Star Trek: Bounty - 5 - "Once Upon a Time in the Beta Quadrant"

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by BountyTrek, Jul 27, 2022.

  1. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Hello :)

    It’s been a mercifully long while, but the Bounty crew are back. In pog form. And having previously expressed my concerns about trying to balance the more comedic elements of the previous stories while maintaining a legitimate sense of peril, this one promptly ignores a lot of those concerns and gets a tiny bit silly. And also takes one or two creative liberties. I’m sorry.

    Usual (dis)claimer: I usually recommend reading the episodes in order, because there are some overarching plot points at play, but I appreciate that's a stupid amount of reading for anyone to do, so I’ve done my best to make any backstory/ongoing plot element clear to a first-time reader. I hope.

    As ever, thanks in advance for stopping by and reading, and I hope you enjoy it. And if you don't, that's cool too. :)

    Star Trek: Bounty is a slightly off-kilter series set in the Trek universe that focuses on the adventures of the ragtag crew of a small civilian ship, who do what they can to get by in the Alpha Quadrant. They're not exactly Starfleet spec, but they try to keep on the right side of the moral line where they can.

    The story so far:

    Star Trek: Bounty - 1 - "Where Neither Moth nor Rust Destroys"
    Star Trek: Bounty - 2 - "Be All My Sins Forgiven"
    Star Trek: Bounty - 3 - "The Other Kind of Vulcan Hello"
    Star Trek: Bounty - 4 - "It’s Not Easy Being Green"

    =============================================================

    Star Trek: Bounty
    1.05
    "Once Upon a Time in the Beta Quadrant"

    Prologue


    It was a faint noise, but it was definitely getting louder.

    The dishevelled collection of cloaked nomads paused in the middle of drilling their fourteenth hole of the day and cast their eyes up to the source of the unexpected sound.

    At first, all that any of them could see was a trio of faint wispy trails, slowly drifting from the dusty ground into the shimmering heat haze of the mid-afternoon sky.

    From this distance, they could have been anything. Thin, low-hanging clouds way off on the horizon, a trick of the light under the baking heat of the glaring sun, or even the remnants of a ferocious dust devil drifting back into the ether.

    But the rhythmic sound that accompanied the vague sight helped to contextualise the situation for every one of the haggard figures paused next to their drilling rig.

    It was the sound of galloping hooves.

    The beasts tore across the landscape in close formation, kicking up the three trails of reddish sand in their wake. Despite the arid heat, they were clearly suited to the harsh conditions, and even though the riders on their backs were pushing them hard, they never missed a step.

    The nomads knew enough about the local area to see that they had come from the general direction of Arcadia Falls. And whoever the riders were, the speed and purpose of their journey suggested that they clearly had a destination in mind.

    As the figures drew nearer, their impromptu audience could take them in more fully.

    The three tirelessly galloping animals were all pale blue coloured, with a small horn protruding from their foreheads.

    Each of the riders were dressed in dusty, sandblasted clothing, and eschewed the loose cloaks of the nomads in favour of stout wide-brimmed hats to keep the blinding sun out of their eyes.

    And each of them carried a rifle over their shoulders, of a type popular across the whole planet. Dirty metal tubes, each with a cylinder of compressed air attached along the top side, with a crude handle and trigger mechanism at their base.

    Despite the weapons, the nomads presently returned to their work. It was clear that the figures weren’t slowing down. And if the riders weren’t at all interested in them, then the nomads certainly weren’t interested in the riders.

    After all, the fourteenth hole of the day wasn’t going to drill itself.

    So the parched nomads returned to their laborious task as the riders rode past. And before long, they were out of sight once again. And the noise had gone.

    ****************************

    A short time later, the three riders had made their way through a narrow path between steep mountain sides into the next valley along, and their quarry was in sight.

    They slowed down as they approached the ramshackle collection of wooden and sheet metal buildings, standing a little incongruously in the middle of the desert, but they still trotted right past a weathered sign warning that they were entering the private property of Goodlife Ranch without paying it any attention.

    As they reached the main homestead in the middle of the ranch, they finally brought their steeds to a halt and deftly dismounted as one.

    Under their tattered hats, each of them were bald, their worn and pock-marked faces flecked with scars and peppered with dirt and their dry mouths filled with dirty, rotten teeth. Not that there was any shame in any of that. It happened to everyone around these parts.

    They slowly paced over to the front of the homestead in a loose formation, lining up a short distance away from the front door. For the time being, none of them felt the need to reach for the rifles on their backs. Aside from the creaking of a loose window shutter somewhere on the property, there was a moment of silence.

    When it became apparent that Goodlife Ranch’s occupant wasn’t in any hurry to join them, the leader of the trio called out.

    “Zesh!”

    The sudden cry caused a couple of the horses to snort in surprise. But there was still no sign of any movement from inside the homestead itself.

    Silence descended again, save for the rhythmic creaking of the shutter.

    The leader glanced at his colleagues on either side of him and smiled an ugly smile. For the time being, they were happy to play this game.

    “You know why we’re here, Zesh,” he continued, “Toxis is a patient man. But he’s getting tired of waiting. And he wants this ranch.”

    A creak. Then silence.

    “Now, things don’t need to get nasty if you don’t let ‘em, Zesh. Understand? So why not just come out and talk?”

    Another creak.

    Except, this time, the creaking sound didn’t come from the rogue shutter, but from the front door of the homestead as it slowly opened and the ranch’s occupant reluctantly stepped out into the burning afternoon sun.

    The hands of the three men instinctively twitched in the direction of their weapons, but none of them drew them just yet.

    Instead, they watched as the short, stout figure emerged. He was dressed in a dusty brown tunic and trousers, and wore a hat that had been specially modified for the dimensions of his wider head and bulbous ears.

    The figure took a nervous step forwards, trying to control the shaking in his body that betrayed the fear he felt inside as he stared back at the three armed men on his doorstep.

    The leader of the trio smiled wider, showing off the full extent of his decaying dentures. He still couldn’t help but find the current owner of Goodlife Ranch amusing to look at. Mainly because, thanks to the somewhat sheltered life he had led, this was the first Ferengi he had ever met.

    But he didn’t allow his amusement to sidetrack him for long. As soon as Zesh was fully out in the open, he glanced at his colleagues again and nodded. All three of them drew their rifles in unison and brought them to bear on the quaking Ferengi.

    For his part, even though Zesh had mentally prepared himself for exactly this sort of reaction, he couldn’t help but tense up even more.

    A Ferengi’s first instinct would usually be to avoid this sort of situation entirely. Gun fights, disruptors and open warfare were things they preferred to keep their distance from. Even the Ferengi Alliance’s impressive fleet of Marauders was primarily designed as a show of strength to make other species think twice about an armed assault, rather than as a war fleet in its own right.

    It was a trait that was often misinterpreted by more intolerant observers as simple cowardice. But it was much more of a practical matter. Forever enshrined in Ferengi tradition as Rule of Acquisition number 125.

    You can’t make a deal if you’re dead.

    And yet, Zesh had gone against those instincts, and now found himself here. With three dirty rifles pointed at him, armed with nothing more than the power of conversation.

    “I--I thought you wanted to talk!” he stammered, raising his hands high above his head in the universal sign for surrender.

    The leader of the trio shrugged his bony shoulders.

    “Maybe we’ve got nothing much to say.”

    Zesh licked his lips as he felt a trickle of sweat drip down his back. A nervous sweat, and not the result of the baking heat.

    “See,” the leader continued, “Toxis has been very clear about this. All he wants is the ranch. And while me and my boys here’d prefer different, he’d rather you didn’t come to any harm.”

    He casually gestured to where the Ferengi stood with the end of his rifle.

    “Except...looks to me like you’re determined to get in the way.”

    Zesh felt a second trickle of sweat join the first. But with every instinct inside him telling him to flee, he forced himself to say what needed to be said.

    “Yes, well, y--you see, as I told Toxis himself, I--I’m not planning on leaving. And I’m prepared to defend Goodlife Ranch, if that’s what it takes.”

    The leader’s ugly grin widened into a chuckle. He indulged in another glance at his colleagues, with an air of mockery to it.

    “Is that right? You and what army?”

    Despite the gravity of the situation, the Ferengi couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He was sure that his colleagues loved being handed that sort of lead-in line.

    Suddenly, all around the group in front of the homestead, five new figures revealed themselves in unison. Two emerged from either side of the homestead, one on top of the roof itself, and two more from inside smaller outbuildings to the left and right of them.

    Each of them wore wide-brimmed hats of their own, but were dressed in clothing that was notably less dust-blown than everyone else’s. One was even dressed in an incongruous Hawaiian shirt.

    And all of them had an air-powered pistol in their hands, pointed directly at the three strangers.

    They had them surrounded.

    “This army,” one of the newcomers, sporting lines of spots down each side of his face and neck, grinned back at them.

    The three interlopers took in this new situation with a slight edge of panic, given how instant the reversal of fortune had been. They could see a hopeless situation when they were in one.

    “And just who the hell are you?” the leader managed to ask in the direction of the man with the spots.

    “The name’s Jirel,” said the grinning Jirel, “And we’re protecting this place now. As you can see.”

    The strangers looked around again at the rest of the Bounty’s motley crew. Slowly, the three of them lowered their own weapons.

    Jirel, emboldened by this visible concession, stepped out from his cover on the right side of the homestead and gestured to where the three horses still stood and grazed, entirely oblivious to the scene unfolding next to them.

    The Trill capped off his entirely unnecessary show of bravado by leaning a little too heavily on his adoptive Colorado accent.

    “Now, I suggest you boys saddle up, and mosey on outta here.”

    This time, the rest of the Bounty’s crew joined Zesh in the eye roll.

    ****************************

    Minutes later, the trio of riders were galloping back the way they had come.

    As they emerged through the pass in the mountain range into the next valley, the same group of nomads were once again disturbed by their noisy galloping.

    They looked up from their work again as the riders sped into view. But just as before, the gang of armed bandits only held their attention for long enough to make sure that they weren’t heading for the nomads themselves.

    As the figures raced past, the nomads returned their attention to drilling their fifteenth hole of the day in the desert.

    After all, gangs of armed bandits were a familiar enough sight around here.

    It was just the way things were on Nimbus III.
     
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  2. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I figured we were on the planet of galactic peace from your description. Really nice word painting on the nomads and the opening of the standoff. So a fun thing about the Bounty's crew - just what are they protecting? And what's in it for them?

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  3. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    I knew I should have done a better job of trying to tease the location before posting it on a forum of Trek experts! :lol:
     
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  4. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part One

    The Dominion War had resulted in a number of unforeseen side effects across the galaxy. As wars so often did.

    One of the most striking side effects had been the entirely unexpected brokering of peaceful relations between the Federation, their Klingon allies and the Romulan Star Empire.

