to speed in his trade, maybe even throw another gang together and get them to do his light work for him. Ghal would avoid the colonies that were wealthy enough to hire protection as it was the poorer colonies that were the easier, choice targets.

He would do some business with the local crime lords, sell some of the pirated cargo he had taken off of the Nissian freighter two periods ago, Hell, he might just sell the Nissian freighter itself and find something smaller and faster; he had no use for a ship that large and conspicuous. While it was a beauty, with plenty of cargo room and built as solid as a stone jacket, it was hard to fly alone, not very maneuverable, and it had only a small array of token defensive weapon systems. Ghal was doing good just to figure out the Nissian’s basic controls, what with all of their dancing movements required to guide the freighter, he was glad he didn’t have a gang with him now; his lack of finesse at the helm of the freighter was embarrassing for him to witness, let alone if he had to put on a show in front of some ill-tempered folks that he might have to turn his back on a time or two.

Modifying the Nissian freighter into some sort of ad-hoc corsair had at first been an intriguing idea, given the size, range, and capacity of the ship, but the cost and labor would have been prohibitive, even to him. It was a fools folly that would eat his wealth away in no time with very little to show for his investment. No. He needed something with controls that were friendly to his species, something small that he could hide out in, skulk around in through the depths of space, hide in a cave on an asteroid, or coast through a nebula in, running silent as he approached his prey from behind, in their field wake.

There was a used ship dealer on the outskirts of Junction that much he had seen on his approach, and some of the ships looked serviceable if a bit battered or run down. He was sure that the price would be higher than the quality of the offered good, but old Ghal always had a way of getting what he wanted, one way or the other, usually the other. It was cheaper in the long run. The Nissian freighter wouldn’t be put on the lot as he imagined that something like that might draw the wrong attention if it stayed around for too long in the open. No, it would be flown out to some desert tarmac and a gang would flow over it, taking it apart and salvaging what they could sell. The unusable pieces might wind up sold as scrap, and in a few years, some rock farmer would be living in a luxury suite that had once been used as the guest quarters on the freighter.

Too bad the dealer didn’t have something like that battered Yhyvian Far Runner that Ghal had admired when it made port yesterday, coming in low over the city, subsonic, its pale blue pulsing Aeflux drivers gently vibrating the buildings, streets, and common folks with their distinctive throbbing discharge. The Far Runner made two slow, wide circles overhead then settled gently down on the far end of the tarmac out at the edge of town. Ah, now that was a ship that Ghal could get used to! She was from an age when ships were handcrafted by master ship builders, a time when skilled folks actually cared to build something, rather than let machines just spit the stuff out from a template some other smart folks programmed right up. A ship like the Far Runner you could still occasionally find for sale on the civilized rim, maybe even find one out on the Frontier though they might need some work to get them going. It was an antique, somewhat of an icon in these parts, but a solid built one nonetheless and it was designed for a small crew, able to be operated by just one person if you were a good enough pilot and you spent some extra money on supplemental control systems or got a robot to throw in and help you. It had plenty of speed, good electronics, a sharp bite and enough cargo room to operate out of for a long time.

Ghal smiled as he realized that he had just found his next ship. Of course, Ghal had no intention of actually buying the Far Runner; Ghal made a mental note to look into acquiring it by less than savory means day after tomorrow, just before the first star rise. With any luck, he could be in deep space before the blood of the former owners was starting to congeal. He’d dump the bodies in space and quick jump to the Frontier where he could start over again fresh with a lot more opportunity and a lot less legal entanglements. Bounty be damned, he was about to go where no bounty hunter could find him, even if they cared to come looking.

Yes, Ghal would make a little profit and enjoy his wealth in a place that could cater to his every dark desire. He’d have a fine new ship this time tomorrow. Hell, he might even find a pretty woman or two to carry with him, whether they wanted to go or not. He would need a place to hole up in for a while, maybe take a miner’s shack, clean it out and turn it into his own little posh nest of sin. When he was done with the women, he’d just find him some more. They were cheap and no one would miss them much he reasoned.

Ghal sat in the dark booth at the rear of the tavern, a single ring of pale white light ran around the circumference of the table, offering what little illumination there was, casting his features in stark shadow. Around him, folks were drinking and talking, some hushed conversations were undoubtedly more along the lines of what Ghal was familiar with, but he wasn’t here to make any new partners, just move the good that he had. Two days ago, Ghal had made a contact on the back streets and now he had a name of a local goods clearer, a credit fixer by the name of Rhtlx. Rhtlx was a local business man, with not a few years in the community. Word was he had been here from the start, when Junction was just a dream of a few stranded locals looking to find their next meal. Rhtlx owned the tavern Ghal was sitting in now but Ghal had no pretensions that the tavern was an honest business. Nothing in Junction ever was.

Rhtlx was a cunning if blatantly direct businessman with an eye for moving around stuff that didn’t belong to him, taking his share of the profit, and asking no questions in the process. Like a magic show, Rhtlx would take goods from one person, move them through some fronts or warehouses and they would vanish overnight. In the underground market that was the real life blood of Junction, Rhtlx was an alchemist, he could turn goods into credit, or credit into goods, and he did it almost effortlessly. The good word was that Rhtlx was expensive, but also that he was fair and trusted by all, which made him a good bet to deal with on short notice. Of course, short notice meant that Ghal was going to have to let Rhtlx make his own terms, and the dent that Rhtlx would gouge into the deal made Ghal wince, but then beggars never could be choosers. Even considering the large cut that Rhtlx would take out of Ghal’s fortune to come, Ghal still considered the payoff to be more than acceptable, especially since the payoff was going to come during a time frame of Ghal’s own choosing.

Fifteen minutes ago, one of Rhtlx’s henchmen had shown Ghal to the booth and then passed the word on to his boss that Ghal was waiting on him. Five minutes later, the henchman had returned with a key slip, slid it into the synther at the table and informed Ghal that Rhtlx was concluding some personal business and that he would see Ghal shortly. The henchman offered Rhtlx’s personal apology for any inconvenience and also Rhtlx’s hospitality in the form of unlocking the synther at the table with an zero-limit in-house credit line. It was an offer Ghal gladly took advantage of, even if Rhtlx had a tendency to water down the good stuff or use the cheapest boosters in his mixers.

Ghal called the interface into presence, watching as the colors for the synther controls shimmered into focus in the air above the table in front of him. He scrolled through the selection, called up several interesting drinks, took a few samples, smelled their contents, then decided on the one which intrigued him the most. The interface for the synther acknowledged his order, went to minimum aspect, and the synther in the table hummed softly, barely noticeable above the din of the other folks in the tavern. The small porterpad on the tabletop glowed soft white and the drink that Ghal had ordered materialized from the processor array. Ghal looked around cautiously, then reached into his vest and pulled out a small stick probe, inserting the tip into the drink and watching the test results play out on the interface that was projected from the patch on his cheek. He read with interest the ingredients of the drink, and they appeared to be exactly what he had ordered, no surprises. You didn’t get to live to be Ghal’s age by being slow or stupid. He stuck the test stick back into his vest, took the drink, and partook of the liquid refreshment.

The possibilities were limitless and he smiled as he sipped on his Blue Tingler, a drink that was two parts white Drahyl fire water and one part blue Cha spirit shaken exactly six times and served over green colored narcotic laced ice spheres that were formed in a zero gravity vacuum freezer. He winced at the atrocious after kick that lit his throat on fire but brought a very pleasant tingle to his frontal lobes shortly thereafter. One could get used to drinking these, he mused, in no time at all. He would ask for the drink template before he left, maybe the Far Runner would have a synther onboard that took standard and custom templates. If not, he could retrofit a synther later no problem, it would cost a little, but Ghal had more than a little to his name and if everything went well in the next hour, he was going to have even more than that. Life was good for an old pirate like Ghal, even for an old pirate on the run and desperate to convert his ill-gained goods into some fast supplies and the rest into clean, untraceable credits. It wasn’t until the entrance door to the tavern hissed open and shorted with a splendid display of sparks from the control unit that Ghal turned in his seat and really began to rethink the choices that he had made up to that point in his life.

