The Last Marshal

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Chapter 2

I was scared to turn around; I was unarmed except for a small knife in my boot. Security never checks there anymore. Amy grabbed my shoulder, and asked “Is that Duncan?” I slowly nodded, then spun off the bench while pulling the knife from my boot. I kept it hidden, just in case he wasn’t armed himself. He wasn’t; at least, not that I could tell. A guy like that, you never know. I just stared into those cold eyes, deadened by years of crimes heinous enough to make even Satan himself balk. Murder, rape, arson, and few minor offenses, across a dozen Terran worlds. Even the little known species of Threed had felt his crimson touch. Blood followed him, like a loyal little hound dog; and he knew how to make it do all sorts of tricks. I didn’t care right then. I wanted him dead; not just because he was evil distilled into its purest form, but because he knew it, and liked it. He reveled in being the worst creature to crawl along whatever planet or station he was on, and soaked up the malice and hate like a vampire, feeding his need to kill and rape and burn everything he touched. I had to do my best not to throw my knife into his head right now. But he was too good for that. He’d see that coming.

“So, marshal. Here we are. Unarmed, in the middle of a busy port. What will you do, marshal? Kill me? No, I don’t think you will. You’re too smart for that. You know that a dozen witnesses will condemn you as a murderer, and you’ll spend your retirement behind wrought iron bars.”

“You know, Duncan, for you, I’d make an exception. You are a special breed of fucked up. You just need to crawl back to hell where you came from, and leave this galaxy in peace. I could take care of that right now, if you want. Just the two of us. We each go at each other, they won’t care who dies. The other can just claim self-defense, and even port security won’t bother with a trial. What do you say?”

He smiled, that forked tongue dancing behind his teeth. “Sure, sounds good. No weapons, just you and me, right?”

I smiled with as much sincerity as I could muster, and handed my knife to Amy. Little did Duncan see, she slipped me another knife of hers, small but efficient. I knew he’d carry his anyway. Not much for honor. Then again, what honor is there in a devil? I stood my ground, waiting for him to make the first move. Clearly everyone in the room saw what was about to happen, and didn’t like the looks of it; the room was empty in mere seconds. Like a flash, he flicked his wrist. Light bounced off the knife he’d thrown, and caused me to duck in reflex. The knife sailed by my head, nicking my ear and drawing blood. I laughed and charged him, screaming as loud as I could muster, while keeping the knife hidden. He saw me coming, and just stood there. Fifteen feet. Ten feet. Five feet. I was practically on top of him, my knife almost in his gut, when he reacted. He stepped back, pulled another knife from God knows where and slashed at my throat. I brought my right arm up to stop his, but it was too close. The knife sliced open the skin over my throat, and I felt warmth running down my neck, soaking my shirt. I spun back as he stabbed at my shoulder, and knocked his arm away. We stood there for what felt like eternity, staring each other down like a pair of male wolves fighting for dominance. I leaped in close, slashing at his chest, missing by inches. He countered with a slash toward my face, and I blocked it. We backed away, until he saw an opening he couldn’t turn down. I let my right arm hang free for just a second, feigning injury. He saw the bait, and took it. He stabbed for my shoulder. Knowing it needed to be convincing, I moved slower than I should have, and took at least half an inch of blade into the soft part of my shoulder, above my chest. I stifled a howl, and swung as hard and as fast as I could. I used the rarity of southpaws to my advantage; he assumed I used my left out of necessity. I used it because I was quicker, and more agile fighting with my left. I could feel blood pouring down my arm, and Amy stifled a gasp as my blood ran down the length of my sleeve and hit the floor. As my knife came close to his face, he moved; not quickly enough, though. My knife caught him across his right cheek, and dug into the flesh to hit the bone. He howled in pain, jumped back, and looked behind him. The shuttle to the transport ship was leaving, and he needed to be on it. He ran for the door, turning at the last second to throw the knife. I saw it leave his hand at an odd trajectory, thinking it would go right past me. I was right. I turned just in time to see the knife imbed itself in Amy’s thigh. She screamed, and I stopped. I wasn’t about to let her become another victim. I ran back to her, and grabbed the knife from her leg. As I pulled it out slowly, blood spurted to the surface like a broken well, and she looked like she was about to pass out. I ripped off a piece of cloth from the old jacket Joe had given her and wrapped it around her leg. I tied it tight, realizing that the knife had missed the artery, but was still likely to bleed tremendously. She looked at me with a mix of shock and disappointment in her eyes, and tears running down her cheek. I put on my best brave face and smiled. “Hey. You’re going to be fine. We’re going to get you to a doctor. Just hang on.”