    Granted, it may not be destined to be a lasting peace. And it wasn’t as if the UFP flag was about to be raised over every settlement on Romulus. But after centuries of hostilities, the great powers of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants had finally put aside their differences the old fashioned way. By reluctantly teaming up to protect their respective interests from the threat of an even greater enemy.

    But this current peace wasn’t the first time the three powers had attempted to foster some sort of common ground. And their last failed attempt remained visible to this day, festering in the depths of the Tau Dewa sector.

    Nimbus III. The Planet of Galactic Peace.

    To some, a great big interstellar punchline. To the members of the Federation in particular, their most painful humiliation. A blot on their copybook that was so shameful that the very name of the planet was almost taboo.

    And Natasha Kinsen, the former Starfeet officer who now comprised the Bounty’s entire medical staff, felt deeply uncomfortable as she stood at the top of the ship’s rear loading ramp and surveyed the planet they had landed on.

    Even though she no longer had any real ties back to the Federation, having left all of that behind, she still felt a palpable pang of guilt inside of her. The same feeling any Starfleet officer got when they were confronted by this place.

    In her time at the Academy, she had attended a presentation by a team of hip young anthropologists, who had conclusively ranked Nimbus III in second place on their all-time list of failed projects throughout recorded galactic history.

    It had only been kept off top spot by a recent discovery on Doran IV, where an ancient ruler had spent his entire lifetime attempting to construct a tower tall enough to touch the faces of the gods in the sky. Which is how the ancient Doranians had viewed the stars.

    The full extent of the folly of King Kr’aakula’a became clear when you found out that the average Doranian lived for roughly 500 Earth years, and that frequent tremors around the site of his tower, caused by an active fault line, meant that archaeologists believed the structure itself had never exceeded a height of 150 feet.

    Still, the anthropologists had concluded that it had been a very close run fight for top spot. Mainly because Nimbus III wasn’t just the Federation’s failure. Or the Klingons, or the Romulans. It was just about everyone’s failure.

    Since the planet’s infrastructure had first collapsed in the latter part of the 23rd century, there had been countless attempts made to build it back up. Some by one or more of the original powers, others by various third parties, hardy investors or risk-taking speculators. After all, even if Nimbus III wasn’t the most hospitable, or resource-rich planet, it was still a habitable world in a strategically favourable position between three of the galaxy’s big players.

    But, almost as if the planet itself was allergic to even the slightest modicum of success, every single one of those attempts had failed. And after every failure, whichever government, corporation or venture capitalist that had arrived with grand plans for Nimbus III had quickly and quietly moved on, leaving the planet and its permanent residents to rot all over again.

    Each time, all that was left behind was a disparate smattering of colonists, bandits and anyone unfortunate enough not to be on the last shuttle out of Paradise City. And those that were left behind had no choice but to rebuild all over again however they could, with whatever was available.

    Which was never very much. Because there really wasn’t that much on Nimbus III to begin with.

    Not that any of that made Natasha feel any less guilty. Even though she wasn’t born when the colony was first established, and had never previously been within five sectors of the place, all of this still felt like partly her fault. That was Starfleet guilt for you.

    “Let me give you a hand with that.”

    The voice shocked her out of her reverie. She looked back down the ramp to see Zesh approaching her, smiling and gesturing to the crate at her feet.

    After they had seen off the trio of armed goons that had turned up to harass the Ferengi, they had returned to the orbiting Bounty and brought the Ju’day-type raider down for a proper landing next to Goodlife Ranch. All the easier to unpack the supplies and spare parts that Zesh had requested when he had first contacted them some days ago.

    “Thanks,” Natasha offered back, as she and Zesh stood either side of the crate and lifted it up.

    She had found herself intrigued by Zesh as soon as Jirel had explained that he was a former crewmate from long before she had joined them.

    And having now met him, it hadn’t taken her long to see that, as seemed in keeping with the Bounty’s current crew, he was far from a typical example of his species. He was still clearly motivated by latinum and business opportunities, but there was a friendliness, a kindness and even a generosity to his personality that seemed out of place.

    Best of all, it had now been several hours since they had first met, and unlike just about every other Ferengi she had run into on her travels, he still hadn’t made a single tedious comment about his preference for his women not to wear clothes. Which made him a-ok in her book.

    “So,” he offered by way of conversation as they descended out of the shade of the Bounty’s hull and back into the energy-sapping heat, “How are you finding Prosperity County?”

    Prosperity County, Natasha had quickly learned, was the region of the planet where Goodlife Ranch was located. What she hadn’t learned was what had brought Zesh here in the first place.

    “Yeah, it’s great,” she managed with a smile topped with a ladle of sarcasm, “Thinking of getting my own place here actually. What are the real estate prices like?”

    “You know,” Zesh replied with a glint in his eye, “You’d be surprised…”

    He couldn’t help but let out an impromptu cackle of amusement as he saw her confused reaction to this latest enigmatic comment about the hidden value of this particular part of Nimbus III.

    “Ah, you’re just like the rest of Jirel’s crew, I’m afraid. Never able to see the true value of something. That’s why I had to leave them in the end, you know.”

    “It was?”

    “Yes,” Zesh nodded, as he glanced across the ranch to where the others were standing, “Trust me, your life with that crew will be interesting, filled with all sorts of misfortunes and misadventures. But it will never be profitable.”

    Natasha considered this for a moment. She had only been onboard the Bounty for a few months, since they had rescued her from her unintended exile following her escape from the crippled USS Navajo and she had resigned her Starfleet commission.

    But already she knew enough about her new colleagues to see the truth in Zesh’s words.

    “Who says I need my life to be profitable?” she opted to counter with.

    Zesh looked back at her from across the crate and cackled again.

    “Because, enlightened hew-mon or not, out here, that’s what we all need.”

    Natasha went to counter this latest point, but she couldn’t find the words to.

    Though she did silently wonder whether she should be taking financial advice from the Ferengi that felt his own fortune lay in Goodlife Ranch.

    ****************************

    “Just so we’re all on the same page, the guy’s gone nuts, right?”

    Sunek, the Bounty’s curiously emotional Vulcan pilot, stood next to Jirel as the Trill checked over the crate that he had unloaded from the ship, fanning himself with his hat in an ineffectual attempt to deal with the oppressive heat.

    “Cos,” Sunek added as he dropped the hat back onto his unkempt mop of hair, “And this is my considered, professional opinion: Does this place ever suck.”

    Jirel stifled a smile. Because part of him strongly disagreed with his pilot on that point. In fact, he had jumped at the chance to drop what they had been doing and answer Zesh’s call for three very strong reasons.

    One, Zesh was an old crewmate. And Jirel’s unofficial rule was that when a former crewmate needed help, they always answered the call.

    Two, Zesh’s message had come with the promise of a big payday. And while Jirel didn’t like to admit it, given how much it leaned on the stereotype, he knew that Zesh had never steered them wrong before when it came to latinum.

    And three, Jirel had heard plenty of stories about Nimbus III. Especially Prosperity County. And having been brought up by his adopted father, the now-Admiral Bryce Jenner of Starfleet, on a diet of Old West nostalgia, he’d always secretly wanted to visit and see it for himself.

    It had turned out to be dry, dusty, miserably hot, and filled with plenty of grizzled gun-toting bandits on horseback.

    It was everything he’d dreamed it would be.

    Though he wasn’t so wrapped up in himself to see that this wasn’t an opinion that the rest of the crew shared.

    “I mean,” Sunek continued to grumble, “I grew up in the middle of Vulcan’s biggest desert, and even I’m struggling. Not as much as some of us, admittedly…”

    He nodded over to the other side of Jirel, where two remarkably frizzy-haired individuals stood checking over their own crates.

    Neither Denella, the ship’s Orion engineer, nor Klath, the Bounty’s disgraced Klingon weapons chief, seemed to appreciate the sudden attention being drawn to the impact that the arid air of Nimbus III was having on their respective hairstyles.

    “Shut up, Sunek,” Denella offered mirthlessly.

    Klath backed her up with an unamused growl.

    Jirel just shook his head in amusement. Nobody had been brave enough to bring that up so far, but trust the former V’tosh ka’tur member to go straight for it.

    Before the Vulcan could tug on that thread any further, though, Natasha and Zesh reached the group and dropped their crate onto the dusty ground with a pair of tired grunts.

    “Ugh, this heat,” Natasha managed, “I’ve had three sonic showers since we got here, and I still feel like I absolutely stink.”

    Nobody had been brave enough to bring that up either.

    Seeing through the uncomfortable silence that had descended, Natasha subtly leaned down and sniffed her armpit, before quietly taking an embarrassed step back away from the group.

    “Seriously though, Zesh,” Jirel nodded at the Ferengi, “We don’t get it.”

    He gestured around at the ranch and the surrounding desert, as Zesh glanced back over at Natasha with a knowing look.

    “What did I tell you? Never seeing the latinum in the situation.”

    The Trill took a look around Goodlife Ranch again as Zesh patted his damp brow with a small pocket square he produced with a flourish.

    “I definitely don’t see much latinum in this situation,” he shrugged, “I see a lot of sand?”

    The Ferengi cackled good-naturedly as Denella gave up on her latest attempt to tie back her runaway hair situation with a frustrated sigh.

    “Come on, Zesh,” she grimaced, “What’s the deal? Why did you call us all the way out here?”

    “Yeah,” Sunek chimed in, “You got some big magic machine lying around here somewhere that turns gigantic piles of garbage into priceless jewels? Cos if that’s a real thing, you’re gonna be the richest guy in the four quadrants.”

    “Perhaps it’s time for the full tour,” Zesh smiled as he returned the pocket square to his trousers and began to gesture around with the time-honoured manner of a showman, “Everything you can see here, the ranch, the horses, the land, all of it is mine. Thanks to a particularly fine performance that won me the annual Tongo tournament at the Ferengi outpost on Carrian II.”

    “Huh,” Natasha mused as she tried to ignore the fresh all-over body sweat that was setting in, “What was second prize? Two ranches?”

    Jirel snorted. Zesh offered another good-natured cackle.

    “If only. Because this place has fetched me a princely sum of latinum indeed. Or at least it will, in a few days, when my buyer gets here. A Markalian by the name of Choth. And there’ll be a very generous cut for all of you as well.”

    “Provided we keep the natives off your back?” Denella offered.

    Zesh looked slightly less happy for being reminded about the unwelcome trio of strangers that the Bounty’s crew had already helped him with, one of the reasons he had been so desperate for their help.

    “Yes, well, there have been a few…issues with the locals. They work for a man called Toxis. His gang took over the nearest town shortly before I arrived, and he seems to have had his sights set on this place ever since.”

    “Outlaws,” Jirel muttered with a slightly dopey grin, “Cool.”

    “That’s not how I’d describe them.”

    “We have already dealt with those individuals,” Klath grunted as he finished tying back his own nightmare hairdo.

    “They’ll be back,” Zesh replied unhappily, “You can be sure of that.”

    Jirel stepped forwards and gently patted his old colleague on the shoulder, electing to eschew his usual practiced space adventurer pose in favour of one more suited to a space cowboy.