The outside light from the two pale stars filtered in, silhouetting in ghostly blue and white an armored and cloaked figure standing there against the door frame and the randomly sparking lock units. Even with the glare casting color splotches on his eyes, he could easily see that the stranger was a woman, no mistaking that hourglass shaped outline and her stance, legs together, leaning against the door with her arms wide supporting her at an angle that was as seductive as he knew it was deadly. A gunslinger’s stance that appeared nonchalant to the untrained eye, but to the experienced professional, her stance was one part dance, one part aerobics, and all business. The shadow of the figure stretched into the tavern, impossibly long and thin, but the outline of the form fitting body armor was also unmistakable, ex-military grade, probably customized as well in some respect. Ghal noticed immediately that the stranger stood in the classic gunfighter stance, her cloak pulled open and tucked behind her back. Her gloved hands were at her side, held ready near what appeared to be a long barrel custom blaster in a hand tooled quick draw holster riding low on her hip.

“Who the Hell…?” Ghal mused out loud.

“Ghal Atymhar!” the silhouette said in a commanding voice that was robotly augmented by the armor worn.

The voice echoed through the bar at a level that Ghal knew was designed to cause the hairs on his neck to stand on end. Damn subsonics always hurt his teeth when they got close.

“Your bounty has been assumed by me now.”

The only sound in the tavern was the crazy piped-in synthesized music that Rhtlx felt somehow set a mood in his establishment congruent to drinking. An eternity seemed to stretch outwards as all eyes were on the stranger at the entrance, an eternity whose tranquility was suddenly broken by a slow laugh, then another laugh, then the whole tavern roared with laughter. The laughter was evidently a key building point, as it resulted in a single, rash decision being made.

“Bounty hunter!” shouted one of Rhtlx’s henchman, quickly rising from his chair and turning towards the stranger at the door.

Ghal noticed that the henchman was the one who had conveyed his message to Rhtlx in the first place and unlocked the synther at his table. He watched in curious yet professional terror as the thug actually tried to draw his blaster from its holster. It was a dumb move even to Ghal’s experienced eye.

Blasters, or bolt throwers, had been the standard energy weapon of most star faring races for the last five hundred years. There were countless designs though the principle of operation was simple. A storage assembly (magazine, tube, belt, box, or cylinder) held a set number of rapid discharge power cartridges that were used to supply very large amounts of energy very quickly to a hand off flywheel assembly that fed the firing array. The charge hammer cocked back as the flywheel in the pistol grip spun up to storage speed and the cylinder mechanically rotated the next charge cartridge into position in the firing array under the hammer. At the release of the trigger lock, the hammer fell, making full contact between the flywheel and the high amperage charge cartridge in the cylinder, acting to close the circuit. The flywheel siphoned off power from the quick cycling charge cartridge, in turn feeding it to the firing assembly that ran below the cylinder and took up most of the frame in front of the trigger guard. A small amount of Trifnol gas was inserted into the firing chamber under extremely high pressure from a reservoir in the pistol grip and the energy from the flywheel entered the mixture chamber, interacting with the gas in such a way that it became a highly charged medium with a super high velocity, agitated, ricocheting back and forth at hyper velocity in its assembly bottle, looking for an escape from the chamber where it was imprisoned.

The firing process took a total of less than a twentieth of a second, much less than the mechanical act of cocking and discharging the weapon but almost half of that time was for holding the bolt until it built to its full strength. At the end of the firing cycle, the dispersal valve was cycled open and with only one way out, the excited mixture of energized gas roared down the reinforced barrel of the blaster at the several miles per second velocity, leaving the barrel as a cohesive, high energy bolt emitting light in a visible shade of spectrum depending on tuning, gas quality, and power supplied. The passage of the bolt heated the interior of the barrel red hot, air shimmered around the bore of the weapon, dancing in the thermals as the discharge sphincter cycled shut and two dedicated high pressure jets sprayed Solinoc coolant liquid into the barrel through a complex web of micro vents, rapidly cooling the interior of the barrel for the next shot. Spent coolant liquid escaped the barrel as visible vapor, wafting away. The barrel bore, often outside the range of the coolant vents, still glowed cherry red, quickly cooling to black again after a few seconds.

The charge cartridge in the ready slot was spent, it would take two seconds to recover and build its charge again. Two long seconds. The rotating cylinder design allowed the blaster to maintain a high rate of fire by cycling six individual charge cartridges one at a time, giving each in turn time to discharge and gather its charge again. Each charge cartridge was good for about ten shots before it had to be reloaded with a new Sperium pellet, a process that took the better part of five minutes, required a few hand tools and was best done when not in the middle of a fire fight. Most gunslingers just carried spare power cartridges in their cartridge belts, and claimed their spent cartridges after a prolonged gunfight, reloading them by hand or machine afterwards. Six power cartridges per weapon gave Ghintara’s blasters sixty shots each before she would have to swing open the cylinder, dump the spent charge cartridges, and insert six fresh charge cartridges into the cylinder carrier before slamming it home into the frame.

Most blaster pistols could get off a shot every half second. Customization could improve that rate, and gunslingers had even learned how to fan the hammer to up the rate of fire, but this tended to tax the cooling system if you weren’t careful, causing weapon shutdown or damage. The last place you wanted to be was in a blaster fight with a shutdown weapon.

The stranger’s hand flashed to her blaster and brought it out in one of the quickest draws Ghal had ever seen, the blaster seemingly leaping from its holster to her hand in the blink of an eye, so fast that you almost didn’t see it move. Power holster, thought Ghal, she was using a power holster. Nobody was that fast, even on booster spice! A fluid snapshot from her hip sent a bright crimson high energy bolt screaming deafeningly across the intervening distance, striking the henchman squarely in the chest and throwing him backwards towards the bar in a spastic, macabre dance. His body convulsed violently as the contact discharge fatally overloaded the man’s central nervous system, frying neurons and fusing nerve endings in a white hot cascade of unimaginable pain and agony. The thermal energy of the blaster bolt caused several square inches of the man’s clothes and skin to vanish in a cloud of rapidly expanding ash, flash incinerated. A thick smoke ring slowly rose from the wound, revealing charred and blackened ribs beneath the ruined clothing and destroyed flesh. Rhtlx’s thug managed to teeter to a halt, a heavy blaster pistol hanging from suddenly limp fingers, then he tottered a few steps forward before falling over dead in a crumpled up heap, the body smoldering where it lay there on the cold, dusty floor of the tavern.

Thick wisps of smoke rising from the front and back of the corpse, dancing to the sizzle of cooked meat. The stench of burnt flesh and scorched air was strong. Silence reigned supreme in the tavern as shock rapidly set in. The stranger returned her smoking weapon back to its holster, her arms at her sides, ready to draw again. The stranger spoke using her augmented voice again.

“That’s one for the undertaker. Do I have two? You’re cheaper by the dozen, or so I’ve been told.”

“Ghintara!” someone shouted to the right of Ghal.

His blood went cold at the mention of that name.

“Ghintara!” someone else shouted. “It’s Ghintara!”

“Sweet white fire on high!” someone else shouted.

The tavern was suddenly filled with cries of terror, murmurs of disbelief, and shouted curses thrown at the stranger. The stranger slowly looked around the tavern, but the suns glare behind hid her features, still, Ghal might have guessed that a smile was there, as her name was said again and again. Reputation was a powerful thing on the Frontier, just as powerful as notoriety among some folks. Ghal knew this, and Ghintara’s reputation preceded her wherever she went. Of course, that still wouldn’t stop some folks from being stupid and there was always plain dumb luck. Dumb luck and overconfidence had killed more than one bounty hunter in the past, every bounty hunter knew that their time was limited for they lived a life that most other beings wouldn’t dare to take up the reigns to.

Ghal seriously wanted to be somewhere else right then, anywhere but the spot he was occupying. Folks around the tavern began to move and he did too. Ghal dove out of the booth and rolled into a crouch on the floor, winding up in the shadows as he searched for a way out. He might be fast, but he was no match for someone like Ghintara. His realist nature assured him of that with a cold finality that even his ego couldn’t argue with. He had to get out of here, surely Rhxtl had a back door to this place but damned if he had seen it on his way in or saw it now as he frantically searched.

