“Do it. Help me to find him. Or I’ll turn you in.”
“You’ll be arre – ”
“Arrest me? Been doing that for 15 years. Nothin’ but charred corpses and shredded hulls.”
We all like to pretend there’s a code of honour us bounty hunters follow. Something that separates us from the other criminal classes.
And that’s true. In parable.
It’s not a moral profession to begin with. We kidnap people, turning them in for monetary reward, more than likely enabling their demise (doubly so in dead or alive cases).
On top of that every hunter works via their own creed. Some of us only deal with criminals, others “officials”. In some cases everyone is fair game.
Catching methods differ. Two incidents will illustrate this. One hunter, she is a fellow reptilian (not a Sinorthoshan though) never shoots innocents. Has never done it. Let a bounty escape over it. He ran into a crowd. She holstered her weapon, he disappearing among the throng. It is a commendable attitude. She later found him, alone. She had fun.
A second hunter. A humanoid. Hunting two “officials” (why isn’t important). Did the scouting. They were always well guarded, except in private meetings (guards remained outside). They always remained on official planets. Some ingenuity was required.
So he entered “official” airspace (he says he sneaked but two reported explosions in the stratosphere say otherwise) and at the time of a meeting (“officials” in tow) flew his craft up the tower block, hovering outside of the window.
At this moment he flooded the room with laser fire killing all inside. He left the craft hovering but not before activating the autopilot (both for flying and shooting) and simply started to sift through the bodies until he found the guys he was looking for. Dead or alive of course.
Guards entered the room only to be met with a wave of laser fire. All while he chucked bodies, and body parts aside. He found his targets. All of one and most of the other, hauled them aboard not before another group of guards was churned up. And then he managed, somehow to exit official air space.
Abhorrent, yes. Ridiculous and excellent, in its own deprived way? Of course.
Two different approaches. In either case, the end result lacks honour.
Its come down to this.
Some wind strewn sage land in the outer territories. Wooden frontier towns occur irregularly in the mass of dust. Hope I’ve found the right one.
La Maga’s landing wasn’t quiet and the accompanying dust cloud has made my presence here known. Under azure, cloudless skies the streets are empty and the buildings appear to be abandoned.
Something isn’t right. Confirmed seconds later by the lasers careening past my head, searing the shack behind me.
“You’ll never take me alive!”
Bounties dead or alive so we’ll see. He ain’t going quietly though. An explosion verifies this. Dust and splinters fill the air. Using them as cover I move across to the other side of the street.
He’s left his abode. He’s checking the results of this flurry, standing on the dust laden path. He’s about to step inside when I reveal myself.
“Easy way or the hard way.”
“Your last words bounty hunter!”
Outdrew him even with a rifle. One viridian bolt struck his knee, the other his hip. Spinning he hit the ground, engulfed in a cloud of dirt. I quickly leapt over, one foot pinning his gun hand down, a sickle claw against his neck.
“Aww son, you gotta do better than that.”
It’s an arcane relic, the only reminder of life before the sub light freighters. The Celestial Wire, a rusting track linking some back water planets together. It’s still used by small time smugglers and gun runners. As such it’s a target for space pirates (under protected and policed).
If funds can be acquired protection can be hired. Or you owe a friend a favour.
“Just drive that train.”
La Maga hovers. The train moves slowly. Even a space one. The first quarter of the journey is uneventful. Nebulas look spectral, sublime.
The second quarter starts. Movement. Turret activated. In the distance, an attack formation.
“Get your gunners ready.”
Seven ramshackle ships. Too easy for Maga. More maneuverable, more fire power. Viridian lasers sycthing through patchwork hulls. Fixed lasers and turret. Easy to get inside while the turret tracks other ships. The train picks off stragglers. Flurry of light and motion. Fragmented hulls orbit the track.
Calm follows. (In these moments, loosen up. Loop around the track, flip and spin in space. Too tense and you’ll bite it.)
A second wave. The same fate. Crossing patterns are implemented. The turret simply tracks the passing ship. As it flames out the fixed lasers wreck the forward craft.
A third wave. Clearly these pirates are more used to dealing with more hapless fare. Utterly outclassed. The train is a worthy ally.
The destination is in sight. Fourth wave. A pirate cruiser. This complicates matters.
“The gate is in sight. Drive that train. Just keep driving.”
Twenty fighters emerge from its hull. Met them head on, firing two cluster missiles. They flare out before breaking open. Eight rockets from each fan out, crimson trails, hydras of energy spearing forth. Sixteen fighters gone. Explosions provide cover from the cruisers fire power. The four remaining fighters drive on the train. The gunners easily handle them. I drive at the cruiser, now too close for the turbo lasers to effectively hit me. I launch two energy missiles in a staggered alignment. One blows the shield generator. Seconds later the other slams into the bridge. A massive system failure follows. An explosion moments later.
The train safely makes the docking station.
“I’ll be sure to make your favour a good one.”
Being able to fly (short distances) has its advantages.
The guards didn’t see me. There not dead just knocked out. No alarms. And no patrols for another hour (benefits of good scouting).