    “And that’s why you called in the finest gunslingers in the quadrant, right?”

    “‘Gunslingers’?” Klath muttered in confusion.

    “Ugh, don’t get him started again,” Natasha sighed, the only one of the group who was reluctantly picking up on the Trill’s many references, “Besides, that doesn’t explain why this place is so valuable.”

    The twinkle returned to Zesh’s eyes as he gestured towards a particularly unassuming wooden hut nearby.

    “Follow me…”

    The Ferengi trotted over to the hut with surprising haste given the stifling heat, and the Bounty’s crew gamely followed.

    “Seriously,” Sunek offered as they walked, “If it’s a magic jewel-making machine, I called that five minutes ago. You all heard me, right?”

    “Not quite,” Zesh replied, as he led them into the dingy hut, “But perhaps something even more valuable than that. For the people of Nimbus III, at least.”

    Inside the dimly lit interior of the hut, the confused crew of the Bounty could make out a squat rectangular object in the middle of the room, covered by a dusty sheet.

    “Behold,” Zesh cackled at the unassuming sight as he grabbed the corner of the sheet, “The true value of Goodlife Ranch!”

    He pulled off the covering with a flourish, revealing a large metal box, with piping running out of one side, into the ground, and a shattered and darkened control panel on the other side.

    “Wow,” Sunek said with a sarcastic sigh, “There’s disappointment on my disappointment.”

    “What is it?” Klath added, on behalf of the entire group.

    Zesh leaned over and lifted up a panel on the side of the box, revealing something that was more easy to identify. And one that, for Natasha at least, suddenly revealed the true value of Goodlife Ranch.

    A tap.

    “Holy crap,” she blurted out, “You’re saying this thing’s a--”

    “It will be when it’s repaired,” Zesh chipped in with a glance at Denella, “Thanks to some handiwork from the greatest engineer in the galaxy.”

    “Yeah, yeah, butter me up later,” the Orion woman griped, “What exactly am I fixing?”

    “It’s a well,” Natasha whispered.

    “It’s a-well what--?”

    “Shut up, Sunek.”

    Zesh chuckled greedily and patted the top of the broken unit.

    “What you see here, my friends,” he confirmed for anyone still not on the same page, “Is the only stable source of fresh water in all of Prosperity County. Maybe even on the whole planet.”

    His audience took this in for a moment. It seemed as though Sunek had called it right. Zesh did have a magic machine that was going to make them rich, after all.
     
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  5. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Well well well... what a surprise...

    Liking Zesh - fun character. Thanks!! rbs
     
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  6. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part One (Cont'd)

    The crystal clear liquid slowly but surely filled the dirty glass right up to the rim, and then cascaded haphazardly over the top.

    Only an annoyed grunt from the intended recipient of the glass caused the distracted man pouring the drink to realise the mess he was making.

    The grunt was enough to get the bottle of Nimbosian spirit pulled hurriedly away from the glass, which was then apologetically slid over to the burly Nimbosian miner that had ordered it. Despite the state of the presentation, the miner had few qualms in grabbing the glass with a filthy hand and throwing the burning alcohol back in one gulp, before sliding the glass back for a refil with a slightly less annoyed grunt.

    But he found that he would have to wait, because Bri’tor, the owner of the Bar of Plenty, was distracted once again.

    His attention, as it often was these days, was entirely on a specific patron at his long-suffering establishment, who was sitting on the other side of the dirty saloon that served as the main watering hole in Arcadia Falls.

    Like every major settlement on Nimbus III, Arcadia Falls was ironically named.

    It shouldn’t have been like that. When the colony was still in the design phase, the optimism of the planning committee had been contagious, and every corner of the planet was given a name befitting the hope that Nimbus III was going to provide the rest of the galaxy.

    And then the project failed. And every one of those names, from Arcadia Falls to Paradise City to the peak of Mount Aspiration, simply served as a never-ending list of cruel jokes piled on top of a planet overloaded with cruel jokes.

    There was nothing stopping the remaining residents of Arcadia Falls from changing the town’s name if they wanted to. But there didn’t seem to be much point. Besides, they usually had more pressing issues to deal with. Especially once the gangs had started to roll into town.

    Bri’tor had lived in Arcadia Falls for several years now. He had seen plenty of gangs arrive, take control, terrorize the locals and then move on. He thought he and his family had learned how to deal with them by now, and make the best of things.

    But that had been before Toxis had arrived. After that, everything had changed around here. Especially for Bri’tor.

    And so, whenever Toxis was in the Bar of Plenty. He kept quiet. And he kept a close watch.

    But even this simple act didn’t go unnoticed. When you got on the wrong side of as many people as Toxis had, you developed a sixth sense for when you were being watched. Even when his back was turned, he could feel a slight prickling sensation on the back of his neck as his adversary’s eyes bore into his skin.

    “Bartender,” Toxis calmly grunted, not bothering to look around, “I’ve told you before, I don’t like it when folks stare at me.”

    The bar fell silent. Not expecting that response from a man with his back turned, Bri’tor nearly dropped the bottle he was holding out of shock.

    “Don’t make me do to you what I did to that brother of yours…”

    The atmosphere seemed to tense up even more with that knowing comment. Suitably chastened, the meek Nimbosian, whatever courage he had once had long since extinguished, turned his attention back to the miner’s refil.

    Satisfied that he had dealt with that irritation for the time being, and with the flow of conversation picking up again around the room, Toxis turned his attention back to the three men standing in front of him.

    “Now, Breshk, let’s get back to business,” he continued, his calm demeanour tainted with a clear undertone of menace.

    Toxis sat at a wooden table to one side of the Bar of Plenty, which featured a few similar tables scattered around and Bri’tor’s simple bar area which ran down the rear of the room, complete with shelves that were sparsely stacked with whatever Nimbosian liquor was available.

    His long thin legs were propped up on top of the table, and as Breshk looked down at him, his thin, gaunt face was partially obscured by the brim of his hat.

    Standing a short distance away, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, was Rutox. A burly Nimbosian in dark clothing who served as Toxis’s second in command. Breshk had already noted that Rutox’s right hand hung by his side, near the visible pistol at his waist.

    “So,” Toxis continued, “We’re gonna keep things simple. Just where the hell is my ranch?”

    Breshk licked his dry lips. Either side of him, his two cohorts watched on with clear concern, all three of them having been dreading this moment since they had been forced to beat a hasty retreat back from Goodlife Ranch.

    Toxis looked up at the three men, gently lifting the brim of his hat up to take in their silence. Aside from the hushed conversations elsewhere in the room, the only sound was a slight squelching noise as he idly chewed on a mouthful of his favourite blend of Nimbosian tobacco.

    With no answer forthcoming from the nervous men, Toxis shrugged and continued.

    “Ok, Breshk, let me tell you the way I see it: I sent you and your two friends here to head out and make sure I got what I wanted. Nice and simple. Nice and easy. But, instead, you all came riding right back here, and as far as I can tell, Zesh is still living on my ranch.”

    His deep voice rose with a hint of irritation at the end. He turned his head to one side and casually spat a chunk of tobacco down onto the dusty ground, causing the trio in front of him to wince involuntarily.

    “Which means that you’ve let me down. And I don’t like men that do that. How many times have you let me down now, Breshk?”

    Breshk opened his mouth instinctively to answer the question, before pausing and changing his line of defence.

    “See,” he managed, “It wasn’t our fault, Toxis. There was a…complication.”

    “Is that right?” Toxis drawled back at them, “And what complication might that have been?”

    “O--Off-worlders!”

    At this, Toxis’s cheek twitched, just a fraction. Behind him, Rutox took half a step forward, no longer trying to hide where his attention was.

    “Zesh has got off-worlders,” Breshk continued, with a fraction more confidence, “At the ranch!”

    Toxis dropped his feet off the table and leaned forwards, glaring intently at each of the men in turn for any sign that they were spinning him a tall tale.

    “Off-worlders?” he muttered slowly and thoughtfully, “That so?”

    The two men standing either side of Breshk nodded quickly, beads of sweat visible on their foreheads, only partly down to the humid atmosphere inside the bar.

    Toxis considered this information in silence for a moment, chewing the remains of his tobacco thoughtfully as he mulled this information over.

    Just as Breshk felt a bead of sweat roll down his quivering forehead, Toxis’s face twitched again, the beginnings of a rare smile creeping onto his face across his features.

    “Well now,” he said, “Why didn’t you say so?”

    The smile grew and grew, accompanied by a slightly chuckle. Breshk and his cohorts relaxed slightly, offering slightly cautious smiles of their own.

    “Hear that, Rutox?” Toxis called back to his right hand man, “You know what they say. Where there’s off-worlders, there’s weapons. There’s supplies. Hell, there might even be a whole goddamn starship.”

    “That’s what they say,” Rutox grunted in his deep baritone voice.

    Toxis nodded and leaned back in his seat once again, slamming the dusty boots on his feet back up onto the table top.

    “Well then,” he continued to chuckle at the increasingly relieved men in front of him, “Thank you for bringing me that very interesting information. Seems like we might be in line for a bit more than a ranch. Might be in line to take the whole miserable planet.”

    His smile spread wider. A relieved Breshk allowed himself a smile of his own.

    The sound of the gunshot stopped every conversation in the bar in its tracks all over again. The bang of the pellet leaving the barrel of the pistol in Rutox’s hand was accompanied by the familiar whooshing sound of the compressed air that powered the weapon being discharged.

    At the bar, a horrified Bri’tor looked back over in time to see the shocked look on Breshk’s face as he slumped lifelessly to the floor.

    The two men either side of where Breshk had been standing watched on in silent horror. Rutox calmly reloaded his weapon and placed it back in his holster.

    Toxis, equally calmly, stood up from the table and looked down at the dead man on the floor. All of his previous good humour having disappeared.

    “Twice,” he spat out, “That was twice you’d let me down.”

    Leaving the other two men, and several other patrons in the Bar of Plenty, quaking in their wake, Toxis and Rutox made for the exit. As he reached the door, Toxis felt a familiar irritating tingle on the back of his neck.

    “I told you, bartender,” he added, without looking back, “Don’t stare at me.”

    As Toxis disappeared outside, Bri’tor quickly returned his attention to the dead man on the floor of his saloon. Sadly lamenting the latest bloodshed that Arcadia Falls had seen.

    And fearing that it wouldn’t be the last.
     
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  7. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Nothing like a good bad guy needs a hanging... Definitely got the Wild West thing going. Thanks!! rbs
     
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  8. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    I fear I've got it going a bit too much to be honest. :) Ah well, we're here now. And I did warn everyone that it was going to be a tiny bit silly. :lol:
     
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  9. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part One (Cont'd)

    The frustrated cry of anger was clearly audible through the thin walls of the hut.

    Denella paused in the middle of her initial examination of Goodlife Ranch’s water pump and pricked her ears up in guarded curiosity. She hadn’t realised that anyone else was awake yet.