Ghintara lowered her head and her arms threw open wide her heavy gunfighter’s duster, fully revealing the white and black, beautifully etched form fitting Lapian body armor that she wore. All eyes traveled down her figure and fixed on the two long barrel blasters riding low in their custom, hand tooled quick draw power holsters secured on her hips by highly ornate straps that dangled down past the top of her tassel topped armored boots. Magnetic clasps caught and secured the leading edge of her cloak behind her once she had thrown it open and now she was ready for a fight. Ghal’s blood went cold as he cursed under his breath, looking at the two blasters at her sides, identical in every respect and custom jobs no doubt.


One of the most feared bounty hunters still in practice! What was she doing on the outer rim let alone this close to the Frontier?! She didn’t go after small bounties, not without a reason. What was more puzzling to Ghal was why was Ghintara would be interested in him? Ghal realized with a cynical smile that he must have finally reasoned wrong. His mistake was that he had undervalued his own bounty and now Ghintara was here to collect the price on his head. Ghintara. With a foolish nod to his ego, he felt fatally honored that such a powerful bounty hunter would come after him personally. Ghintara had a solid reputation for fulfilling her contracts and she never lost a bounty. It was a matter of professional pride with her and her record was either one to admire or fear, depending on which side of the law you chose to live on.

“I’m here for Ghal.” Ghintara said. “If the rest of you don’t want your mothers crying over your grave tonight, you’ll step out of my way and leave me to my work.”

Someone began crying, a woman by the sound of it. Someone else shouted something Ghal couldn’t make out. Suddenly, there was commotion all around as scared and frantic folks started moving. Some were trying to find cover, others were going for their weapons, and some were just looking for a way out of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. At least a few of them had a small chance of surviving the next few minutes. For most though, this would not be their lucky day. Ghal was pulled back to the here and now as a pair of blaster bolts screamed across the tavern at gut and chest height, narrowly missing Ghintara and blazing out fist sized craters in the dense wall material behind her. The color of the pitted craters went rapidly from white to red, cooling finally to a scorched ashy black. Ghintara hadn’t even flinched, she simply turned to coolly face the two thugs at the other end of the tavern, staring them down.

“Dance in Hell.” Ghintara said with a cold smile.

She keyed her interfaces up, ducked low and jumped sideways into the tavern as a volley of high powered blaster bolts chewed up the door frame and screamed out into the street beyond, dropping three innocent folks passing by and scattering the rest of the daytime crowd amid screams and cries. Quick and nimble, Ghintara’s already impressive abilities were augmented even more so by the her customized Lapian body armor which enhanced both her strength and agility robotly, making her unnaturally stronger and faster than anyone else in the tavern. Her senses and awareness were heightened through a complex multi-layer feedback array that was a seamless as it was unobtrusive and the tri-cut Azian booster spice roaring through her bloodstream gave her supernatural responses, altering her perception of the world around her, slowing everything down to a crawl, slowing her universe to the point where it seemed that she was the only one moving. She wielded her twin custom blasters in the execution of her chosen contract, command synced to her muscle movements, she flexed her wrists and the power holsters ejected the blasters into her waiting hands. Her personal screen generator would stop a few blaster bolts, and laugh at any that weren’t direct hits, while her armor would soak up a direct hit or two as well as protect her against any grazes. Ghintara, however, had no intention of being an easy target let alone keeping still long enough to take a blaster bolt from some trigger happy yokel flying high on cheap booster mix and delusions of self grandeur.

Her armored form rolled into the shadows of the tavern, using every piece of furniture or architectural design as cover from sight. Nothing in this tavern, save the core walls could stop even the lightest hand weapons she had read were in the tavern, but you couldn’t hit what you couldn’t see and a moving target was a lot harder to hit than a stationary one. Ghintara came out of her roll into a crouch, took aim, fired her blasters at separate targets. The first two thugs who had fired on her went down screaming, collapsing almost simultaneously into smoking heaps forty paces away. Fifteen paces had separated them from each other as they had tried to catch her in a cross-fire. She had shot them cross armed, left to right, right to left. She tucked her guns in close while they were still hot and smoking, then jumped away again to another piece of available cover, covering the ground at a supernatural speed that dismayed the few who witnessed her feat. A barrage of blaster bolts screamed into the space Ghintara had just vacated, destroying a table, several chairs and setting fire to the combustible materials in the booth. The tavern began to fill with smoke and the smell of combat. She thought of another time, another place. Setius, and the Pratamhar Uprising. She had been part of the Union fleet back then, assigned to put down the Pratamhar religious zealots and to rescue what colonists they could. It had been brutal street fighting, then domicile to domicile, ending in a final assault on the Pratamhar temple.

Ghintara squatted behind a sectional seating bench, tucked down, a pair of Cole Spanda Type T-306 Model Nine custom blasters were her chosen tools used to carry out her work. The T-306s were military grade side arms, the kind she had been issued and the kind she had used when she was a lieutenant in the Union fleet and her group had taken part in the Pratamhar Uprising on Setius. The difference between a fleet issue Cole Spanda T-306 and the ones she carried was the full range of customization that she had done to each weapon. Memory grips automatically molded their shape to perfectly fit Ghintara’s hands, gloved or ungloved, and she had even installed a pair of customized HAD hand around displays. She had reworked her weapons carefully, shaving out parts of the frame to provide more internal room to add larger flywheels, a higher speed turbine to feed the Trifnol gas into the firing chamber quicker, and a larger Solinoc coolant reservoir for longer duration firing times. She had filed the manual sights off for speed in drawing, relying on the HADs only now since they were far more accurate. A suspensor was attached just below the coolant reservoir beneath the barrel, reducing the overall weight of the weapons by over ninety percent, making them light as a feather, allowing Ghintara to swing them with ease. In ten years of use, neither of her modified Cole Spanda T-306s had ever failed her and she had put them through Hell. It didn’t pay to bet your life on cheap junk.

Of course, Union fleet officers wore their side arms high on their duty belts, carried forward in a covered flap holster with no reloads. While being perfect for parade or dress duty, the flap holster wasn’t very congruent to speed drawing or any practical use in an actual firefight. It was a lesson she had learned the hard way long ago, and now her low slung, custom tooled Trynn power holster replaced the bulky, slow dress holster.

Someone screamed out her name.

“Ghintara! Face me, you worthless pintago!”

Pintago? She smirked. What a guttural slur that was and wholly untrue! It had been a long time since anyone had called her a pintago, let alone that she had let them live for that insult. Ghintara’s mind snapped back to the present as three blaster bolts scorched their way over her head, blazing out white hot fist-sized craters in the wall over her shoulder. She smelled burnt building material, an acrid sting to her nose but an all too familiar one as well. Like burning purple drapes in a temple long ago.

She sighed, nonchalantly blew a strand of hair from out of her face and flipped the two Cole Spanda T-306’s up in front of her. She pushed the nearly weightless blasters forward as easily as if her hands were empty, taking aim at her selected targets and squeezing the triggers in unison.

The two hammers fell almost simultaneously as the blasters roared in her armored gloved hands. She fanned the high energy weapons around, following the virtually projected hands around displays that conveyed target information collected by the built in sensors and target tracking systems of each weapon. The HADs projected target movement, and adjusted their cross hairs accordingly in her field of vision. All she had to do was match the bore line indicator up with the optimal firing point and depress the firing studs. She felt the hot flash from her weapons discharge on her unprotected cheeks and face. Targets danced in the displays, the sensors and scanners of her weapons revealed targets hiding behind cover, with full estimation showing for target movement and tactical options open to her opponents. She had readouts of their weapon types, any armor they wore. Information fed into her interface from the sensors of her weapons and her armor, tactical information that she absorbed and used to her advantage.

She only fired on targets that were armed.

She only fired on targets that were an immediate threat to her.

She acquired a target, achieved a positive lock, fired, and moved on to the next target. She never had to fire twice on the same target and nothing in the tavern was proof against the raw destructive power of the T-306s in her hands.

