Hunter’s Moon: Part 6

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McGrath woke with a splitting headache and a taste in his mouth that made him think something had crawled in there and died while he was unconscious. 

He sat up slowly, blurred vision sharpening until he could make out the faces of the two individuals standing near him. He rested on a cot pushed into the corner of a concrete bunker. There were no windows or openings as far as he could tell, save for an armored door on the far wall. A light fixture flickered above him, and dust motes swirled in its inconstant glow. 

“How are you feeling?” 

He recognized the voice. 

The pair looming before him moved aside, and Abigail stepped into the light. It was good to see a familiar face, but he hadn’t expected it. She wore a leather suit with armored pads at the elbows and knees and cradled a black helmet under one arm. 

“I’m okay. Arm’s a little sore, but I took a plasma bolt at full charge, so that’s to be expected I guess.” He smiled weakly. “Thanks for the rescue.” 

“Figured you might need some backup.” 

McGrath glanced at the others. He didn’t recognize either of them. 

 A man with bulging muscles, a weather-worn face, and skin like old leather stood by Abigail’s side, enormous arms folded across his barrel chest. He wore desert gear, a tattered dust robe and fingerless gloves. An automatic weapon hung from a strap over one shoulder. A short, stocky woman stood to his left. She had cropped hair, buzzed at the temples, a hawkish nose and beady eyes that gave her a somewhat mousey appearance despite her athletic build. She too was armed. A coilgun of off-world manufacture hugged her hip. 

“Where am I?” McGrath asked. 

Abigail grabbed a flimsy metal chair and placed it in front of him. She sat. “Underground bunkers left over from…who knows when? We moved in a few years back. There are miles of tunnels. Storage facilities. Living quarters. I think the Empire used them as barracks for the garrison that was stationed here before the rebellion. The Magistrate’s people ain’t even begun to uncover ‘em all.” 

“And you are?” McGrath asked, addressing the other two.

Abigail spat on the floor. “The Magistrate calls us bandits, which I guess ain’t totally untrue. We’ve been hijacking his convoys for months. It’s the only way we can resupply. Empire might be dust now, but we still feel its influence. As long as the Magistrate controls the spaceport, we got no way off this planet. Have to fight if we want to survive.” 

McGrath chewed on that for a minute. Now he understood why the Magistrate didn’t want him getting involved. Local politics. “I have reason to believe that Donner has information that could help the Rigelians. The Magistrate knows that, which is why he offered him to their envoy as a prisoner in exchange for weapons.” 

“The Magistrate’s been dealing with the Scalies for months now,” the muscular man said. “It’s only a matter of time before he sells his own people out. He never cared about us. He’s only interested in power.” 

“We have families,” the mousey woman added. “People who depend on us to protect them. It’s hard-living out here. If the Magistrate has off-world tech, we’ll never be able to stop him from hunting us down and killing the lot of us. We’re just vermin, s’far as he’s concerned.” 

McGrath gripped the edge of the cot and pulled himself to his feet. A wave of motion sickness crashed in his head, and he drew in a slow, steady breath. Whatever drugs they’d given him were still in full effect. His vision doubled for a moment, then returned to normal. He glanced at the bandages on his palms, which bore the dark stains of dried blood. 

“Easy now,” Abigail said, placing her hand on his shoulder. 

He leaned against the wall and swayed. “I have a proposal.” 

“What’s that?” 

“Help me get Donner, and I’ll split the bounty with you. There’s a high price on his head, and it’ll be enough to buy supplies, weapons, off-world medical equipment, whatever you need. I wish I could offer more, but I’ve got debts of my own.” 

“You want us to go back there? To the Magistrate’s outpost? What about that Scaly bitch?” 

“She’s tough, but she’s not invincible. Sounds like you’ve got a good-sized operation here. Don’t tell me you can’t spare a few folks for a little smash and grab?” 

“What makes you think they’re still at the outpost?” the muscular man asked. “They’re probably long gone by now.” 

“I crippled their vehicles when I picked him up,” Abigail said. “But that won’t stop them for long.” 

“They’ve got a ship.” McGrath pulled himself together. He wiped sweat from his brow and wet his lips. “It’s docked at Prosperity. That’s what, a few days travel? More if they’re on foot?” 

“They won’t go on foot,” the mousey woman said. “Quickest way’s to catch a train at Landing. It’s only about twenty miles from that outpost. They could get there by nightfall. Train’ll take ‘em less than an hour to get to the spaceport. Doesn’t give us much time.”

“Okay, then we leave now.” 

“You’re in no shape to travel,” Abigail said. “You need to rest.” 

“There’s no time. If they get to their ship, it’s over. I don’t know what Donner stole from Pollux Three, but if the Rigelians want it, that’s not good for anyone. Those bastards have been a plague on the Outer Colonies since the collapse of the Empire. They’re pirates and slavers. I know how they operate. I fought them during the War. You think the Magistrate’s bad, try growing up on planet occupied by the Scalies.”  

He stared into Abigail’s eyes, willing her to understand. 

“I’m no fool, McGrath. I lost my sister and nieces to those fuckers. Slaughtered during a raid two seasons ago. Burned the whole settlement to the ground.” Her voice wavered as she spoke. “I know what’s at stake.” 

McGrath released the wall and stood on his own. Nausea rippled through him, twisting in the pit of his stomach. “Good, then it’s settled. We leave now.” 

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