    The Bounty’s crew had turned in for the night inside the cooler atmosphere of the ship itself, with Zesh eagerly accepting the offer of the ship’s spare cabin after spending too many nights suffering in the stifling confines of the ranch itself.

    And after a chilled night’s sleep, Denella had specifically woken early to get started assessing the repairs that Zesh needed doing. Partly to avoid doing too much work in the worst of the Nimbosian heat. And partly because she just really loved repairing things.

    Although she was starting to reassess the latter of those reasons after three hours spent assessing the state of this particular repair. Very little about the improvised Nimbosian design in front of her made any sense. And besides, she was an engineer. Not a plumber.

    She was just about losing her patience when she had heard the angry cry from outside.

    Wiping her dirty hands on her weather-beaten overalls, she peered outside the door of the hut at the rest of the ranch, basking in the morning sun. It didn’t take long to locate the source of the noise, though what she saw just provoked further questions.

    She stepped out into the heat and walked over to the small porch area to the side of the main homestead, staring at the curious sight in front of her as it rocked back and forth on a creaking wooden chair.

    “Sunek?” she managed, “What the hell are you doing?”

    The Vulcan was in the middle of running a small knife down a piece of wood in his hands. All around him were haphazard piles of shavings, along with various other wooden bits in varying states of disrepair.

    It didn’t escape Denella’s attention that there were also a succession of deep gouges in the wooden handrail next to where Sunek was sitting. From their shape and size, Denella quickly surmised that they had been made very recently by the blade of the knife in Sunek’s hand.

    The evidence of the ferocity involved in some of the gouges didn’t exactly settle her growing concerns.

    Sunek, for his part, didn’t look up from his work, as he rocked back and forth in the chair and continued to shave off thin slices of the light brown wood, his face a picture of concentration underneath his hat.

    “Some dumb thing Jirel told me about after dinner last night when he wouldn’t shut up about all that ‘Old Earth’ crap,” he explained as he worked, “It’s called ‘whittling’.”

    He stuck out his tongue in a show of concentration, underlining how seriously he was taking the task at hand.

    “You just sorta carve out what you want in the wood. Stupid hobby, if you ask me.”

    Denella watched the Vulcan work. There was something undeniably amusing about the scene, but after a moment her eyes strayed back to the gouges on the handrail. She wasn’t used to her friend getting that angry.

    Still, she surmised, remembering her own irritation with the water pump, maybe it’s just the heat getting to us.

    Eventually, Sunek growled again and tossed the piece of wood he’d been working on onto the deck of the porch below, alongside all the others.

    “It's supposed to be a depiction of the ancient Vulcan gods of death and war fighting on their armoured sehlats at the gates of Sha Ka Ree. Saw a piece of art about that when I was a kid, dated back to before Surak’s Time of Awakening. It was pretty cool.”

    “And what’s it ended up being?” Denella asked.

    Sunek reached down and retreived his unfinished masterpiece from the ground, idly turning it over in his hands before shrugging in conclusion.

    “Piece of wood.”

    Denella sighed and leaned back on the freshly damaged handrail. “Do you ever think that maybe the reason you never stick with a hobby for very long is that you set your sights too high?”

    “How do you mean?” Sunek asked, scrunching his face up in confusion,

    “Well, why not start with something a bit easier? Why not try whittling a…stick?”

    Sunek looked at her with disgust. As if she’d just asked him to sculpt something obscene. More disgusted than that, in fact, given that whittling mild erotica was probably next on his schedule.

    “What would be the point of that?”

    She shook her head, accepting that this was going to end up being the latest in a long line of pastimes that Sunek had dived into with both feet and then immediately abandoned. Whittling could join Anbo-jyutsu, Risian cuisine and the bass guitar he had once impulsively replicated for himself on the pile of forgotten hobbies.

    Still, the angry undertone of the Vulcan’s latest creative dismissal remained a concern.

    “Sunek, are you ok?”

    The Vulcan snapped a look at her a little more quickly than he’d wanted to, followed by a guilty glance in the direction of the gouges on the handrail.

    In truth, the sudden flash of rage had taken him by surprise. He prided himself on his laid back approach to pretty much every aspect of life, but after his latest failed attempt to recreate a priceless piece of prehistoric Vulcan art in Nimbosian hardwood, he had experienced a flare of anger so great that it had only been satisfied by him repeatedly plunging the knife into the softer wood of the rail.

    And he knew, deep down, that wasn’t the first such incident that had happened recently.

    He had thrown a padd across his cabin with enough force to smash the screen, after the latest romance novel he had been sent via the interstellar subscription service he had been talked into signing up for had arrived corrupted and unreadable. And he had even wrenched one of the adjusting levers on his pilot’s chair clean from the housing after wasting twenty minutes trying to get it back the way he liked it, after Klath had adjusted the seat to his own larger dimensions.

    Ordinarily, he’d have just dismissed it all as a bit of pent-up frustration. Nothing a blowout weekend on Risa wouldn’t cure.

    But the residual dispassionate side of his Vulcan intellect couldn’t help but recall his recent run-in with some of his former V’tosh ka’tur colleagues. And the series of forced mind melds he had received from a particularly crazed Vulcan called Sokar. The ones that had caused him to nearly betray his friends, and assist Sokar in a revenge attack on Vulcan itself.

    Although he was sure he was back to normal after that, he also recalled what he had seen since then when he had tried to pick up an old childhood meditation technique. The sailing ship on the Voroth Sea. And the storm that sat on the horizon.

    Still, Sunek didn’t want to get into any of that right now. That was all way too serious. And now that the handrail had taken one for the team, he felt suitably relaxed again.

    So he met Denella’s concerned gaze with a typically Sunek-ian grin.

    “I’m fine,” he replied, standing up and tossing the wood back down to the ground, “Whittling’s dumb, is all.”

    He adjusted his hat, pocketed the knife, and walked back to the front door of the homestead whistling a deliberately jaunty tune.

    Denella followed him. Her concerns very much not put to rest.

    ****************************

    “Please say it.”

    Jirel looked at Klath from across the wooden table that dominated the main living area on the ground floor of Goodlife Ranch’s main homestead.

    The actual structure, like the other buildings on the ranch, was made of large wooden beams supporting thin metal sheets. Inside, while there were computer controls dotted about, the furniture was archaic, tired and worn. It was as if you had stepped through a temporal anomaly into the past.

    And Jirel was loving it.

    On the other side of the table, the Klingon folded his arms defiantly, as the front door opened and Natasha and Zesh entered from outside.

    “I am not going to say it,” Klath growled at the Trill.

    “Say what?” Natasha asked.

    Jirel nodded his head in Klath’s direction and smiled widely.

    “I’m trying - really, really trying - to get Klath to give me a big old ‘yee haw’,” he explained, before turning back to the impassive Klingon, “C’mon. Please? I’ll give you ten slips of latinum.”

    The Klingon’s glower deepened, but Jirel persisted.

    “Tell you what, I’ll also accept a ‘Howdy, partner’.”

    “I’m almost scared to ask this,” Natasha sighed patiently, “But you are aware that this is all real, right? This isn’t a holosuite program, or a quirky theme park, or some sort of fever dream. This is a very, very real and very, very scary planet.”

    “Um, it’s a very, very cool planet,” Jirel countered, gesturing to his hat, “With cowboy hats.”

    “And guns. And bandits. And god knows what else.”

    “Besides,” Zesh chimed in from her side, “You’re here to do a job, Jirel. And we need a plan. My buyer won’t be here for another two days, remember?”

    “Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a plan,” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, keeping his attention on Natasha’s unimpressed face, “Listen, doc, don’t let that Starfleet guilt of yours ruin everyone else’s fun while we're down here, ok?”

    Natasha’s face immediately morphed into a glower as deep as anything that Klath had been able to produce. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

    “You know what I mean. Everyone knows how much you lot hate to be reminded about this place. Tends to be a bit of an obsession with you guys. The grim little hellhole you helped to create. How could the perfect Federation mess up so badly--?”

    “Ok, firstly, I was kinda hoping you’d noticed, but I left Starfleet behind a while ago. And secondly, I might be unhappy about being here. But not because of some collective guilty conscience. Because of basic decency. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of us all profiting off of other people’s misery!”

    “My buyer assures me that he intends to sell the water back to the Nimbosians for a fair price,” Zesh offered, not exactly making the strongest pitch for humanitarian of the year, “Minus overheads.”

    Jirel’s focus remained on Natasha. The human woman stared back across the table, allowing herself to be consumed by the growing unease that had been kindled ever stronger since Zesh had revealed Goodlife Ranch’s secret treasure.

    “I’ve told you before, you need to stop pretending like you’re still in that old uniform of yours,” the Trill fired off with a knowing grin, “Cos if you don’t, then you’re not gonna last long in this job.”

    “And you need to stop pretending that you’re too cool to care about other people, cos I know by now that’s not true,” she countered, before gesturing to his cowboy getup, “And you really need to stop pretending this is a costume party. Cos it isn’t. It’s the Planet of Galactic Peace. The most dangerous planet in the quadrant.”

    “I’m not pretending this is a--”

    “You’re wearing spurs, Jirel,” she said, gesturing down at the metal spikes sticking out the back of his dusty boots, “You’re actually wearing spurs.”

    There was an awkward pause from the Trill, as he looked down at his footwear and back up again.

    “They, um, they came with the boots--”

    “He replicated them this morning,” Klath boomed out from his side of the table.

    “Ok, whose side are you on?”

    Zesh sighed deeply and flopped down in the chair next to Klath, gesturing to the bickering duo as he did so. “You know, Jirel, all this is no way to run a business operation.”

    The Ferengi’s pointed comment was enough to distract the Trill and the human from each other, as they whirled around to Zesh in unison.

    “Um, excuse me?” Natasha snapped.

    “Rule of Acquisition number 229, my dear. Latinum lasts longer than lust.”

    That comment was enough to elicit a scoff from Natasha, and a look of confused innocence from Jirel. Both of which, Klath wordlessly thought to himself, seemed designed to overcompensate for something or other.

    “Well, that’s definitely not what’s happening here,” Natasha fired back.

    “Yeah,” Jirel nodded defiantly, “Plus, Rule of Acquisition number 581: You should always…y’know. Shut up.”

    “Good one.”

    “Hey, I’m defending your honour here!”

    “I don’t need my honour defended by a man who’s dressed up like a holodeck malfunction! Besides, this isn’t about--This is about us doing the right thing down here!”

    “Which we definitely are doing.”

    “How can you say that--!”

    “Guys!”

    The unexpected voice of Denella caused the bickering duo to shut up, to the appreciation of their small, unhappy audience around the table.

    They all turned to see the Orion engineer and Sunek standing in the doorway, surveying the scene with a trace of amusement.

    “Hate to break up this thrilling discussion, but…what’s this plan of yours?”

    Jirel considered brushing off that comment and getting back to his bickering. But he could feel every set of eyes in the humid homestead on him. And he decided it probably wasn’t the time.