Her eyes were pleading with me when she replied “I’ll be fine, but you need to go after him. He’s getting away.”

Damn. Even though I knew she was right, the gentleman and human being in me told me to stay, make sure she was alright. After all, an injured rich girl in the biggest criminal-infested colony in the galaxy had very little odds for survival, and I wasn’t about to lose my humanity chasing someone who’d given his up long ago. I pulled up my comm and dialed Joe. When he picked up, I explained quickly what had happened, and he just said “I’ll be there in a minute. Don’t move.” I wasn’t inclined to move without her, and I couldn’t really carry her with the wound in my shoulder. So I just sat behind her, and leaned against my body while she shook. I kept her conscious, but the blood loss was draining the color from her face. She just kept saying “I’m sorry” and crying. I tried to be the big strong guy she needed right now, but that’s just not me. I’m just not into playing the macho type.

Joe showed up a few minutes later and grabbed Amy, carrying her to the tram. The only real doctor on this level was an eccentric introverted alien by the name of Tira, from the planet Threed. We brought Amy as fast as we could, but she still lost quite a lot of blood. Tira rushed us into her office, and laid Amy down on her table. Without a word she grabbed a medical kit and a gown, and pulling it on, and went to work. She untied the makeshift tourniquet, which caused the wound to start bleeding quite badly again. She asked me to come and help, and as I walked closer I felt like I was going to be sick. Blood had never really bothered me before, but this was different. She wasn’t a soldier, or a criminal. She was a reporter; a sweet girl from a rich family on Earth. She didn’t deserve this, and it was my fault. She got stabbed because she wanted to see the world I saw. I shook it off as best I could, and helped the doctor work. The knife had missed the artery, but it had still gone in deep enough to nick the bone. Amy was brave, but she had passed out from the pain already. Good. No need to suffer more. I grabbed another piece of gauze, soaking up as much of the blood as I could. It was all I could do, just to keep from panicking. Me, panicking at a little blood. What the hell. The doctor injected a greenish substance into Amy’s leg, which stopped the bleeding fairly quickly. It was a special type of coagulant, made from a sap on Threed. She used a special adhesive to close the wound, and wrapped it in more gauze. She turned to me, with a hesitant smile. “Well, she’ll be fine soon enough. You got her to me in time. She won’t be fit for any marathons for a while, but she’ll be fine to walk around in a day or two. Keep her off her feet until then, and give her these if pain becomes a problem.” With that, she handed me a bottle of green liquid-filled capsules.

I looked at her, grabbed her hand, shaking it probably a little too hard. “Thank you very much. What do I owe you?”

Tira just smiled, and handed me a piece of paper with a few names on it. “This is a family; some friends of mine on Luna. That’s where you were headed, right? Check up on them for me, see if the daughter is doing well. She had a nasty infection last year, and I wish to make sure she is still taking her medication. Take this to her,” she handed me another bottle, filled with a clear liquid, “this should keep the infection from returning. Do this for me, and we are even.”

I thanked her again, and turned to Joe, who sat in the front room. “Joe, take care of her until she recovers, then send her on her way. I don’t want her getting hurt, not any more. This is only going to get more dangerous. I’m going to Luna colony, and I’m going to find Macintosh. He needs to be brought down. I just can’t bring her along.”