The tavern was lit by multi-colored blaster bolts, a deadly zig-zag pattern that sang beauty to the eye and screamed terror to the soul that knew their true power. The whine of the discharge of various sizes of energy weapons was deafening, scorching the air with the heavy smell of burnt atmosphere. The tactical patches behind her ears filtered out most of the noise, isolated other sounds, amplified them and identified their sources through holographic indicators projected into her field of vision from the codependent tactical patches set under her eyes, on top of each of her high boned cheeks. She swung her T-306s around, scanning for targets, checking her fields of fire and finding her next spot to move to, it was all instinct and muscle memory.

Her bounty was in here, somewhere, and she would have him dead or alive. While the bounty on his head wasn’t that impressive, the reward for returning the Nissian freighter that Ghal had hijacked was much more enticing and the two made a nice package when added together. Ghal had to have the command key that controlled the freighter’s systems on him, as the freighter had been locked down tight when Ghintara had found it and tried to gain entry using the codes that the Nissians had provided her earlier this morning. Failing to catch Ghal sleeping in his stolen freighter, she had left a seer behind in case he returned to the ship and sent her seekers into town, programmed with his information, letting them get lost in the crowd as they methodically searched for Ghal. A chance contact from a visual image comparison matched to a computer database had identified Ghal positively and the seeker had remained on station, ready to follow discretely if he left the tavern. That had been an hour ago, and now Ghintara was here, ready to collect the bounty on Ghal.

Another, much larger and longer blaster bolt screamed past her as she squatted, close enough to tickle the peripheral edge of her personal screen, cascading it milky white for a second as the bolt grazed it, spreading tiny hair-like lines of resistance across the surface as the generator sought to maintain field integrity and dissipate the ravenous power of the energy bolt harmlessly. She saw the screen strength indicator drop by a good percentage in her interface, then start to slowly build again to full strength.

She bit her lip out of habit and raised both of her T-306s in front of her, following their tracking of the bolt’s trajectory, and turned at her waist towards the gunman. The combined data array of the overlapping HADs easily found the thug who had just shot at her. She watched as he jumped and rolled into a booth, ten booths away from her, clutching what appeared to be a somewhat antique Mariys heavy repeating blaster.

Ghintara almost felt sorry for him, he had taken his best shot, the best shot so far and then he had done the stupid thing. He should have fired again, using the first bolt as an indicator, checked his aim, and just held the trigger down. However, he had probably taken his best shot, missed, and decided it was time to high tail it out of there. He had his chance and now Ghintara was going to make him pay dearly for his mistake.

“Poor Jhiviyan Ma Taka.” She chided him in her native tongue. “Let me show you how it is done.”

Ghintara leaned back into the booth behind her, lying on the floor and turning sideways to aim down the row of booths. She fired both blasters through the semi-circular seat of the booth. Seat cushions blazed to brilliant incandescence, material splintered into melted plastic globs and flaming splinters in front of her as the twin bolts burned their way effortlessly through all six intervening booths, striking the thug in the chest and head simultaneously. Ghintara watched as the thug spasmed under the impact of the twin bolts. Flesh turned to ash, clothes burned, and the flaming skull made a strange visage in her data field as the cranium bone burned brightly, all flesh having been vaporized and the teeth falling from suddenly loose sockets like drops of white rain. She crossed her legs under her, spun on her hips, and righted herself back into a crouch in one fluid movement, heading for another spot ten paces further to her right as she did so. Behind her, the thug’s brain boiled in the liquid of his skull, popping and crackling.

She didn’t think Ghal had this many friends, no, these were just petty criminals who figured they might get off a shot or two and run for it, or were stupid enough to think that their drunken or drug induced states gave them some chance against a hardened professional. Ghintara smiled and took a few seconds to relax her elevated breathing, bringing her body back under full control of her mind, feeling the booster spice roaring in her veins, accelerating her presence to where she perceived the world to be moving at a much slower pace. She felt the grip of her two custom blasters and took comfort in their familiar feel in the palm of her gloves. She even managed to say a short verse from the third holy book of Matag. It calmed her spirit and cleared her mind.

Every spread of blaster bolts had a source point, and she tracked each stream of bolts back to where it had originated, ending the source forever with a return bolt of her own. Two tottering figures went down wreathed in flames brought on by the ignition of their cheap clothing and the wall material next to them. The bodies burned where they fell. The tavern was filled with the sound of screaming, both folks and random blaster fire. Ghintara sighed. Amateurs. Children playing with guns.

“I tried to do this the nice way but no one wanted to be nice so I think it’s time for me to show you what happens when you get on my bad side.” She said softly.

The odds were now very much in Ghintara’s favor and she took the time to lower the power output of her blasters, switching from killing shots to horrible, maiming shots. Her blasters became like the scalpels of a surgeon, severing legs and arms of anyone who dared to stand before her. Her HADs were interfaced with the holographic visual array of her headset, synced to the tactical patches below her eyes and on her cheeks. The left HAD begged for attention; its scanner had found an armed target hiding in ambush ten paces away.

Ghintara smiled, locked her blasters on the gunslinger hiding behind the partitioned wall, took her time to aim creatively and fired, first one then the other of her Cole Spanda T-306s. Her first blaster bolt effortlessly scorched its way through the wall and severed the hidden man’s arm halfway past the wrist, frying the nerve endings along the length of his arm, paralyzing it permanently. The second bolt struck the man’s blaster as it fell, destroying it and the severed hand that held it in a bright white flash of exploding alloy and compact power supply detonating. The man screamed and fell to his knees, blinded by the explosion of his own weapon, his face and upper chest burned and cut by shrapnel. He clutched his scorched stump and supporting his now useless right arm with his left hand. Unconsciousness and shock swiftly overtook him as he fell to the floor and lay still. Ghintara stepped over him as she methodically scanned her surroundings.

Fire and smoke filled the tavern, smashed furniture and bodies everywhere. Always the smell of death, burnt flesh, and bodily voidings. Ghintara was a terrible vision moving amid the smoke and flames of the tavern, the light of twenty fires was reflected from the surface of her body armor. She strode over the smashed furniture and the littered bodies, her smoking T-306s sweeping from side to side, their sensor and scanners searching for targets, relaying information to your interface, each ready to deal out permanent disfigurement or horrible death, depending on the nature of the threat or how Ghintara felt when she pulled the trigger.

Ghintara continued on through the ruined tavern, kicked a burning table over, covering a crouched woman cowering behind. She could have been a bar maid by her outfit, or a licensed pleasure vendor for the guild of miners. She didn’t have a slave band on that Ghintara could see. The woman looked up at Ghintara with pleading eyes, her lips trembling, her body shaking uncontrollably. She had no weapons, no implants, she was just folks, soft and not meant for fighting. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ghintara looked at her through the HAD, tears streaming down the woman’s face, her mouth quivering as she stared up at the still red hot tip of Ghintara’s weapon, the black bore not a hand’s breadth from her face. Ghintara looked up from assessing the woman as a threat, threw her left blaster out in a search pattern and scanned the immediate area on that side but found no threats. She looked back down at the woman. She motioned casually with her right blaster in the direction of the front door and the woman nodded, sniveling and starting to rise.

“Don’t stop. Don’t look back. You and I have no business this day. Run like Hell, girl.” She said. “Run like Hell and live.”

Ghintara stood back two steps as the woman stood and started towards the door, first at a slow hobbling walk, then her pace grew faster and faster until she was limping at a great pace, almost a dead run, swinging her arms for balance as she went as fast as she could towards the rest of her life.

Ghintara moved on into the inferno that was the tavern, searching. Her blasters had spoken with a fury that had probably never been seen before locally, and their judgment had been swift, merciless, and final.

“Where are you, my little jhinvhya?” she mused.

