The USS Hawking was humanity's greatest achievement. It wasn't much to look at; it was a spacecraft built in orbit, so it had no streamlining, no panache, it was a mass of pods, modules, and struts. It was designed for functionality with no thought given to aesthetics. The part of it where the two-person crew that would guide it through the stars lived was no bigger than a school bus. But for all of that it had one thing that no other craft in history possessed, a functioning Alcubierre Drive. And that meant that the Hawking could conceivably break the speed of light. Or more accurately, sidestep it by compressing the space in front of it and making it seem like it was going faster than light.
So there I was, bound with my own set of manacles in an empty boxcar headed for Sacramento with a dead deputy and a cannibal with magic powers. It was not my best day. I struggled with the cuffs but to no avail.
From the memoirs of Henry Jessup, Bounty Hunter
The Richardson bounty started out easy. Elias Richardson wasn't a hardened criminal, and he didn't have the instincts of most of the horse thieves, bank robbers, cattle rustlers and other such vermin I usually tracked. Elias was only 19, barely old enough to be called a man, and from a wealthy Denver family. At first, I had a bit of sympathy for the kid, because it seemed that he wasn't BAD, per se, just over his head. The boy had developed a bit of a gambling habit at his young age, got accused of cheating and killed his accuser in cold blood. He then lit out for Virginia City. That's where I came in.
The boy wasn't particularly adept at covering up his tracks, and it didn't take me long to track him to a brothel called Lady Jane's on B Street. High class one too, so apparently he still had some resources. Once I grabbed him, Ricardson was probably going to be either going to end up hanging from a rope or spending a long time in a Colorado prison, so I figured I'd let him have this last bit of fun before I grabbed him. This was my first mistake.
I walked into the place, flashed my badge to the proprietress (Lady Jane herself, of course), explained the situation and waited. It was a pretty typical establishment, a small waiting room with a piano player and a couple of young women acting coy. It reeked of perfume and whiskey, and I could hear some of the more...enthusiastic activities going on in the rooms upstairs. I settled in for a short wait. How much stamina could that kid have after all? So I sat, twiddling my thumbs trying to concentrate on the piano and to ignore the other noises.
Suddenly, there was a scream from upstairs, not of pleasure but of terror and pain. All other noises stopped, and I drew my side iron and went racing upstairs. A second scream pierced the silence. This one, I saw, came from one of the working girls who must have opened the door to the room from whence the first scream came. And when I got there, I saw why as the corpse of another woman was sprawled out on the bed, covered in fresh blood. No one else was in the room, but a window that led onto a balcony was open. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that the man who did this was Elias Richardson.
The balcony ran along the length of the building and had a staircase that led to the alley below. As I got out there, I saw a man reaching the bottom of the stairs. I leveled my pistol at him and yelled "Richardson! Don't you move another inch or your skull will be full of lead!"
He ignored me and kept running. I fired twice and missed before running after him myself. He rounded a corner and headed from the back of the building up to B Street. By the time I reached it, he was gone, there was no sign of him. Seemed this wasn't going to be such easy money after all.
I asked a few bystanders, a young man covered in blood was likely to stick out after all, but by the time I found someone who had seen him and directed me to the alley where Richardson had run, I had lost too much time. On the ground lay a discarded and bloodstained jacket, vest and hat. Richardson was gone, and if he were smart, he would be hiding. I could only hope he didn't have that much sense.
I returned to Lady Jane's. I knew there was nothing I could do for the dead girl, but I also knew the Sheriff would be there soon if he weren't there already, and he would want to hear what I would have to say if nothing else. But I might also possibly get lucky and beat him, and have a chance to look around a bit before he got there. Hopefully, I could find something that would help me track the young lady's killer.
I made my way back to the room and pushed the crowd of working girls and their customers, all of whom were clustered at the doorway and gawking at the horrific sight within. I quickly looked over the room, unsure of how much time I would have before the sheriff came and took over. Firstly, I noticed that the girl was fully clothed, indicating that they never actually began to have sex. She was bound, and it looked as if she had been gagged, but the gag had slipped down below her mouth, thus allowing her to scream. Finally, a strange symbol was painted on here mirror in yellow pigment. I didn't recognize it, but it resembled nothing so much as three question marks all surrounding a central dot. And that was as far as I was able to go before I heard Sheriff Tompkins shouting "All right all right. Everyone go home or back your rooms. MOVE!" and the crowd began to thin.
Tompkins walked into the room, gut first because he was pretty fond of his food and beer, saw me and said "Well Goddamit Henry. Why aren't I surprised to see you here? Not another one of THEM cases, is it?"
"I don't know yet, Sherriff but, " I pointed to the symbol painted on the mirror, "that tells me it probably is. Sure wish I got paid extra for them." I then launched into a truthful account of the story so far.
When I was done, the sheriff looked over the body, then looked over the sigil on the mirror and said: "You sure it was Richardson?"