Joe nodded, and walked over to the table. I should have said something to her, even if she couldn’t hear me. Goodbye, good luck, something. I don’t know. I’m not so good at these things. I just turned to walk out the door, while Joe scooped up Amy in his arms. From behind his broad shoulders I heard a weak voice. “Dammit, Ryan. You’d better not leave me here with this ape. He’s no fun at all. Anyway, you’re not going anywhere without me. I still need the better half of my story, you know.”

Joe wasn’t letting go, and she wasn’t going anywhere unless he wanted her to. He turned to look at me, questioningly. I knew there was no way she’d let me go if she could help it, and her stupidity could only get her more injured. I had little choice. “Doc, can she travel right now?”

The doctor looked at Amy, annoyed. “She can, but she shouldn’t be standing up. The would could reopen, and she’d bleed out too quickly. She’s lost a lot of blood.”

“Speaking of which,” I said, and showed my shoulder wound to the doctor, who frowned at me. “You should have shown me this earlier. Stupid humans. Always think they’re stronger than they are. Let me see...” With that, she pulled off that side of my shirt and inspected the wound. It wasn’t deep, and my field dressing seemed to be holding. There wasn’t any new blood, but the wound itself was still caked with dried blood. Tira grabbed some sterile solution and poured it over the wound. Even though it didn’t have any alcohol, it still burned like liquid fire being poured on my open flesh. I stifled a whimper and stood there while the solution did its job, cleaning the wound and preventing any further infection. Tira grabbed more of the adhesive bandage, and closed the wound. She gave me a pill, something for the pain. I didn’t realize that I was in pain until I popped it in my mouth and took a drink of water. A few minutes later, the dull throbbing in my shoulder went away. I thanked her again, and she nodded, disappearing into the storeroom again. She reappeared a second later, a fresh bottle of pills in her hand. She gave them to me, saying they were a fairly basic pain medication that would help my shoulder.

“I’m type O. Is there a way you can give her a transfusion?” I asked. The one time in my life being a rare blood type might come in handy.

“I could do that. It would take a few minutes, but it’ll help her. You’ll be a little weaker for it, though.”

I just laughed. “Doc, I’ve been hurt too many times to be brought down by a little blood loss. I’ll be fine. Let’s just get it over with, if it’ll shut her up.” I smiled, and Amy looked like she wanted to hit me. Luckily Joe was a big guy and would hold her even if she started having a seizure. She just glared at me as long as she could hold the look.

The doctor threw up her hands, and disappeared into the storeroom. I motioned for Joe to set Amy back on the table, and sat down, just outside Amy’s reach. The doctor came in, studying our faces for a second. She was a beautiful woman, lean and muscular. She had “fur,” hair all over her body though almost transparent and very fine, as well as short, buzz cut hair. She moved with unnatural fluid grace. Thracians, as most humans call them, are a strange and beautiful species. There are two races, one with a light brown skin and one with an almost pale green skin. The doctor here was one of the latter; I was always partial to them anyway. They had tails, almost like monkeys, used primarily for balance and in some cases, as a functional appendage. The pale green-skinned ones always had stronger, more agile tails that could serve as a third arm, for certain functions. The doctor was using hers at the moment to carry another medical kit while her hands were full checking Amy for a good vein. She found one, and turned to me. I pulled off my coat, and pulled my sleeve up to expose my arm. The scar above my elbow from a knife wound made her stop for a second, then she kept going. Anywhere else, a scar like that might have made someone worry. On Perseid, though, it was a common sight. The doctor was an old friend of Joe’s, and knew my history well enough not to ask. When she had found what she was looking for, she rubbed our arms with alcohol and pulled a few syringes from her bag. A few minutes later, there was blood passing from my arm to Amy’s, and she started getting some color back in her face. She looked like she still wanted to hit me, but much less now. She just relaxed, and let the blood flow and bring her strength back.