Ghintara crouched again, slowly panning her blasters around, letting their targeting systems search in a wide angle fan for her quarry. The air was getting thick with smoke, too thick to keep working without some type of support. Ghintara holstered her left blaster and touched a panel on the right gauntlet of her armor, a small plate opened and she withdrew a breathing cord, attaching the two jet air clip to her nostrils and using her finger to press the adhesive backed tube to her cheek. She fed the end of the tube into the armor’s life support port near her shoulder, calling up the virtual interface to her armor and switching over to her armor’s internal life support mixture. Another adjustment to her armor’s interface and a comfort field formed around her, shimmering slightly into presence then becoming transparent. It would provide a stable temperature and environment around her for a few hours despite the heat and flames. She could breathe off the compressed liquid atmo-processor built into her armor for that long as well. She breathed in deep, feeling the cold air rush past her nasal passages, it was laced with a stimulant that did away with a lot of the fog in her head. She took too more deep breaths and exhaled slowly on the last. The environmental field kept out the smoke as well, which had started to sting her eyes.

She cued the interface for the armor to minimum in her display as another three gunmen appeared, moving through the wreckage to her right.

“There she is! Blaze that pintago!”

Ghintara didn’t have time to bring her second blaster into play so she raised her right blaster and slapped the hammer with the flat of the palm of her left hand, fanning the action for rapid fire. One shot, she rolled, two more shots.

Three shots burned their way through the three bodies and the gunmen went down in smoldering heaps. Her blaster smoked profusely as the Solinoc cooling gas worked to overcome the rapid fire of the fanning she had given it and the increased thermal buildup. Ghintara flexed her left wrist, and her second blaster leaped from its power holster and back into her hand as the right blaster went back to normal status.

Ghintara rose from her crouch and continued her search of the tavern.

Ghal hadn’t lived as long as he had thus far by being slow or dumb. At the sound of the first blaster bolt, and before Rhtxl’s scorched thug had hit the floor, Ghal had been on the move. He had dove as fast as he could behind a nearby serving pod and he had managed to work his way towards the back of the tavern in the ensuing chaos. Now, his right hand went to his own customized blaster, riding low on his hip in a quick draw holster. The weapon powered up in his hand with a comforting whine of its integrated power cell, the gas turbine fueling the firing chamber and its modulated holographic scope flashing into life a virtual multi-colored HAD hands around display. The sensor in the weapon searched for a target to acquire. He coughed, the air was getting foul in the tavern, and even staying low to the ground he couldn’t quite seem to catch his breath, the fact that his heart was about to beat itself out of his chest didn’t help matters either.

Around him, the tavern erupted again in the high pitched whine of blaster fire, multi-spectrum flashes, exploding materials and the screams of the wounded and dying. He heard the flurry of two heavy blasters firing, raking the area somewhere to his left. Repeating blasters, probably ex-military grade weapons but the two heavy blasters were of different models, the pitch and whine of their discharge just enough that they sounded somewhat like an echo to each other. He heard first one heavy blaster fire, then the other. There was a slight pause, then two more blaster shots, from a different type of weapon, answered. One shot, then another in quick succession. He thought he heard a scream, but it may have just been an echo.

Ghintara. She was very close! The two blaster rifles spoke no more and the tavern once again became quieter. Several of the patrons of the bar were either trying to escape or trying to blast Ghintara. None of those who tried succeeded in either attempt. The smart folks got as low as they could, said nothing to draw any attention to their presence, and prayed with all they had if they were of that mindset that Ghintara took pity on them.

“Peto Magra!” Ghal cursed bitterly, using a word from his mother’s second religion, a word that somehow seemed appropriate to the situation.

Ghal gripped his blaster tight, hunkered down behind an overturned table as all Hell broke loose around him. Rhtlx wasn’t going to be happy that someone had decided to blast up his bar, but then, that was the least of Ghal’s worries right now. He cringed and tried to shrink even further down into his crouch as three errant blaster bolts screamed their way through the material of the table he was hiding behind, barely missing him as they burned neat finger sized holes that smoldered with tiny flames and reeked of scorched air. Someone was trying to blaze Ghintara and Ghal was down range of their shots.

“Peto Magra! Amateurs! Shoot her, not me! Shoot her!” he muttered.

The blaster fired again, a few more shots scorched their way over his head, close enough that the hairs on his face stood on end in their passage and he could smell the burnt air. There came the sound of another single blaster bolt, Ghintara had blazed the gunmen and sent him to a fiery Hell.

She squatted, turning gracefully on the heels of her armored boots, towards Ghal’s hiding place as her two blasters again overlapped their HAD fields to merge as one larger field. She relished the images of the cowering figure behind the burning table, of the weapon he clutched so desperately as he tried to configure it to some other setting, and of his furtive movements which suggested that he was about to make his move.

Ghal keyed his weapon to full power, aiming it at the back wall not fifteen paces from him. He fired, the overcharged blaster bolt left his weapon, leaving the dispersion nozzle glowing white and rapidly cooling. A man sized chunk of the wall in front of him exploded outwards in a deafening roar, building material cascading down all around him. He stared through the smoke, squinting, to see if he had made an exit. The smoke wafted away, but all he saw was a fading orange crater, about the height of a man and three hands deep. He aimed the weapon again and fired. More of the rear wall vaporized. He fired again, the tip of his weapon was glowing bright white now, heat shimmering in front of it was working to distort his HAD array. He fired again, hopefully at the same spot but the smoke was stinging his eyes now, watering them. The thermal indicator on his weapon was reading critical, but he fired again, then again. His weapon shut down, the HAD was lit in flashing red and yellow indicators.

“Peto Magra, deliver me!” he said, holding the glowing, smoking weapon loosely away from him.

Ghal rose and ran as fast as he could towards the back wall, his body plunging through the smoke, his boots crunching on the still warm building material that had been violently dislodged by his shots.

“You have to be a way out. You have to be …” he muttered desperately.

Ghal’s arms were out stretched as he ran headlong through the cratered rear wall and the hole that his blaster had scorched through. He hurled himself headlong through the smoke and the hole, out into the daylight of the back alley behind the tavern. He stumbled but caught himself, gripping his blaster as he turned to stare at the smoking black hole that had been his impromptu escape route. His blaster indicated that it had cooled off enough to resume operations.


Ghal laughed as he fired two random blaster bolts back into the tavern for good measure, not that he expected them to actually hit anything, but he was feeling giddy with his close call. He turned to sprint down the alley but a large metal fist slammed into his chest hard enough to take his breath away and plant him on his rear.

Disoriented, Ghal looked up in utter amazement at the two and a half meter tall robot that stood towering over him. His first thought was who in the hell had left their robot here in the alley way. His next thought was why was the robot wearing a gunfighter’s duster, a hat, and a bandolier. His eyes dropped to the sawed off lever action blaster rifle strapped to its side, hidden just under the duster in a quick draw custom rig.  Ghal looked up to see the cranial turret revolve with a hum and gasped as the robot’s multiple photoceptors turned to regard him there on the ground, glowing red in the shadow of the brim of the hat.

The robot produced a cigar from the pocket of its duster, pinched off the tip, then used a flame projected from its fingertip to light up. Ghal watched in amazement as the robot actually took a deep puff from the cigar and seemed to relish the pleasure.

“Tenchent upgrade.” The robot said, noticing Ghal’s amazement. “Lets us mechanicals enjoy the other pleasures of the senses normally reserved only for you organics.”

The robot seemed to ponder the smoke for a second.

"Ah.  I do so love a good cigar."

“Who are … you?” Ghal asked, staring up at the red photoceptors that regarded him from the dark shadow of the wide hat.

“Just a business partner looking out for my best interests.” The robot said as it moved quickly, reaching down for Ghal.

Ghal brought his blaster up in front of him to fire but faster than he ever knew any robot could move, the robot locked a hand around his wrist, squeezing as it jerked him straight off up from the ground. Ghal’s finger jerked on the trigger of the blaster and an errant bolt went skyward, vanishing into the atmosphere above as the report of the weapon echoed down the alley way, bouncing off the shanty walls.  The robot held Ghal high by his right hand, his blaster still clutched but useless to him now. The robot regarded him as he struggled, kicking and trying to lift himself up with his other arm and hand.

“What the Hell?!” Ghal mused out loud. “What are you?!”