    “Fine,” he conceded, “The plan. Let’s get moving.”

    The Trill walked over to the door, making a distinctive clinking sound with every step that he took. The sound that had seemed so incredibly cool to him when he had walked down the Bounty’s loading ramp this morning suddenly making him feel distinctly self-conscious.

    As he walked past Denella and Sunek and out into the harsh sunlight, the Vulcan glanced down and raised a quizzical eyebrow.

    “What the hell have you got on your feet?”
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2022
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  10. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Totally run with silly. It's something I strive for in STH - to balance menace with madcap comedy - the best feature of the franchise and especially its original incarnation.

    Loving Jirel's spurs - even if he isn't at the moment... After that much buildup, they're going to have to both cause some mischief and provide the last-minute saving grace... That and Sunek's whittling.

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  11. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part One (Cont'd)

    A few moments later, after Jirel and his footwear had clinked their way out in front of the homestead, he finished laying down the bones of his plan to the rest of the residents of Goodlife Ranch.

    The looks on the faces of the assembled throng suggested that they weren’t overly impressed with what had been said.

    “Is that really your best idea?” Zesh griped.

    “Again,” Natasha chimed in, “Really important that you clarify to me, a medical professional, that you know this isn’t a holosuite program.”

    Despite the largely predictable reactions, Jirel fronted up in defence of his plan.

    “Trust me. This makes total sense. If this guy Toxis is causing all our problems, then me and Klath’ll just head into town and, y’know, talk it out. Reason with him. Smooth this whole situation out. For long enough for Zesh to make his sale, at least.”

    “If all you’re gonna do is talk it out,” Denella asked with a pointed look, “Why do you need Klath?”

    “In case we don’t completely talk it out,” Jirel offered with a shrug, “And while we’re doing that, the rest of you can help Denella fix the water pump for when the buyer gets here.”

    “Oh,” Sunek managed, his sarcasm levels approaching critical mass, “Great.”

    “Plus, you can keep an eye on the ranch. All that make sense?”

    Everyone immediately began to call out at once. Jirel sighed and held his hand up. “Bad choice of words. All that clear to everyone?”

    This time there was a more reluctant chorus of nodded responses.

    “Toxis isn’t exactly the reasonable type, you know,” Zesh cautioned, “I’ve tried the diplomatic approach myself.”

    “Yeah, but he’s never met Klath. He can be very persuasive.”

    The burly Klingon mustered a nod at this.

    “So, trust me,” the Trill added, “Everything’s gonna be fine.”

    “And what makes you so sure of that?” Zesh griped.

    Jirel grinned and took the opportunity to strike the newest space cowboy pose in his arsenal, the one he’d been practising in his cabin earlier in the morning.

    “Because,” he drawled, “We’re the good guys.”

    Before Natasha could contest that particular point any further, Klath held up the stubby Nimbosian pistol he had been furnished with.

    “I still have concerns about these weapons.”

    “Not enough sharp edges?” Sunek quipped.

    “They are far too crude. The sights appear to be crooked, the barrels are of poor construction, and the delivery method of the projectile is inefficient. I believe we should use some weapons from the Bounty if we are going to--”

    “Ah, ah, ah,” Zesh tutted, wagging his finger at the burly Klingon, “No energy weapons on Nimbus III. It’s a universal law. One that even the Ferengi Alliance has never been stupid enough to break. And we’re the idiots who sold the Pakleds their first warp drive.”

    Natasha found herself warming to Zesh a little more. It was indeed a rule for anyone dealing in or around Nimbus III. Given how much damage and destruction was caused on the planet with the simple projectile weapons already available to the Nimbosian residents, giving them access to anything more powerful would be devastating.

    To some extent, it was a self-regulating rule. Occasionally the odd phaser or disruptor might find its way here through the black market, but with no reasonable means of keeping the power cells charged, energy weapons were not only prohibited, they were also largely useless.

    Still, there was no point in risking breaking that particular rule. So, even though there were several energy weapons on the Bounty, that was where they had all agreed they would stay. Regardless of Klath’s withering assessment of the local alternative.

    “So, it’s settled,” Jirel nodded in support of Zesh’s point, “We’re gonna do this like proper cowboys.”

    He pulled his own pistol from its holster and went to spin it round his finger. Only for it to immediately fall from his hand on the sandy ground below.

    “Well,” Sunek said, “I’m feeling a lot safer already.”

    Jirel sheepishly retrieved his gun, before nodding at Klath. “Let’s get moving--”

    “I’m gonna come too.”

    The Trill and the Klingon stopped and turned back to where Natasha had stepped towards them.

    “Come on,” Jirel tutted, “We’ve got a job to do. We don’t need you spreading your Starfleet guilt all around town.”

    “That’s not what I’m doing. I just want to help. Besides, you’re about to head into a lawless town of renegades and bandits dressed like that. You’re gonna need the backup.”

    Jirel glanced down at his outfit. Along with the spurs, he had also spent the morning replicating a cotton shirt complete with deep red piping and an embroidered pattern across the front, and a weathered leather belt with a holster for his Nimbosian pistol, topped off with a thick silver buckle.

    He felt a slight tinge of embarrassment, but that was overridden by a greater belief in how awesome it all was. So he fronted it out.

    “You wish you looked this good,” he fired back with a grin, “But fine. If you wanna come, you can come. Just promise me you’re not gonna guilt trip us all the way there and back, ok? Cos that’s gonna get really boring.”

    Before she was able to respond, Jirel and Klath turned and continued on their way. Though Klath stopped suddenly when he realised Jirel was heading in a completely different direction.

    “Where are you going?” he called out at the Trill, “If we are going into the town, then the transporter is this way.”

    Jirel spun around on his heels, his grin wider than ever before.

    “Heh. We’re not gonna need the transporter today, buddy.”

    “Then how do you intend to--?”

    The Klingon stopped in the middle of his question, as Jirel excitedly gestured to something on the far side of the ranch. Klath looked over and saw what he was referring to.

    A gaggle of blue-tinged animals standing together in an enclosure, gently grazing on the meagre patches of scrub at their feet.

    The Klingon immediately turned back to the beaming Jirel.

    “You cannot be serious.”

    ****************************

    From a distance, Goodlife Ranch was the picture of tranquillity.

    Nestled in a dusty valley between two gently rolling mountain ranges, with a natural pass flowing into and out of it, the whole area was mostly cut off from the harsh winds that tended to be whipped up across the deserts of Prosperity County.

    And while the dust bowl of a valley did suffer under the blazing Nimbosian sun, the high mountains did at least offer some possibility of a touch of shade either side of high noon.

    As Prosperity County went, it was one of the better places to live. Even if that wasn’t exactly saying much.

    Right now, from high up on the mountainside, even the activity within the ranch itself seemed sedate and tranquil through the binoculars that Rutox held up to his eyes.

    He and several other members of Toxis’s gang that had been sent to do what Breshk had failed to do had concealed themselves behind an outcrop of rocks, with their Nimbosian horses tied up some distance away, equally out of sight.

    Rutox blinked away the sand that was blown into his face by a sudden gust of dry wind and kept his focus on the ranch.

    It hadn’t taken long to establish that Breshk and his cohorts had been telling the truth. The signs of the presence of off-worlders were there. Specifically, the squat form of the Ju’day-type raider parked in the valley next to the ranch.

    That was more than enough to confirm that Zesh was definitely not the only off-worlder in Goodlife Ranch right now.

    The good news continued moments later, when Rutox spied the sight of several figures preparing to make their way out of the ranch on horseback.

    And if they were leaving, that would leave a significantly smaller number at the ranch itself.

    “Huh,” Rutox grunted to himself with a satisfied smile.

    He dropped the binoculars away from his face and turned back to the other men, gesturing at the one that was carrying a burly old-fashioned communicator on his belt.

    “Get to it,” he snapped, “Tell Toxis that he’s got some company heading his way.”

    He glanced back into the valley and smiled even more darkly.

    “And tell him that our odds out here just got a hell of a lot better…”

    Rutox took a moment to consider that luck seemed to be on his side all of a sudden. Which didn’t happen often on Nimbus III.

    Breshk might have let his master down. But Rutox wasn’t about to make the same mistake.

    End of Part One
     
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  12. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Okay.. that makes sense out of the projectile weapons - but why crappy ones? Surely someone has managed to manufacture some decent rifles... ah what the hell - it's a crap planet and everything is crap on it...

    Trust Jirel to ride off in the wrong direction... but then that sets up a return of the cavalry...

    Thanks!! rbs
     
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  13. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    A valid question. :)

    I'd say that firstly, Klath is probably being overly critical in his assessment. He's a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to weapons. :klingon: And also, I'm leaning quite heavily on the concept that everything halfway decent always gets dragged down on Nimbus III. So any master craftsperson that pops up and starts getting a reputation for making the best pistols on the planet probably gets shot and has their possessions seized before they can get into mass production. And the few weapons they did manage to make just get damaged and badly repaired. It's a bit of a stretch, but so is Nimbus III. :lol:
     
  14. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part Two

    Klath’s entire world was in chaos.

    His vision blurred as he was tossed about this way and that, desperately clinging on to whatever he could for dear life. In all of his years, in all the unwinnable battles and myriad implacable enemies that he had faced down throughout his battle-scarred life to date, this was perhaps the closest to Sto-vo-kor he had ever felt.

    Atop his out of control Nimbosian horse, he thundered on and on across the desert wilderness.

    Behind him, Jirel and Natasha were in hot pursuit, both of them keeping a tight hold over their own ferociously galloping steeds as they tried to catch up with the frenzied maelstrom of hooves and dust ahead of them.

    It had become abundantly clear that Klath was not an experienced rider.

    As the horse underneath him started to tire slightly, the Klingon managed to secure a stronger grip on the reins. He pulled back sharply on them as he bounced around the feisty animal’s back. But the horse showed no sign of stopping. If anything, the severity of Klath’s actions caused it to speed up again.

    “Klath!” Jirel managed to call out over the hooves impacting the sand, “Slow down!”

    “I cannot!” the Klingon bellowed back, “I think mine may be broken!”

    He gave the reins another yank to underline his point.

    The Trill kicked his horse on, trying to maneuvre himself closer to his friend through the choking dust that was being kicked up, even as Natasha cut left to try and flank Klath on the other side.

    “Not so hard!” Jirel urged, seeing Klath’s awkward tugging on the reins, “I thought told me you’d ridden before?”

    “You are mistaken!”

    Klath’s horse sensed the other animals gaining on either side, and instinctively swerved away with enough immediacy to cause Natasha and her own mount to have to take avoiding action. Klath was nearly thrown clean off by the severity of the movement.

    Jirel kept his own horse grimly under control, and with an extra kick, rider and steed were able to get back alongside the Klingon.

    “Give me the reins!”

    With considerable difficulty, through Jirel reaching out one way and Klath the other, the Trill was able to make a grab for the frayed material of the second pair of reins.