The transfusion finished, Amy sat up and looked at me again. She tried standing, which proved to be too painful to attempt on her own. I grabbed her, and threw her arm over my shoulder. She put her weight on me as best as she could, and we hobbled over to a seat. I sat her down, and went back to thank the doctor. I was getting tired of thanking this woman. How she managed to stay here without being robbed, surprised me. She treated all who needed help, regardless of affiliation or criminal history. This ensured that no one dared attack her and steal her valuable medication, since it was in the best interest of everyone to make sure she stayed alive and in business. Her meds and equipment were delivered by a smuggler, and only she knew who. Genius setup, really.

We all thanked her, then left; Amy hobbling along with me holding her arm over my shoulder, and putting as little weight as she could on her bad leg. Joe walked next to us, carrying our bags for us. We got back to the terminal, and we loaded our gear onto the next flight. I hung my head when I realized we probably wouldn’t be getting all our weapons back, and apologized to Joe. He just shrugged. He was quite the understanding man. Luckily we were able to get our twin revolvers back from Joe; thank God he was willing to part with them for the future. We boarded the next flight for Centauri Station, waved goodbye to Joe, and found our seats.

The flight was a private charter; the fact that I was the last marshal gave me access to plenty of resources. The Coalition Security Budget and Oversight Committee, the next evolution of the UN from Earth, controlled marshal funding back in the day. Thanks to close ties to the Minister of Security, I had access to lots of resources, since they wanted me done with this job as soon as possible. Booking a nicer flight was just one perk. I tried to sleep, catch even a moment of rest. I couldn’t. I was worried; worried that I’d be too late, or that I’d get Amy killed. Too many variables, too much to work out. I couldn’t do it all. I started rubbing my forehead, trying to will my thoughts into submission. It didn’t work, but I immediately felt my shoulder throb again. I asked the stewardess for something to drink, and I took another one of the pills the doctor gave me. I looked over at Amy, to see if she needed one herself. She looked fairly calm; content. She always looked like that. Naive? Maybe. But the unburdened spirit inside her made me hopeful in a way. I couldn’t explain it. She acted like nothing could bother her, not even a deep wound in her leg. What a strange girl. She looked at me, and a worried expression crossed her face, her brows furrowing into a mound in the middle of her forehead. Something was bothering her. She grabbed me hand, squeezing it and feeling my shoulder. “Listen, Ryan. I know you’re worried about me, but we’ll be fine. Luna Colony is huge, and he won’t get off the moon that fast. We lost a few hours, that’s it. I won’t slow you down that much.” With that, her face relaxed into her usual mischievous smile. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, Ryan. I’m getting my story.”

I hadn’t realized it, but my face had hardened into a deep set frown. I softened, smiling as widely as I had in a long time. I looked at her, and said “Oh, I could. You can’t move very fast, and you’ll have to stop after a while.” Suddenly, I remember the wound I had inflicted on Macintosh. It was ugly, and it would bleed. Even the two hour trip to Centauri Station would be problematic. He needed treatment on the Station, and it would take him a while to get to Luna, even with the cutting edge medical technology. We probably wouldn’t catch him on the Station, but we could probably get to Luna at nearly the same time. I smiled, leaned back in my chair, and sipped on the bourbon the stewardess gave me. Oh man. So much better than Joe’s. Then again, this was made on Earth, not in an old fuel tank. I noticed Amy looking out the view port at the passing stars. The FTL travel made the stars look like streaks of shifting light. The stars we passed fairly close to would turn blue as they entered our view, the turn red as they left. Beautiful rainbow every few seconds. She turned back and looked at me for a second, before falling asleep with her head on my shoulder. My sore shoulder. There goes any chance of sleep. I was about to wake her up, but she started snoring. I almost started laughing out loud, but I didn’t want to wake her up. After a minute or two, my shoulder stopped throbbing as the medication kicked in, and I passed out with my eyes out the window.

