Sunday, February 18, 2024

BESM - Palomino: Falling Into Grace 1

The transport from NeoWyoming had been five days on its way. Towards the front lay luxury compartments, with their real showers, housekeeping services, rare beverages & fine cuisine. Then the coach compartments, tightly packed with those hoping for a brighter future on a new world; the compartments would be dropped in toto on their destination. Then the cargo & fuel compartments and finally, far from the pampered opulence of first-class, three drifters shared a space with an assortment of impecunious travelers & their livestock, their mecha lashed to the sides of the module.

Kate "Chance" Shaughnessy, demolitions expert & poker player, traveled in style when she could afford it, which was rarely. Now she practiced making scarves appear & disappear from her sleeves. Se-No-Wo-Te, displaced indigene, had done some dirty work back on NeoWyoming, been well-paid for it, and then proclaimed a thief, barely escaping onto the next transport leaving the planet. He brooded on the white man's perfidy and whittled a stick down into a smaller stick. Jake Walters, traveling tinker & gunsmith, spent most of the trip mentally taking apart other people's mecha. The three hadn't hit it off well with the other travelers, who distrusted Se-No-Wo-Te on sight, disliked Kate after she'd won what little money they had, and considered Jake's collection of gun-related reading material & paraphernalia alarming.

Nearby drop points: Arabia (a desert moon populated by ethnically based communities), Palomino (a booming mining colony), Stallion (breeding ground for transplantable bio-engineered livestock) and Mustang (a barely terraformed hell).

On Palomino were Grace, a mining/ranching community, Pinto City, home of the outbound launch pad, the rail towns of North & South Junctions, and Palomino City: the moon's nominal capital, it lost the launch pad race to Pinto City and then had Travers Canyon near Grace suck in all the money and manpower, leaving Palomino itself almost a ghost city.

All three thought Grace a likely destination. They packed their gear, boarded their mecha, and dropped toward Grace's landing area, a cratered swathe of desert outside town. The picked over remnants of a failed mecha landing lay like bleached metallic bones in the sun. A radio beacon came from a daringly (okay, foolishly) close shack (Lucky's—Lucky himself has two cyberlimbs), advertising repair services, food, & liquids. The Grace beacon was about five klicks away.

Se-No-Wo-Te parked his mecha in the wild and walked toward the high desert to hunt, with a notable lack of success. He did find water, but it didn't smell right. Drinking from it were two underweight branded cattle, no doubt escaped from someone's ranch. He decided to return them, tracking their trail. He passed electronic fence-posts, apparently out of order. There were signs of a sizable number of cattle having been here, not the best grazing land but obviously owned. It was deep night when he located the dark ranch house, tied off the cattle, and bedded down on the porch until morning.

Kate & Jake turned their mecha toward Grace. Nice houses ringed the town, their ranges extending in wedges outward. Two of them seem to belong to the lawkeepers; one with a mecha. Then another ring of decent places, a cluster of gambling dens, red-light districts & others catering to those who’ve been in space too long, and finally the solid, moneyed center of town. There was a mecha parking lot (empty), with a nearby blacksmith and parts store. It lacked an hour to sunset; Jake & Kate both had enough money for a couple of nights of high living, or a couple of weeks of low.

Jake chose Mama Cassady's Boarding House, a former bordello manned by a colorful burnout case (and his passel of children) with an egg fixation who let him stay in exchange for doing much-needed repairs. He fixed the water filtration system to pay for the night; it looked like Cassady had a hard time remembering which filters he’d already used. Jake found one clean filter in the stack, fixed a pump, and did some other minor work on the system before going to bed. The night was disturbed by crying babies, hookers with clients, and what sounded like someone on a bad trip.

Kate opted to take advantage of luxury while she could, in the form of a three-room suite at the Grand Salon. Looking out the window, she could see the ground train that ran from Grace to Travers Canyon and to the farming communities beyond. There were a couple more boarding houses, and two taverns in the least savory parts of town. If she ran out of money, she could always sleep in Ladybird. Downstairs the place had a nice saloon with ten tables, a chandelier, a player piano (turned off at the moment, as a woman performed an a cappella aria). There were a couple of obvious regulars, some tradesmen, a huckster, families coming to dinner, and serious drinkers. She had a drink and chatted with the barman, learning that the main employer was Travers Canyon. Travers was an egalitarian; he would even hire women miners. Free room, board, schooling, etc. People coming out of the canyon seemed to have money to spend... and then they went right back. You just had to live by his rules. There were also ranchers that needed land cleared, and some bear problems.

She took her drink and joined a card game: Two ranchers, two rubes passing through from the western farmland, and two men heading to Travers Canyon. One of the ranchers was obviously used to winning (and wearing a very obvious gun); the other seemed to be in it for fun. The farmers were sensible. The Travers Canyon guys might as well be lighting their cash on fire. Kate won enough to pay the night's lodging, but the rancher with the gun—David Fochenflick, as he introduced himself—won quite a bit more. He was a gracious victor, and gave her a card.

With the sun up and no sign of anyone stirring, Se-No-Wo-Te knocked. The house was unresponsive. He checked around the back, but before he could do more than look in the door he was shot at by three riflemen riding in from out-country. Summoning his mecha drastically changed the odds, and two of his attackers ran off. He captured one, who accused him of killing the house's residents - the Granger family - and of stealing cattle. Se-No-Wo-Te left him on top of a tall rock, hid his powered-down mecha in the badlands, and headed back in towards the building to keep watch. 

To Be Continued 

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