    He took a tight hold, as the two horses pounded across the desert in formation, and started to ease Klath’s animal out of its gallop, while simultaneously slowing his own.

    Slowly, but surely, the two horses slowed to a trot.

    “Thank you,” Klath managed, accepting the reins back as Natasha caught back up to them.

    “Seriously, I could have sworn you told me you’d ridden before,” Jirel smiled back, “Something about your uncle rearing Sarks back on Qo’noS?”

    Klath glowered back at him as he caught his breath, with enough force to make Jirel decide that he should probably move on.

    “Nice riding,” Natasha offered to Jirel, who failed to stop himself from looking a little smug at the unexpected compliment, “I assumed all this wannabe cowboy nonsense wouldn’t extend this far.”

    “Hey, Colorado born and bred,” he grinned, before his face contorted a little, “I mean, technically I don’t really know where I was born. On a Trill colony, apparently, to whoever abandoned me as a baby--You know what, that can wait for my therapist. Point is, on Earth, my family kept horses out in the country. Y’know, when my dad wasn’t--”

    Jirel stopped himself, glancing back at Klath, who was listening on with mild intrigue, not used to the Trill talking about his past in such detail.

    “I did not know that,” he grunted, “About your family.”

    “Yeah, well,” Jirel managed with a shrug, “Never came up, did it?”

    Natasha kept a watching brief, aware that she was the only one of the Bounty’s crew who was privy to the full details on Jirel’s family, and the way that he had so completely failed to emulate his father’s Starfleet career.

    At times, she still felt it was odd how little the crew seemed to know about each other’s pasts, given how they spent all their time living in each other’s pockets on such a small vessel.

    But she was also learning that when your past was as miserable and filled with regret as theirs seemed to be, you didn’t feel like sharing much. She definitely felt the same way about elements of her own past.

    As they trotted on, Jirel glanced over in her direction, eager to steer the conversation elsewhere.

    “Anyway, you’re not so bad yourself,” he said, motioning to her riding style, “Didn’t realise they had so many ranches back in London.”

    She offered a shrug and patted her steed as it bucked its head slightly.

    “Three years of riding lessons,” she explained, “When I was a teenager.”

    “Huh, cute,” Jirel grinned back, “Still though, I guess one snobby riding school isn’t really a match for some real horseback riding, out in the country.”

    “Um, pretty sure I was keeping up with you well enough just then.”

    “Yeah, but who was the one who managed to slow both horses down at the same time without anyone getting hurt?”

    “Psh. I could have done that with my eyes closed!”

    “You wanna settle this with a race? Cos we’ve got time for a race.”

    In between the bickering duo, Klath emitted a low, frustrated growl. Realising that he was going to be stuck in the middle of them all the way to Arcadia Falls, on top of a wild animal that seemed to have no clear control system.

    As the group moved on through the desert, and Jirel started picking out landmarks that they could race to, the Klingon wondered if he had drawn the short straw on this particular adventure.

    Fixing a water pump now seemed like the more palatable option.

    ****************************

    “Crap on a crapping pile of crap!”

    Denella’s latest string of expletives echoed around the confines of the small hut, even as Zesh entered with an armful of straggly wiring.

    “From what I remember,” her former shipmate offered, “That’s not a good sign.”

    The Orion woman groaned as she stood from behind the bulky water pump unit and did her best to dust down her baggy grey overalls. As Zesh wisely kept his distance, she gestured at the rear of the housing with annoyance.

    “I have no idea who put this thing together, but I would really like five minutes alone with them and a live plasma conduit.”

    She wiped her face with her hands in frustration, doing little more than coat her skin in a fresh layer of dirt. Zesh smiled sympathetically as she continued.

    “I mean, it’s a complete mess. There’s about six different types of wiring back here, chunks of isolinear circuitry that I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be doing anything, and--”

    She paused to spit out a few flecks of dust and sand that had crept into her mouth.

    “--The whole thing is filled with crapping sand!”

    Zesh stepped forwards cautiously and set the wiring down on top of the unit, as Denella took a tired slug from the canteen of water she had brought from the Bounty.

    “This is Nimbus III,” he offered, “I’ve found that down here, people tend to make do and mend with whatever they can get their hands on. Everything gets repaired, reclaimed or repurposed. Over and over again. Actually, I was rather hoping that sort of thing would appeal to you.”

    “What the hell gave you that idea?”

    “Because I recall a time onboard the Bounty when we made our escape from a gang of Kzinti pirates thanks to someone getting the warp core back online using an ore sample pod as an improvised intermix chamber.”

    Denella mustered a friendlier expression. She could see when someone was massaging her ego. Throughout her life, she’d heard just about every line going. But when it was her engineering prowess being complimented, she didn’t entirely hate it.

    And, deep down, while the water pump was proving to be a singularly frustrating challenge, with the unassuming exterior of the unit hiding a chaotically improvised mish-mash of components and systems, there was a part of her that was in its element.

    “Besides,” Zesh continued, gesturing to the wires he had brought, “Your humble assistant has dredged up the extra duranium wiring you wanted. Cannibalised it from an old mining generator.”

    She cast an eye over the parts that Zesh had brought with him, picking through the wiring with a critical eye.

    “Hmm. Not exactly ideal, is it?”

    “Just the way you like it,” Zesh countered with a smile.

    This time, Denella’s face creased into a wry smile of her own. He wasn’t wrong.

    “Ok,” she continued, as she continued to sort through the pile, “Now I just need Sunek to get back with that microsoldering kit I asked for, and I’ll see if I can--”

    As if she had just read out some mystical Vulcan incantation, almost as soon as she had mentioned his name, the door to the hut swung open and Sunek burst in, looking even more irritated than Denella had been.

    “Ok, so, this place is officially my least favourite place ever,” the Vulcan griped to nobody in particular as he stomped into the dusty hut, “Stupid, sand-filled, hot-as-crap hellhole of a dump of a stupid planet!”

    Zesh watched the Vulcan pacing around the stuffy hut with a modicum of curiosity, but Denella snapped her attention back to the task at hand.

    “Sunek, you got that microsoldering kit?”

    But Sunek wasn’t listening. He was entirely absorbed by his own frustrations. And his anger.

    “You know what just happened? I went back over there to get whatever stupid thing you wanted, rested my hand on the rail of the cargo ramp, and just freaking burned myself! Right down to the bone!”

    He held out his right hand to underline his point, which now displayed an ugly red burn across its pale surface.

    “Hurts like crap! And I do all my favourite stuff with that hand, so now that’s gonna be a whole thing--”

    “Sunek,” Denella sighed, “The kit?”

    “I mean, what the hell are we even doing here?” the Vulcan’s rant continued unimpeded, as he poked an accusing finger squarely in Zesh’s direction, “Protecting this guy’s stupid Tongo prize? I remember when we used to take on actual proper jobs, y’know?”

    “And I remember when you used to be the funny one,” Zesh muttered under his breath.

    Sunek’s keener Vulcan hearing meant that he fully picked up on that comment, and he whirled around with genuine venom in his eyes. A look that caused Denella genuine unease.

    “Oh, I’ll show you funny, big ears,” he snapped, marching over to the Ferengi and forming an angry fist with his good hand, “I’ll show you right now--!”

    “Sunek!”

    Denella snapped his name out with enough intensity to cause the angry pilot to immediately pause, though not before everyone present, including the thoroughly unnerved Zesh, could see that the fist was raised, and he had been ready to use it.

    Keeping her focus on the Vulcan, Denella jerked her head in the direction of the door.

    “A word? Please?”

    With his anger now regressing back to a mere sulk, Sunek reluctantly followed her out into the blazing heat, cradling his injured hand and leaving a relieved Zesh to pat the nervous sweat off his brow with his pocket square.

    As soon as they were a short distance away from the hut, Denella whirled around to her colleague, who was looking down at the ground and scuffing the sand with his boot.

    “Ok, look, I don’t know what the hell’s gotten into you lately. If it’s the heat, or something you ate, or the first stage of Pon Farr, but you need to calm down.”

    “I am calm!”

    “Don’t lie. You’ve been flying off the handle ever since we got here, and you were just about to punch Zesh in there!”

    “He was asking for it.”

    “He really wasn’t.”

    Sunek’s head snapped up to glare at her, a fresh flash of anger glowing in his eyes. But unlike Zesh, Denella didn’t flinch. After the day she’d had wrestling with the water pump, she had some frustrations of her own to work off.

    “Please, try it,” she grunted, “Cos I’m definitely in the mood to punch back.”

    For a moment, it looked as though Sunek was actually going to take a swing. But at the last moment, he unclenched his fist and returned to unhappily cradling his burned hand.

    “Sorry,” he managed, an apology delivered with all the emotional conviction of a surly teenage Tellarite that had just been caught stealing latinum from their mother’s purse.

    “Save another one of those for Zesh,” she replied, before gesturing down to his hand, “Now, go run a dermal regenerator over that, and then, if it’s not too much trouble, bring me the microsoldering kit.”

    He gave her another of his best teenage pouts, but eventually conceded the point with a slight nod of his head, and started a slow trudge back towards the Bounty, exaggeratedly kicking his heels as he went.

    As Denella watched him leave, her own frustrations subsided, replaced by concern for her friend. Whatever was happening to him.

    As Sunek walked, he tried his best to ignore the fiery pain in his hand.

    And the similar sensation in his head.
     
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  15. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    Or they could be really good at making what weapons they can with some superior sort of bronze they managed to cook up because the planet has no iron ore... Meaning that the weapons cannot be rifled (everything is a smooth-bore musket) and cannot be loaded tightly (lest they explode), so the bullets travel very slowly, and that sooner or later the guns would distemper and need to be melted down (lest they explode...)

    Klath's wild ride is a riot :klingon: - Sunek's... not so much. Something's wrong with that vulcan... Thanks!! rbs
     
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  16. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part Two (Cont'd)

    Although he’d never admit it to the others, Jirel was genuinely starting to doubt whether he hadn’t accidentally walked into a holosuite program by mistake. Because wherever they went in Prosperity County, everything seemed a little too perfect.

    He brought his Nimbosian horse to a gentle halt on the outskirts of their destination and took in the sight of the town.

    A creaking wooden sign in front of them indicated that this was indeed Arcadia Falls, adding the seemingly unnecessary information that it contained a population of 357.

    A dusty main street ran through the centre of the town, with squat buildings on either side, all made of wood and sheet metal, like the buildings back at the ranch. Several simple signs hung above the doors, advertising the wares that lay within. The rest of the town’s dwellings, such as they were, surrounded the main road in a simple grid system delineated by narrow dirt roads.

    A gentle, dry breeze whipped up trails of sand and dirt down the length of the road. And while Jirel thought it was probably just a trick of his imagination, he swore he could hear someone playing a harmonica somewhere in the distance.

    The Trill adjusted his hat against the fierce sun and expertly dismounted his horse, sighing in quiet satisfaction at the scene in front of him.