He tried to free himself from the merciless grip, his boots kicking in the air futilely for purchase. Ghal beat ineffectually at the mechanical hand that held him fast. The battered cranial turret hummed as it swung on its rotation collar, the dim red photoceptors imbedded in the battered turret mount regarding him curiously as they whirred, adjusting their resolution, flicking up and down, inspecting him as it held him out at half an arm’s length. The whole effect of the hat and duster on the robot was unnerving to Ghal.

“Guhh!” he wheezed. “Put me down, now!”

The robot spoke.

“I believe you have unfinished business with my partner.” The robot said flatly, studying him.

“Huh?” Ghal asked, not believing his ears. “What are you talking about?”

“Yes. It would highly upset my partner if you were to leave before she got a chance to talk to you. I think that her business with you is quite pressing and important.”

“Your partner?” Ghal asked, struggling.

“Ghintara.” The robot said flatly.

Ghal’s blood went cold as he struggled to get his blaster around, but he could not out wrestle the robot or get enough clearance to fire. He cursed and kicked, the blood was running from his arm, making it go numb. The blaster started to slip from numb fingers.

“Peto Magra! Let me go, you damn machine! Let go of me and put me down!” the old pirate cried out.

“As you order.” the robot said.

The robot picked Ghal higher, then grabbed hold of both of his feet in one giant mechanical hand, rocking Ghal all the way backwards in a wind up swing.

“No! What are you doing?” Ghal screamed.

“Obeying you to the fullest sense of your instructions.” The robot said, starting to swing the old pirate forwards, the servos whining.

Ghal screamed as the big robot effortlessly power tossed him underhandedly through the still smoking hole in the tavern’s back wall. Ghal flew through the hole backwards, arms and legs now spread, losing altitude and speed rapidly as he went. He crashed through a booth, knocking over the synther table in a splendid display of sparks and broken machinery, tumbling on his way down. The old pirate hit the floor hard, struck his head on a sharp piece of debris and his blaster fell from his still numb fingers, skittering away in the fire-lit darkness. Ghal rolled to a stop, moaning, laying flat on his back atop sharp and jagged pieces of wall and furniture debris. Pain washed over his body in waves as he tried to move, to get up.

There came the sound of an armored boot crunching on debris nearby.


Ghal got to his hands and knees, crawling on all fours, frantically searching for his blaster. His heart raced, his head roared. He squinted through the darkness, trying to find his blaster, his hands patted out in front of him, searching. He slapped hot debris, chunks of building material, pieces of table and synther, but no blaster.

“Have you been looking for this?” came a woman’s voice from somewhere behind him.

Ghal stopped in his tracks and hung his head. He had never imagined that his life would end like this, on all fours, barely able to breathe, unable to see, and without a weapon in his hand. He turned around towards the voice, blinked away the tears and the burning in his eyes, and stared at the armored boot standing atop his blaster there on the floor. He slowly looked up, taking in Ghintara looking down at him, the black bore of her blaster an arm’s length away from his head, her other blaster held out covering the area beside her, fanning, searching for threats.

“I’ve been looking for you.” She said, coolly.

Ghal swallowed and slowly turned on all fours towards the voice.

“I missed you on Atrayal, Ghal. Wish I hadn’t. If I had caught you then, there would still be thirty-two Nissians and twelve settlers alive today if I had just been a day sooner. How do you think that makes me feel, Ghal?”

“I’ll go with you.” He said flatly.

Ghintara produced a laugh that chilled Ghal’s blood.

“Oh, I’m not taking you back alive, Ghal. You’ve got too many ghosts telling me not to do that”

“I don’t want to die like this, not on my hands and knees…” he said.

“You mean you don’t want to die like all those you killed, begging for your life, terrified, with no hope in Hell of any mercy or even a second thought as to your fate. You want to die on your feet, there in your boots, facing me, looking me in the eyes.”

Ghal nodded.

“I tell you what, Ghal. I’ll give you a kindness. You got a choice of how you want it when it’s coming. On you knees or standing up.”

Ghal nodded. His realist nature told him with a cold fatality that this was the end of the road for him. He thought about dignity, about how he wanted to die. He started to rise slowly, just let him have this one kindness he prayed silently, not that he thought any god in the universe was going to listen to him.

“Just don’t let me die on my knees…” he begged. “That ain’t no way for folks to go, now is it?”

Ghal Atymhar started to rise to his feet, bringing his dignity up with him as he went. He managed to get one knee under him and a leg up, and was about to rise when Ghintara pulled the trigger on her blaster at almost point blank range. The single high powered crimson blaster bolt punched through him and blazed its way into the floor behind him. The impact electrical discharge of the bolt snapped his arms and legs outwards, violently flipping him over to land sprawling on his back. The last thing Ghal ever knew was a sense of betrayal that Ghintara hadn’t given him the kindness he had requested. The old pirate didn’t even get the chance to scream as his smoldering body convulsed for the final time there on the floor, the skin on his chest sizzling.

“You tell me. My mother always told me that beggars can’t be choosers.” Ghintara said dryly.

Ghintara looked down at the corpse. True to her reputation, a second shot wasn’t needed. She re-holstered her twin smoking blasters and keyed up the bounty for Ghal Atymhar on her perscomp, reviewing the important details of the arrangement. Death of the subject brought no financial penalties for completing the bounty. Ghintara smiled for in Ghal’s case, she was glad that she wasn’t going to have to transport a live prisoner. Corpses were no trouble at all, but prisoners had a tendency to get on her nerves, especially during long transits between the core and the rim. They had a tendency to get needy, always asking for food or drink, or room to stretch and they begged. Oh how they pleaded and begged and promised her the sun and the moon if she would just let them go. She had heard it all, tales of buried treasure, powerful ancient artifacts, promises of riches beyond her imagination and it was all usually for nothing. The two times she had actually followed up on the offered coordinates to this so called vast wealth, she had found nothing but empty space. Yes, she vastly preferred the silence of a corpse on a long trip.

Ghintara looked back around the tavern, noting at all the damage from the gun fight. The owner, if he or she wasn’t among the bodies on the floor, would definitely be upset. Tiny fires still flickered where blaster bolts had set ablaze the materials that they had passed through. Ghintara could count each of her blaster bolts, for each bolt had found its intended target. Ghintara took pride in her accuracy and her professionalism, her philosophy was that she had never killed anyone who didn’t need killing to start with. The collateral damage to the tavern was a result of all the untrained amateurs who had gone trigger happy trying to blaze her. Bodies littered the tavern, some even moved a little every now and then but none were an immediate threat.

“I’m turning my back now.” Ghintara said, her hands going back to the grips of her blasters and wrapping around their handles.

“I’ve got a lot of work to finish here before I take this body back to my ship. Anyone who wants to leave now can. You’ve got until I count to five to do so. Anyone who is still here when I get to five, I’ll take it that you and I still have unfinished business to attend to and I’ll settle up with you then. Do we have an understanding?”

The only sound in the tavern was the automatic climate control system which was trying to draw in all the smoke and particulate matter in the air and filter it back out as a cool breeze from over a dozen vents around the establishment. The old commercial pump was working hard to clear the air of the smells and residue of the recent gun fight. Nothing moved. Ghintara smiled. Sometimes, folks just needed a little motivation to get them moving. Fear will do that to you, she thought.

“One!” Ghintara said.

Nothing and no one stirred.

“Two.” Ghintara said.

Five folks slowly got up and even more quickly made an ambling run for the door. One person helped another, while two others dragged the fifth out by her arms. Ghintara smiled as two more clawed their way out of debris and wreckage as fast as they could and made a hasty scramble for the freedom afforded outside the tavern.

That made seven, plus the barmaid, for a total of eight. She panned around the tavern one more time but she found nothing.

“Three.” She said aloud, more for her own benefit because no one alive was left in the bar.

“Hmmm. Quiet.” She mused, looking around one last time before squatting by Ghal’s smoking corpse.

“Don’t think you’ll be going anywhere except with me now.”

Ghintara brought up her perscomp and held it near the still smoldering body. Using the built-in scanner of the device to both take a visual record of Ghal’s corpse as well as a genetic sample for filing, she spoke aloud the information required to complete the bounty as the perscomp transcribed her words to data on the screen. Finished with the preliminary aspects of bounty closure, Ghintara hit the send key and waited. The transmitter in the unit pulsed out a coded burst to the communications suite in her Yhyvian Far Runner which sat secured back at the port tarmac.