Keep the gun loaded though (common sense.) The corridors are complexly ordered but I have enough intel to get to where I am going. Twists and turns, I find the room I am after. And now I wait. He should be back soon as per his routine.
Outside I hear shouting and foot falls. The guards have been found and a search is being orchestrated. Aside from the guards nothing is out-of-place, no signs of struggle inside (clean operator.)
Everything dies down. He enters the room. Gun barrel rests behind his ear.
“Shout, move, or talk and you’ll die. Kneel.”
As expected I encounter resistance.
Shoot at me you die. Try to rescue him you die. Anything directed towards me you die.”
Behind me a clicking sound. I turn and fire (side note: getting shot in the face looks like it really hurts.) I turn back round before they can set themselves.
“What did I just tell you?”
Guns to the floor. People back away. Bounty in tow, I back through them, emerging outside. Next patrol will be very soon.
“Don’t try and run. Bounty says dead or alive.”
No one follows. He’s placed in the cell. Maga’s engines flare.
Another job well done.
The Sky Raft. The place of La Maga’s rebirth.
It traverses star systems with a rhythmic yet aimless drift. A great platform covered by an oxygen generator, supported by a battery of engines and thrusters. Somehow its been rigged to fly at light speed but its inhabitants won’t say how they have done it.
It’s almost a town, a village. Shacks of wood and metal rest on the platform. It’s a mass market for parts and weaponry that cannot be found by legal means.
Bounty hunters gather here. As do assassins, mercenaries, slavers, thieves and pirates. Smugglers too. It’s a place to meet with acquaintances (old and new), recalling recent exploits and compare ships and equipment.
It has a knack for avoiding policing. It can weed out informants with enviable majesty. Sellers push hard bargins but no one anywhere knows more about their product. Establish a rapport (that will take time) and you will be in for life. Sellers respect a customer who takes the time to know them, able to match their knowledge.
Words are bought and sold here. Tip offs, hints, sources and accounts are readily available and unlike most places, beings know their stuff. Guys you’ve been looking for for weeks and months suddenly turn up.
The Sky Raft. Good place.
“12 years and you still won’t tell me your name.”
“How I am. And I don’t know if your name is true.”
“And yet we trust each other.”
“Everything on La Maga works and I’ve never underpaid you. How we work.”
“Uh huh. You still looking for the cut up guy?”
“Have that feeling. The one were you know something.”
“Perhaps. A…lets call it a convoy, passed through here. Smugglers don’t buy cluster missiles and shard torpedos.”
“There illegal. Everywhere.”
“Yup. The questions they asked, their attire. Their ships. Not smugglers. Not pirates. Not mercen – “
“Any more info?”
“Yes, but come inside. Don’t know who is listening.”
“He can’t be that good.”
“You gotta lot to learn kid.”
“He’s like five foot and scraggly -“
“He grew up on a forest planet, hunting for small lizards and insects. You ever tried finding green on green? His accuracy reflects that. Best gun in the universe. His hunting skills. The best. In and out, target in hand. Force him in a corner…its as beautiful as violence can be.”
“You’ve seen him work?”
“Some outer rim planet. Saw his ship jump as I got there. Knew I was too late. Checked anyway. Rooms and halls, littered with corpses, floors blood tainted and one bounty, extracted. Must have been 30, 40, 50 guards. All dead. Gun shot and disembowelment. Might still be there if you want to look.”
“Still can’t believe you did that.”
“Good way or bad way.”
“Both. I mean its mass murder. But the wherewithal to try it, never mind pull it off. I have to admire it. Even if your story of “sneaking” lacks veracity.”
“Ha. Just because you don’t believe I can be subtl – “
“The two explosions. Entirely coincidental?”
“Right. Bits and pieces rule apply?”
“Only needed to see the head.”
“Rooting through bodies was the worst. One of my guys was wearing the same suit as someone else. Really annoying.”
“Yeah. That was the worst thing. Anyway, why you sky rafting?”
“New hyperdrive. You?”
“Information. And cluster missiles.”
“The cut up guy? He’s gone man.”
“No ones gone. Everybody turns up.”
“Sure…you still anonymous?”
“You know how I operate.”
Nothing to do, so I decided to check out my friends claim.
It’s some dusty piece of rock. Using my friends co-ordinates I found the bunker. Outside of the bunker five bodies, decomposing and partially eaten. Judging by the laser wounds (against my own admittedly terrible shooting skills) there were clean skills. One shot one man.
The door was partially open. As I pushed it open I was greeted by a ferocious stench of seared flesh and decayed innards. Which in no way prepared me for the sight that awaited me.
Carnage. Bloodly f’kin carnage. As you get further out from the centre policing becomes less and less, eventually reduced to anarchy on the fringes of the universe. But for this to slide. It was hell.
Bodies everywhere. Desert reptiles feasting on rotted carcasses. Its been awhile since anyone has been here, the blood caked on the floor, fragmenting under foot. The same, precise laser wounds mark the dead, contorted in macabre poses. Innards in various stages of decay spilled out, Must be forty, fifty bodies.
One video communicator was trapped in time, repeating the same message over and over again.
“Black and yellow feathers. Black and yellow feathers.”