    Alongside him, Natasha drew up and climbed down from her own steed. But she didn’t see the same adventure playground in front of her that the wannabe space cowboy had seen. Instead, she looked beyond the surface level and focused onto the details of the threadbare settlement. And she didn’t like what she could see.

    She spied a few of the town’s population braving the afternoon sun. A few hunched forms with gaunt, tired expressions nervously flitted in and out of some of the establishments on the main street. They all wore worn and dirty clothes, silently expressing clear signs of poverty.

    During her first posting in Starfleet, as a young ensign onboard the USS Tripoli, she had been part of the first away teams on the surface when the ship had helped to liberate a Bajoran labour camp on Ventok II. And while the scenes of suffering she had witnessed there were significantly worse than what she could see in Arcadia Falls, there was a definite familiarity.

    It was something in the demeanour of the figures. The slumped shoulders as they moved. In a manner that suggested that they had given up hope. That this was all they were destined for. To struggle to exist in a forgotten town in a forgotten corner of a forgotten planet.

    And there was something else that hung in the air as well. Something that she knew all too well. A faint, but unmistakable sense of menace.

    “Seriously,” Jirel griped as he glanced over at her worried look, “Don’t ruin this for me.”

    She forced her attention away from the unhappy vista she had been confronted with and back to the irritatingly cheery Trill.

    “Really?” she scoffed as she gestured to the scene, “You still think we’re doing the right thing down here? Taking the latinum and running away? Whatever happened to helping the poor?”

    “I’m poor. That’s what the latinum’s for.”

    “I’m serious, Jirel.”

    She fixed him with a knowing glare. And for a second, his grin slipped, just a fraction. And just for long enough to give Natasha a modicum of comfort that he wasn’t dismissing her take on the situation as entirely as she’d feared. But before she could tug at the thread any further, they were interrupted by the ungainly arrival of the final member of their party.

    Klath managed to bring his horse to a stop a short distance from where the others stood, and attempted to dismount, only for the uncooperative beast to shift around at a critical moment in the procedure, causing him to tumble and land in an undignified plume of dirty brown sand.

    “Yeah, I take it back,” Jirel grinned, his brief crisis of conscience now forgotten, “You definitely haven’t ridden before.”

    Klath growled unhappily as he got back to his feet and dusted himself down with as much dignity as he still had available.

    “I prefer the transporter,” he stated simply, in a tone that strongly suggested that he wanted no further discussion of the matter.

    Jirel stifled a chuckle as he led them over to a stout wooden fence, where the three of them tied their horses securely and left them to graze on the brittle grasses poking through the sand in the shade of the posts.

    “Now what?” Klath asked, not unfairly.

    Jirel surveyed the main street of the town and chewed his lip thoughtfully.

    “Well, according to Zesh, we’re looking for the biggest low-life in all of Arcadia Falls. So I say we find the local saloon.”

    “Huh,” Natasha griped, “So there really is literally no situation where your first instinct isn’t to find the nearest bar--?”

    “Still not letting you ruin this for me.”

    Before Natasha could get any more shots in, Jirel started down the dusty street. She and Klath shared a concerned look before following in his wake.

    Natasha felt an unsettling feeling as they walked. It felt as though they were attracting a lot of stares. And not just from the few Nimbosians that she could see flitting about, she had an unerring feeling of being watched through every window shutter and doorway that they passed.

    She could tell from the way that Klath’s hand was now resting on the pistol at his waist that the Klingon’s own battle senses were tingling as well.

    It felt odd to see the Klingon without his trusty bat’leth on his back, but even though such bladed weapons weren’t banned on Nimbus III, and despite his preference for more honourable combat, Klath was experienced enough to see that, practically speaking, a projectile weapon was his best bet if anything happened here. Even if he didn’t care much for their construction.

    It didn’t take long before Jirel pointed to one specific establishment on their left side. The unassuming building in question looked similar to all the others, but there was a sign hanging over the door that rather optimistically proclaimed the establishment to be the Bar of Plenty.

    “I’d say this is the right place,” the Trill grinned.

    He went to walk in, only to jump back when two burly Nimbosians came staggering out of the door, almost colliding with Jirel in the process.

    “Excuse us, fellas,” one of the Nimbosians grunted, gesturing to the other man, “Something in there must’ve disagreed with him.”

    “Huh,” Jirel offered, “Guess we’ll eat elsewhere--”

    “Oh my god.”

    Natasha’s gasp cut through Jirel’s attempts at levity, and he quickly realised what she meant. They could all now see the dirty red bloodstain on the second man’s shirt.

    “A battle,” Klath grunted appreciably, causing the first man to smile wryly.

    “A disagreement.”

    While Klath pondered this minor technicality, Natasha’s medical instincts immediately jumped into gear, as she took hold of the injured man on the other side and helped to support him.

    “I’m a doctor,” she said by way of explanation, “I can help.”

    “Natasha,” Jirel cautioned.

    “Not now, space cowboy,” she snapped back, keeping her focus on her patient, “Is there somewhere we can take him?”

    The uninjured Nimbosian looked a little confused, as if offers of help were in shorter supply than water around here. But seeing the determination in Natasha’s eyes, he jerked his head in the direction of another building across the street.

    “Infirmary's over there, ma’am. Can’t say it’ll do him much good, mind.”

    Natasha nodded and started in the direction of the building, almost dragging the two Nimbosian men along with her. She barely got three steps away before Jirel called out again, a clear undertone of concern in his voice.

    “Hey, Nat. Remember, we’re not here to--”

    “Let me do a little bit of good while we’re down here, Jirel,” she called back, “I’ll catch you up when I’ve stopped the bleeding. Besides, I thought this place was too cool to be dangerous?”

    As she walked on, Jirel glanced over at Klath, who shrugged his burly shoulders.

    “She will be fine,” he boomed at his suddenly worried friend.

    ****************************

    Jirel’s worries about Natasha lasted as long as it took him to step through the doors of the Bar of Plenty. And suddenly, he was enjoying Nimbus III all over again.

    As soon as he and Klath walked in to the dusty saloon, the low hum of conversation, along with the jaunty music being played on some sort of piano-type instrument in the corner of the room stopped immediately.

    Behind the bar, the bald and buck-toothed patron of the establishment nervously paused midway through pouring a drink for a gangly Nimbosian dressed in nomadic robes.

    The room wasn’t exactly full, and seemed to betray no sign of whatever violence had just befallen the man they had just met.

    But in the sudden silence, every customer in the place all turned their heads as one to take in the sight of the Trill and the Klingon, outlined in the doorway.

    As Jirel stared back at the throng of haggard patrons, and Klath scanned the room for the most likely threats, the Trill couldn’t help but whisper one word under his breath.

    “Awesome.”

    With a deliberately exaggerated flourish, he stepped forwards with a confident smile and a friendly tip of his hat.

    “Howdy there, folks,” he drawled, rediscovering the worst of his accent in the nick of time, “Don’t mind us. We’re just passing through.”

    After a further uncertain moment of silence, which was as much down to the accent as it was anything else, normality resumed. As if someone had unpaused time, the conversations resumed, the music started up again, and the bartender resumed pouring.

    Jirel glanced over at his Klingon companion, his confident smile still in place. “See? I know what I’m doing.”

    “Now what?” Klath grunted, feeling like he was having to ask that a lot with regards to Jirel's plan.

    “Now we, y’know, ask around.”

    Klath nodded and took a step forward, only for Jirel to shoot an arm out to stop him and finish up his statement.

    “But with a bit of subtlety, ok? I get the feeling these people are gonna be anxious around strangers, and we don’t want to get the same treatment that guy outside got, ok?”

    Klath nodded in apparent understanding as the two of them made their way over to the bar, with the Klingon still keeping one hand close to his weapon as they walked past the occasional group of watchful men gathered around one of the stout wooden tables.

    As they got to the bar, Jirel called the bartender over.

    Bri’tor uncertainly approached the strangers, cautiously eyeing them up as he did so while trying to remain as casual as possible to the untrained observer, cleaning the shot glass in his hand with a dirty rag. All things considered, it hadn’t been a particularly violent day so far by the Bar of Plenty’s low standards, aside from the odd disagreement. But as he sized up the two men, he had a feeling that might be about to change.

    The strangers were clearly not from around these parts. In fact, they were clearly not from Nimbus III at all.

    Which tended to spell trouble, as far as Bri’tor was concerned.

    Still, he was a businessman first and foremost, inasmuch as one could be a businessman in Arcadia Falls. And so he put on his best welcoming smile as he met the Trill and the Klingon.

    “Hey there. What’ll it be, gents?”

    Jirel went to reply, but before he could, Klath’s voice boomed out.

    “We are looking for a man called Toxis.”

    In an instant, the entire establishment was plunged into silence again. Conversations ceased. The music was extinguished. Bri’tor dropped the glass he was cleaning onto the ground where it shattered into a thousand pieces, his welcoming smile vanishing in an instant.

    Jirel sighed deeply and shook his head. “Subtlety, Klath. Remember what I said about subtlety.”

    The Klingon looked back at the Trill with a slightly put-off expression. “I do not see why we have to--”

    “N--Now listen, friends,” Bri’tor stammered nervously, “We can all see you’re new in town. But this is a friendly establishment, you hear? And you really shouldn’t go around saying names like that without--”

    Before Bri’tor could get any further, the door to the Bar of Plenty swung open again, with enough force to cause everyone present to turn around as one.

    And Jirel immediately realised that their search wasn’t going to take very long at all.

    Toxis strode into the bar, dressed in dark clothing which didn’t seem to be causing him any discomfort in the Nimbosian heat. His grizzled, pock-marked face displayed an even fuzz of beard growth, and his sunken blue eyes stared back at the newcomers with clear contempt as he slowly chewed on a mouthful of tobacco.

    Behind him stood a couple of menacing heavies. All three men were clearly armed, with twin Nimbosian pistols holstered to their waists. But for the moment, they left them there.

    “Feels like my ears are burning, strangers,” Toxis muttered with his deep voice as he pushed back his wide-brimmed hat with his thumb.

    Klath’s hand twitched closer to his own pistol, the Klingon’s eyes narrowing as he surveyed the three men.

    Jirel, for his part, couldn’t help but mutter one single word as he stared back at the dangerous outlaw in his midst.

    “Awesome..."
     
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  17. BountyTrek

    BountyTrek Lieutenant Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2021
    Part Two (Cont'd)

    Natasha wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand as she took a step back from her patient.

    It wasn’t an entirely sanitary procedure. But then, very little about the impromptu emergency surgery she had just performed had been.

    The unconscious Nimbosian man lay on what passed for a surgical table in a side room of Arcadia Falls’s infirmary. The table was a tired metal construct which to her medical eye looked like it had arrived here from the last century.

    It was in keeping with the rest of the equipment she had been forced to improvise with during the procedure. Old school instruments and tools, dubious sanitation, and not a functioning tricorder to be found anywhere in the dilapidated building.