A sequence of automated actions transferred the details of the bounty closure to a courier robot which the Far Runner kept ready to launch. Working this far out past the civilized systems required a bounty hunter to often work via proxy courier robot. Once Ghintara was back aboard her ship, she would finish the datawork on Ghal Atymhar and include all the information required to complete the bounty with the pulse on the fat line. She would seal up Ghal’s body in a preserving shroud for the trip five day trip to Utilyl and the ranger base there. Her materials would be processed and directed to the powers that be for review. Ghal’s body would be genetically tested, his identity verified in triplicate, and then the body would be disposed of, the bounty closed, and payment deposited into Ghal’s standard account.

Ghintara whistled towards the smoking hole in the back wall of the tavern. An old, battered Rhyn Dhuz Model Eight combat robot slowly entered the tavern through the back wall, stopping just long enough to make the hole large enough to accommodate its frame, ducking slightly so that it could fit its two and a half meter height under the two meter tall hole. The whine of its worn servos echoed eerily in the silent tavern, the pale glow from its modified photoceptors barely visible, even in the dark, as it scanned the surroundings. The robot adjusted its duster and hat, straightening up to its full height.

The RDM8 was a veteran of the border wars against the Klyvha, a twenty year old relic. Now it was just a stripped down labor robot, its weapon pods and internal armaments replaced with some crude storage space and cosmetic pretty panels which had been designed to break up the utilitarian outline of the combat robot and make it more visually appealing to the civilian market. The RDM8s had been degunned and modified as labor units before being sold cheap when the new models had appeared, rendering the old ones obsolete. Ghintara liked the RDM8 because it was a modular design. She had found a set of factory technical manuals for the model, and a few coins shared among some contacts had found the spare parts to restore the RDM8 to its original glory, minus the heavy weapons of course, but she had been able to restore its combat programming fully, and even with some hacking on her own, to improve its abilities. While the RDM8 wasn’t armed, that didn’t mean it couldn’t draw the sawed off, lever action heavy blaster rifle it kept in a hand tooled custom holster at its side and blaze away with an accuracy and precision that most folks would be in awe of.

“I thought you were going to wait out front.” She said.

The RDM8 simply canted its battered cranial turret to one side and crossed its large arms.

“If I hadn’t stepped around back, we’d be chasing this pratago to another system.”

Ghintara smiled.

“I thought it would be wiser to wait out back. I had a high probability that he would run. Besides, my tactical subroutines assured me that you would have no difficulty in this small engagement. As a matter of fact, those same subroutines gave you a better than ninety-eight percent chance that you would actually be bored once you took ten paces inside the front door and the gunfight had begun.”

“In fact, I noted that you took exactly three minutes longer than last time and that eight survivors managed to escape this time. My subroutines indicate that either you’re getting lazy, or simply growing old. Either is shoddy professionalism and simply unacceptable in your field of work, my dear. If you continue this degradation of your performance, I may have to seek another master to follow.”

“Hmmm.” Ghintara said. “Go ahead and prep this jhinvha for me?”

Ghintara smirked but said nothing more and no other words were needed. The RDM8 had been her faithful companion for over ten years now. Its dull and well worn exterior shell showed signs of heavy combat and user repair. The last coat of paint had faded but still did a good job of disguising the retrofitted grade three case hardened armor plate that had been carefully grafted to the robot’s frame. Most of the exterior pretty panels had been left off to facilitate quicker access to the core components and to allow the RDM8 its full range of tactical movement, a range that greatly exceeded the capacity of a human body in all respects. The RDM8 could spin its torso on its axis, rotate its legs and arms a full circle, and do a host of other moves, and all carried out with a fluid-like motion that only a machine could accomplish. One of the legs was newer than the other, and the wrong color. Overall, although the RDM8 hadn’t seen better days and looked almost like a reject from the colony junk pile, it was in far better condition than its exterior would imply, which was part of the ruse.

Even with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, Ghintara wasn’t about to part with her best friend for as old as the RDM8 was, it could still play a mean game of Takpar and give a pretty good shoulder rub. The robot wasn’t a half bad cook either, not since she had installed that food service module from the catering robot the last time she had done routine maintenance, much to the RDM8’s obvious chagrin. Oh, she smiled at how mad he had been to find a domestic module installed alongside his core combat modules. Why, he hadn’t spoken to her for a good two time periods after that, but had made up for his silent anger by preparing for her the most wonderful sweetdust cake she had ever tasted. Of course, the RDM8 had been adamant about her installing any more ‘unapproved’ operations modules, especially when she had it shut down and it had no say so in the matter. It had argued that a partnership should involve trust, even when it was a partnership between a folks and a robot. The personality upgrade for the RDM8 had been worth every credit that Ghintara had spent on it.

The RDM8 looked down at Ghal’s body, picked the limp corpse up effortlessly with one arm while using the other hand to gently pat out the smoldering clothing, watching the tiny wisps of smoke slowly dissipate in the air before it.

“You soft folks do have a certain curious fondness for scorched meat.” The RDM8 said. “It is a major staple in your diet, as well as apparently a major occurrence in your line of work. Tsk. Tsk. This one isn’t as well done as some of the others though towards the front of the bar.”

Ghintara shook her head. Sometimes the personality circuits of the RDM8 surprised even her.

“Have you searched him yet?” the RDM8 asked casually.

Ghintara shook her head, continuing to softly dictate into the perscomp, her voice was picked up by the subvocalizer and transcribed perfectly. The perscomp was smart enough to ignore all sounds but her voice.

“Oh. Then I shall do so now. We just need a flat surface to put him on and yes, this table will do nicely I believe.”

The RDM8 used its foot to right the blasted table and then laid Ghal’s body down on it, face up. The manipulator hands and fingers began to search Ghal’s body in a methodic manner from head to foot. Moving the burnt vest and shirt aside, it found a small splattering of melted metal on the corpse’s skin, then recognizing what the metal represented, it methodically moved further down toward the navel area of the body. There the RDM8 found a chain and an encrypted data key card lying loose near the belt line. Ghintara’s bolt had pierced Ghal’s body, melted the chain around his neck on entry, and the key had fallen down the front of Ghal’s shirt, coming to rest where the shirt had been tucked into his pants at the belt line. The RDM8 held up the keycard and studied it, black with white markings in very well defined, visually pleasing patterns. The robot took the card and inserted it into the narrow slot that would be where a mouth was located on other folks.

Ghintara looked up and stared at her robot. The keycard inserted fully into the slot on the front facial plate of the cranial turret would have been humorous, if not for the fact that the melted chain added something to the whole image, hanging there from the card, dangling in front of the chest of the robot. She stifled a laugh and went back to her work. The robot took on an air of adamancy about its task, reaching up and removing the card from the front slot.

“I saw that look. And yes, if you hadn’t been too cheap to purchase and install a dedicated standard card reader in my spare module socket, I wouldn’t be stuck with this voder / reader combination which you undoubtedly retrofitted to my design. You probably yanked it out of that flimsy domestic arts unit that you salvaged this cooking chip out of as well. Hmmmph. One day, I’m going to get some professional work done to this shell. Just you wait and see.” The robot said.

Ghintara snickered, her professionalism succumbing to her humor. She stared at the RDM8 with her best card playing face.

“Well, is that the command key to the Nissian freighter we saw on the tarmac?”

The robot handed the key to her and she took it, looking it over carefully.

“I don’t suggest that you put that in your mouth like I did.” The robot said, noting her reaction. “No telling where else he’s kept it on his body or what orifice he might have secreted it inside at one point in time. Thank goodness I can turn my Tenchent upgrade on and off as needed.”

She held the encrypted command key out, letting it dangle by the melted chain.

“The Nissians always build their technology around their artwork.” She mused.

“Science and culture in a fusion of creativity and functionality.” The robot stated. “They obviously differ greatly from your species.”