When I woke up, Amy was still snoring away, and the ship was slowing down. We were getting close to Centauri Station. I waited until the docking signal was given before waking up Amy. She slowly pulled out of her deep, fitful slumber, and looked up at me, then out the window. Centauri Station was just coming into view, and it was always an awesome sight to see. A huge mass of metal and ceramic, shining with the light from the sun. Dotted by a dozen ships of different sizes, coming into the station and leaving, smaller craft running security patrols and shipping runs between rings. The station itself was a pair of rings, spinning in opposing directions like a coaxial rotor on one of those old helicopters. This provided better artificial gravity, more cheaply, than using gravity plates. It meant, however, that getting between rings required a short shuttle ride. We docked on the upper ring, the ship carefully matching the speed of the spinning ring. A few minutes later we were walking through the terminal into the main structure of the station. We had both been here many a time, and we knew the station well. I also knew that finding Macintosh on the station, if he was still here, would be nearly impossible. Instead, we moved toward the outgoing flights deck, and found a flight to Luna. It wasn’t going to be leaving for at least an hour. I sat down, the events of the last few days hitting me like a wave. I was exhausted. I needed some sleep, and two hours on a flight was not going to cut it. Amy didn’t look too healthy, either. She was limping; with every step a look of pain flashed across her face.

I tried to smile, to make her feel better. But I wasn’t doing much better. My shoulder was throbbing, and my head was pounding. We both needed some rest, and we weren’t going to get it here. The flight had a sleeping compartment, but as comfortable as it may be, the flight was only going to be 5 hours. Not enough sleep. Not nearly enough. I tried to focus on the job at hand, finding Macintosh and bringing him in. I kept thinking about his wound, how visible it would be even with a bandage. I knew I was forgetting something, but I was too tired to remember. I drifted off outside the gate; the last thing I remember was Amy laying her head on my shoulder and closing her eyes. I knew we needed to catch the flight, and we needed to be awake. I just needed five minutes...

I woke up to the sound of a loudspeaker; the gate attendant was calling for passengers to board. I shook my shoulder gently, rousing Amy as carefully as I could. I didn’t need a new bruise. We got on the shuttle and walked straight back to the sleeping area. I helped Amy into bed and climbed in myself, my achy muscles and sore shoulder sighing in relief when they hit the soft bed. The sleeping compartments used reduced gravity, about 1/6 earth norm. Enough to relieve pressure on sore bones and muscles, but not enough to cause a feeling of weightlessness and nausea. Not that it mattered; most who grew up among the stars adapted to changing gravity quite well. I was born on Titan, in a domed settlement designed to provide support for a research facility. My parents were scientists who worked on Titan, researching xenobiology and meteorology. I traveled between Titan, Io, and sometimes Earth as a small child. The first trip to Earth I can recall was amazing for an 4-year-old boy; like going to a theme park for the first time. As time went by, and my rose-colored glasses lost their tint, I started to see Earth for what it was. Instead of the world of dreams that I remembered, I saw the weak being abused by the rich and the strong. I saw the pain of those who were born into a life of crime, and their futile attempts to leave it. They all ran, but few made it very far. The ones who managed to escape, to leave the hellish life they had, ran as far as they could, trying not to look back. The situation never improved; never got better. On the outer colonies, the harsh worlds no one wanted to colonize, life is hard. It’s a struggle to survive every day. But the people out there love it. They have something not many on Earth are given; a chance. That’s what Amy sees in these places. That’s what fascinates her so much. It’s what drew me to the marshals; the chance to protect the worlds that mattered. With my background, I could have worked security on any one of the worlds of my choosing; I could have become a high-paid bodyguard for CEOs or political figures. But protecting the problem doesn’t ensure a solution. The weak and the oppressed are the ones who need security, need a promise of safety; not the oppressors. I fell asleep in the soft bed, drifting off to thoughts of my home back on Titan, and the gardens they had designed. Beautiful. Maybe Amy would like to see them some day, I thought. If we can survive this job. Yeah, right.

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