    But despite everything, as she surveyed her patient through the ever-present heat of the room, she felt a sense of satisfaction that her Hippocratic Oath was safe for another day.

    Using a combination of emergency field training techniques, vague memories of a series of lectures on historical medicine she had attended at the Academy, and a fair share of improvisation, she had managed to clean, cauterise and stitch up the ugly knife wound in the man’s stomach.

    And, after arriving at the infirmary, she had also managed to find some assistance.

    “Well I’ll be,” a voice next to her piped up, “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

    Natasha turned and smiled at the source of the voice.

    “Yeah. He’ll need monitoring for any signs of infection, but I think our patient’s gonna make it.”

    She had met Kitaxis as soon as she had unceremoniously barged into the infirmary carrying the injured man, and from what she’d been able to ascertain during their moments of conversation during the procedure, she comprised the entire medical staff of Arcadia Falls.

    She was a stout woman, a species that Natasha wasn’t entirely familiar with. She had curiously feline features, not unlike a Caitian, but with bare skin instead of fur. She was also in possession of not one, but two cleavages, which even in her modest nurse’s outfit was proving more of a curiosity to Natasha than she’d probably have liked it to be.

    But while there were plenty of physical differences between them, there was something far greater that they had in common. Something that all medical professionals had across the galaxy, regardless of the facilities they worked in, from human to Nimbosian to Romulan to Breen.

    A determination to help people.

    It wasn’t a trait that was necessarily common across all life forms without a medical background. In fact, the gruff Nimbosian who had reluctantly helped Natasha carry the injured man to the infirmary had then disappeared almost immediately.

    Natasha had a sneaking suspicion he had simply walked back to the saloon across the street, as if the desperate race to save the other man’s life had just been a fleeting annoyance that had kept him from his next round at the bar.

    But while he had made himself scarce, Kitaxis had stayed by Natasha’s side throughout the entire operation, fetching her tools and equipment as she had called for it. Or at least, the closest approximation to whatever she had asked for that was available inside the threadbare medical cabinets of this particular facility.

    As Natasha moved over to the rudimentary sink and cleaning facilities located in the corner of the room to clean herself up as best she could, Kitaxis moved over to the injured man’s side and checked his vital signs.

    “You know,” she nodded in response to Natasha’s comment, “I really think he is gonna be alright, isn’t he?”

    “You sound surprised,” Natasha replied good-naturedly, as she thoroughly scrubbed the blood from her hands.

    There was a pause. She looked over at the other woman, who wasn’t smiling. Instead, she was looking down at their patient with sad regret.

    “Lotta folks come in to the infirmary like this,” she lamented, “Usually all I can do is just try to make them as comfortable as possible.”

    Natasha finished scrubbing her hands and dried them on a nearby towel, feeling the gnawing sense of guilt that persisted inside her approaching critical levels.

    “What about the other staff? Doctors? Surgeons?”

    “Hasn’t been a doctor in Arcadia Falls in all the time I’ve been here,” she explained, “When me and my husband came to town, the infirmary had been closed for months. I’ve done what I can to get the place up and running, but I’m not a doctor.”

    “What about your husband?”

    At this, Kitaxis allowed herself a slight smile. “Bri’tor runs the saloon across the street. Truth is, that’s where too many of my patients come from.”

    Natasha finished drying her hands and stepped back over to the table as Kitaxis continued with a slightly more lamenting tone.

    “I know a few things about medicine, but not enough. Not much I can do for gunshots, or mining accidents, or wounds like that. Maybe if Bri’tor’s business brought in more money, we could afford more equipment, or to bring in a doctor from Paradise City…”

    The ball of guilt in Natasha’s stomach started to ache.

    “But,” Kitaxis concluded with a shrug as she started to clear away the tools from next to the operating table, “I guess towns like this don’t get doctors.”

    Natasha heard herself sigh audibly. In her mind, the reason that they had travelled to Arcadia Falls had now been almost completely forgotten. All that remained was a palpable need to help.

    She stepped up to the other woman and smiled.

    “Well,” she offered, “You’ve got one now. Any more patients around here?”

    Kitaxis looked up at the soft features of the human woman with a look of surprise. Like Natasha’s comment was the last thing she had been expecting.

    Kindness, after all, was also in short supply in Arcadia Falls.

    ****************************

    “Really, you’re too kind.”

    Jirel watched as the glass on the table in front of him was topped up again from the dirty brown bottle in Bri’tor’s shaking hand.

    He wasn’t entirely sure what he had been expecting when Toxis had so dramatically walked into the bar. A gunfight, a bar brawl, or even a good old fashioned duel out in the street.

    Instead, the grizzled man had apparently decided to add them to his bar tab.

    Jirel and Klath sat on one side of one of the Bar of Plenty’s larger wooden tables, with Toxis on the other, flanked by his goons who had been introduced as D’Ronn and Sa’Loq. Jirel was slightly embarrassed to admit that he couldn’t remember which was which. Partly because the two bald Nimbosian goons looked very similar. But also partly because Jirel’s head was starting to feel a little foggy from the shots of burning Nimbosian liquor that they had already shared.

    And they kept on coming. Courtesy of the meanest outlaw in Prosperity County.

    “Nonsense,” Toxis drawled with a grin, accepting his own refil from Bri’tor, “Kindness is nothing to do with it. If me and my boys can’t make a couple of off-worlders feel welcome in our humble town, then what the hell is this planet coming to, right, bartender?”

    Toxis went to pat Bri’tor on the shoulder, only for the shorter Nimbosian to duck out of the way instinctively with a flinch, eliciting a chuckle from Toxis.

    “Don’t mind him,” he continued, “He’s been on edge ever since me and my boys had to teach his brother a little lesson. Ain’t that right?”

    Bri’tor gently set the bottle down on the table and took a step back, summoning up as much defiance as he could despite the fear he felt inside.

    “Can’t teach lessons to a dead man, Toxis.”

    Toxis’s expression hardened slightly for a moment, before his face creased back into a smile and he let out another cruel chuckle, backed up by equally mocking noises from D’Ronn and Sa’Loq.

    “Well now,” Toxis said through the chuckling, “I guess that’s true, isn’t it.”

    He and his comrades laughed a bit louder as they looked back over at Klath and Jirel. Neither of them felt like joining in.

    “I…don’t get it,” Jirel managed.

    To Jirel’s side, Klath remained silent, the Klingon’s focus entirely on assessing the men in front of him from a battle perspective.

    Klath's own liquor glass remained untouched. He knew that this wasn’t the sort of situation where he should be impairing his senses in any way. He also knew he would already be at a disadvantage in any fight. These men were used to Nimbosian weapons. He wasn’t.

    The chuckling continued for a moment, even as Bri’tor took the chance to quickly retreat back to the bar area, before Toxis’s weathered features hardened into a more adversarial glare.

    “I can see you’re not in the mood for pleasantries, strangers. Your choice.”

    Jirel shifted awkwardly in his seat, suddenly feeling the two rows of spots down his face starting to itch, as they tended to do whenever he felt nervous.

    For all the the free liquor and the apparent friendliness so far, he didn’t need to have Klath’s sense of danger to detect the menacing undercurrent in just about every one of Toxis’s comments.

    “Still,” Toxis continued, idly chewing his tobacco as he spoke, “I gotta say, off-worlder. It’s a pretty brave man that comes riding into Arcadia Falls to see me.”

    He paused for a moment to send a thick chunk of tobacco arcing down onto the floor, landing inches away from Jirel’s boot where it poked out from the side of the table.

    “Pretty brave, or pretty stupid. Which is it?”

    “I’ve been called both,” Jirel offered with as casual a shrug as he could muster, “But we’re not here to fight. Just to talk.”

    Toxis chewed thoughtfully for a few moments as he stared across at the Trill.

    Jirel felt a bead of sweat passing down his back and licked his lips. He considered scratching his increasingly itchy spots, but reasoned that it was probably best not to make any sudden movements for the moment.

    In his peripheral vision, he saw Klath tense up a little more as the silence continued. And although he couldn’t tell for sure, the Trill felt as if the entire bar had fallen silent again, with everyone in there focused on Toxis as he chewed over both his tobacco and Jirel’s comment.

    Eventually, the outlaw leaned forwards and nodded.

    “Ok then,” he motioned, “So talk.”

    Jirel licked his lips again, idly wondering exactly when this little adventure stopped feeling quite so much like fun.

    “Um, well,” he began, keeping his tone as friendly as possible, “We’re here to smooth things over, y’know? I understand that you and our friend have had a little difference of opinion over his ranch, but I think we can sort this all out.”

    Toxis’s face betrayed a flicker of something that Jirel couldn’t quite place.

    “My ranch, you mean?” he offered by means of a correction, “My ranch that your little hobgoblin friend is squatting in.”

    “Come on now,” Jirel replied a little more boldly, feeling as though he was making progress, “We’re all adults here, Toxis. And we know that Zesh won that place fair and square.”

    Toxis’s face creased into a tight, thin smile. A second chunk of dirty tobacco joined the first on the ground.

    “Fair and square doesn’t mean much in Prosperity County, off-worlder. Guess it’s the way we’re all brought up. When there’s as little to fight over as there is down here, folks’ll fight over what there is stronger than anywhere else in the galaxy.”

    For reasons that Jirel didn’t want to dwell on, part of him thought about Natasha, and her guilt trips from earlier.

    “So,” Toxis continued, “While I can respect the stones on you folks for coming all this way to help out your little friend, I’m afraid that I can’t respect much more than that.”

    “We are prepared to resist you,” Klath grunted, still struggling with the concept of subtlety.

    Toxis sized the Klingon up with the look of a man who definitely didn’t mind a fight. “I don’t doubt it,” he replied, “But I’m gonna get my ranch.”

    “Hey,” Jirel persisted, “I’m sure we can all--”

    He was interrupted by a curious chirping noise from a tiny old-fashioned communicator located on Sa’Loq’s belt. Or possibly on D’Ronn’s belt, Jirel still wasn’t clear.

    Without even looking over to D’Ronn (or Sa’Loq), Toxis leaned back in his seat with a sudden look of contentment on his face. As if he already knew what the message was going to be.

    Like he’d been waiting for it. All this time.

    Despite the fact that he was still suffering in the intense Nimbosian afternoon heat, seemingly being exacerbated by the fiery alcohol he’d been imbibing, Jirel felt a chill pass down his spine.

    His spots itched with a burning intensity.

    “Or,” Toxis said darkly, “Maybe I’ve already got it.”
     
    tax1234 and Robert Bruce Scott like this.
  18. Robert Bruce Scott

    Robert Bruce Scott Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2021
    I didn't think Jirel's "awesomes" would last all that long. Nice villain in Toxis (and appropriately named.) So I wonder just what kind of toxin Jirel has just imbibed...

    Looks like it's up to Klath - and I suspect Sunek on the home front. Definitely have the Westworld thing going in this story...

    Thanks!! rbs