The command key was beautiful, fragile looking but strong enough to be used as a wedge or a prybar given the right amount of leverage. The Nissians were mostly a peaceful aquatic race. She could imagine Ghal opening their freighter to space, flash freezing them in their liquid environment. She had been on a Nissian luxury liner several years ago, only the passenger compartments for gas breathers were air filled and dry, resembling small air locks attached to spacious luxury cabins. The accommodations had been truly gracious, but to get anywhere else in the ship or between sections had required her to don a slick suit, a personal filterlung and swim through the large passage ways of the liner. Power pulls on tracks along the wall would pull you effortlessly through the water where ever you wanted to go and she fondly remembered getting to see a fifteen Nissian water dance in the central aquadome.

The creatures had been beautiful, their musical instruments tuned to the frequency of the water so that they created gentle, lapping waves that played over the audience as the music carried through the liquid medium. She remembered their grace, how they wore colored streamers which played out behind them in the water as they swam. It had been an experience she might choose to enjoy again in the years to come. She thought of the dark gray skinned Nissians, humanoid shaped with delicate webbed feet and hands, and large, searching eyes protected behind two sets of clear eyelids. She thought of their dark markings, much like the command key. They perfumed the water in their ships, but a Nissian out of its environment was a harsh olfactory stimulation to say the least and a Nissian corpse was about the foulest thing you could ever run up on. Still, they did build beautiful ships, filled them with a harmonic balance of shape and color and they did treat their guests with a graciousness that few other races could match.

She thought of the Nissian crew, dead, floating in space frozen alive in vast jagged chunks of the very liquid which had provided them life. What must it have been like to have died like that, when the fluid that you breathed turned to ice in your body, in your lungs, your gills … She shuddered and felt a tinge of pity for the long dead crew, so many light years away now. The Nissians were a pacifist race for the most part, oh they had their own criminal freaks and mercenaries, sociopaths who couldn’t adjust to the rest of their society, but for them, Gahl must have been a monster from their darkest nightmares. He had methodically murdered the Nissian crew, finally rounding up the last members in a cargo lock before venting the lock into space with all of their liquid as well. She had seen the images and visual streams taken from the patrol cruiser that had answered the initial distress call. Not just the Nissian crew, but twelve other folks as well, passengers, regular folks, men, women, and two children had died like that. Air breathers suffering a liquid breather’s fate, all frozen alive inside thousands of gallons of fluid dumped out into the cold of deep space. No one deserved to die like that, scared and alone with no hope.

“This is the command key? You’re sure?” Ghintara asked.

“Yes. I have verified its code encryption against the data provided to us.”

Ghintara nodded and put the key carefully into a pouch on her web belt. After they were finished here, they would go and unlock the Nissian freighter and send the communications pulse that informed the Nissian tradeship in this area that the freighter had been found and recovered. She had already been given the override codes for the freighter’s complex navigational controls as well as a pre-programmed data chip that would take the freighter out of Junction and to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the waiting Nissian tradeship. It would be a two day jump to the rendezvous point, but they could lock the Far Runner onto one of the spare external docking ports of the freighter. That way, at least once the negotiations on the freighter’s return were completed, they could take their reward, launch from the freighter, and still make their next planetfall in plenty of time to close another bounty.

She went back to entering data on the recent gunfight as RDM8 continued to search Ghal’s corpse, removing items, making visual images of the items for record keeping purposes, and documenting everything as it went. Ten minutes passed before the robot spoke again.

“Well. He’s not much to look at and the bounty wasn’t that large either.”

“No.” Ghintara said. “The bonus the Nissians were offering for the return of their freighter, intact, that was a nice incentive, larger even than the bounty.”

“Yes. Would you assist me, please?” the RDM8 asked.

Ghintara looked up from her own thoughts, took in the tall robot holding the corpse up in front of her, bit her lip, then realization hit her and she moved to help the robot in its request. The RDM8 wore a bandolier, slung across its massive chest, cross spaced to the custom holster which held its blaster. The large utility pocket at the left hip was big enough to carry a good amount of basic supplies for their work. Ghintara unlatched the cover of the pouch, reached in, and removed the metallic cylinder that held the preserving shroud. She cracked the seal, tapped the shroud out, and began to unfold it. In ages past, folks would have called the preserving shroud by other names, like body bag or corpse coat, but the preserving shroud was more than just a bag. The chemicals inside the shroud would act to neutralize the natural process of decay, preserving the body for later medical revivification, organ harvesting, or in the case of Ghintara, genetic identity verification by those who issued the bounty against Ghal in the first place.

Ghintara flapped the preserving shroud twice, letting it unfurl to its full two meter length. They made larger shrouds, but she had never found the need to use them in her line of work. Two meters was about as tall as she wanted to fight with. She opened the shroud about half way, using the touch seal on the side. She held the shroud up as the RDM8 carefully lowered the corpse into the shroud, bare feet first for the RDM8 had removed Ghal’s belt, holster, all physical possessions, and even his boots. You could die with your boots on, but you didn’t need them when you were dead because sometimes a corpse might jerk or kick hard and that would tear the shroud, releasing the chemicals and allowing decay to set in. The last thing Ghintara wanted was a stinky piece of ugly meat arriving at its destination, it wasn’t professional.

The RDM8 carefully lowered Ghal’s corpse into the unsealed preserving shroud, Ghintara working the bag up around the body and resealing the shroud as she went. When the seal was secure, the RDM8 laid the corpse back on the table and Ghintara broke the inner seal on the chemical pouch. A slow moving greenish film enveloped Ghal’s body, a process that took the better part of two minutes to complete and even though Ghintara had seen this sight many, many times in her life, she always watched it from start to finish out of morbid curiosity. One day, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, it might be her body in a preserving shroud, if she was lucky. That was the most she could hope for, a pretty corpse. Her line of work rarely offered that option, and if someone ever did get the drop on her, well maybe some prospector might find her bones in the decades to come, that is, if there was anything left of her.

The process completed and a small green diode on the corner of the sack indicated both a good seal and a successful process. Ghal’s corpse would be protected from decomposing by the chemicals in the shroud for nearly ten periods, enough to get the corpse back to the civilized systems where it would act as final evidence for Ghintara’s side of the bounty closure. When the RDM8 had finished wrapping the body, it lifted the shroud and gently set the covered body over its broad metal shoulders, securing the corpse to its back with three hook locks. The sensor array of the RDM8 whirred softly, its dimpled cranial turret rotated smoothly to regard the tavern then Ghintara as silently it waited patiently on its master to finish her tasks.

“What else did he have?” she asked, looking at the neatly arranged personal items on the table.

“Nothing worth keeping. Some jewelry that is worth about fifteen credits at a junk dealer, a hundred and sixteen credits loose, various personal effects and grooming aids, his boots and that…”

Ghintara looked at the holster and custom blaster that Ghal had carried. She picked it up and turned it around in her hand, getting a feel for its weight and balance. Whoever had built the blaster had done good work, the craftsmanship wasn’t exceptional but it was above average. She flicked the HAD to life and panned it around, the interface was cruder than her unit and lacked some information streams, but it represented a quick combat rig nonetheless. She fingered the barrel, running her fingertips over the worn, pitted dispersion nozzle.

Ghintara slid the weapon slowly back into its holster, secured the quick draw snap and wrapped the rig together before sticking it in the utility pouch of the RDM8’s bandolier. She’d keep it as a souvenir of the hunt.

The RDM8’s turret swung slowly towards the front of the bar, the photoceptors whirred softly as they adjusted, sensors and scanners probing outwards and all around in a large diameter sphere.

“I’m detecting that a crowd has formed at the entrance to this building and more are joining them even now. There are forty folks. There is no danger as of yet, but crowds are curious by nature. I suggest we head back to the ship with the body as soon as possible.”

Ghintara held up a single finger as she finished up her data entry on the closure and finally put her perscomp in standby mode.

“Yes. Let’s go. We still have to get this Jhyvian scum to Utilyn in order to collect our reward.”

The RDM8 obediently followed six paces behind its master, untiring in its duty of carrying the bounty back to their ship, the whine of its well worn servos lost amid the noise of the crowd outside.

With a tip of the hat to Azipiri, Shirow, and Whedon.
Thanks for the inspiration, guys.