I said "Hell, I don't know for certain. I didn't get a good look at whoever it was ran out of here. But I would stake good money on it. I would bet that if we asked Lady Jane, she would say that girl was the one he rented."
The Sherrif let out a rueful sigh "Well, now that he has committed a murder in my town, that makes him as much my business as yours. I will let you know if I, or any of my boys, catch him. And I know that if you find him first, you will drop him off at my jail, not try to drag him back to Denver. Right?"
"Of course sheriff. I get paid either way." I said. It was true too, though dropping him off with the sheriff meant I would have to wait a bit to get paid until word got back to Denver and they decided to authorize payment to our authorities. But Sherriff Tompkins was a valued friend and ally, one I couldn't afford to cross. I'd have to do it his way.
My instinct told me that he would try to get out of town and soon. He still had a little bit of money, apparently, and he didn't seem like the kind to ride cross country on a horse. So I planted myself at the train station, found a nice bench near the ticket office, bought a copy of the Territorial Enterprise and waited. I waited for him for the rest of that day. I did it again the next day. On the third day, I found him. But the son of a bitch was too smart to buy a ticket. To be honest, I didn't come across him first, one of the sheriff's deputies did, but poor Deputy Warren didn't survive the encounter. Let me explain.
I had been watching the ticket line and was satisfied he wasn't buying a ticket for the 3:15 to Sacramento. I had gotten up to stretch my legs and walk around a little. A train in the process of being loaded an boarded is always noisy, and this one was no exception. The train itself was letting out puffs as its boilers were brought up to steam and there were conversations, laughter, the shouts of men loading cargo and all manner of commotion and chaos. But still, among all that, I managed to overhear one particular set of words, someone shouting "Hands up Richards..." then it went silent. Without pausing, I ran down the length of the train until I saw a boxcar with an open door, I jumped inside to see Elias Richardson, standing over the body of one of Sherrif Tompkins deputies, a man I knew as Andrew Warren. Deputy Warren was lying on the ground, a black smoking hole in his chest where his heart should be. And the heart itself was in the hands of the well dressed Elias Richardson, who was at that very moment eating it as casually as if it were an apple.
I drew my pistol, but it seemed he needed no weapon. He raised his hand and spoke a few phrases in some language I had never heard before. I dropped to my knees before my gun had cleared its holster. I couldn't move. His leaned over me, his face smeared with blood and said: "I am so glad you arrived, It's going to be a long trip, and since I can't ride up front with the civilized folk, I am going to want a snack for the road."
TO BE CONTINUED...
The man opened his eyes, but it was still as black and dark as if he had them shut. He was on some kind of cold, stone table and he was entirely nude. Wherever he was, it was underground if the earthy smell that he detected was any clue. Beyond that, he had no idea where he was.
He sat up and tried to remember how he got here and when. But beyond a few flashes, of a party mostly, he couldn't recall a thing. Nor even, when he thought about it, could he remember basic details like his name or whether he had a family. He thought he had a family. The one thing he could remember, the party, he was sure some of the people there had been his family. But what he could tell you was who they were to him. Wives, daughters, sons, brothers...nothing so specific. Just that he had a connection to some of the faces he could remember.
And he was cold. He was naked, sitting on a cold stone table in the dark and shivering. No blanket, no clothes, nothing between him and the cold air. So that left him nothing to do but try to find a way out of this cold dark place.
The man shuffled around, in the dark. He felt a few more stone tables, like the one he was on, but they seemed to be empty. He eventually came to a stone wall, he felt along it, following it until he found a door of what felt like wood, with a metal knob. He tried it, but it was locked. He knocked on it, yelled out, screamed at the top of his lungs, but to no avail. No one answered. No one came.
In a panic, he threw his body, shoulder first, into the door. It gave a little but did not open. He pounded some more, for a while he remembered nothing of a personal nature, the man knew that sooner or later he would need to eat or drink and he didn't know how much air was in the room. Eventually, he would die if he did not escape, he was sure of that much.
He tried and kept trying the door. He worked at it, kicked at it, screamed and yelled and hit it with his shoulder again and again and again until he could do it no longer. When he could do it no more, he lay back down on the table, and he slept. After he rested, he thought to himself, he would try again. Yes, he would try again after he got some rest.
On a fall day, an old man opened the wooden door of the Hudson family Mausoleum for a young man and his wife. Light flooded the crypt for possibly the first time in 50 years. Stone sarcophagi, unadorned save for the names engraved on them stood in the room.
"So this is where Uncle George is interred?" said the woman.
"Yep," said the old man "No one has been in here since he died. All the legends you hear are baloney if you ask me."
The young man began taking rubbings of the names on the tombs and asked "What legends?"
"My predecessor wouldn't even come near this one at night. Said you could knocking and scratching. He said he checked it out once, thinking a vagrant might have gotten in somehow, but when he opened the door, there was nothing there."
Having gotten the genealogical information the couple had come for, the old caretaker locked the crypt up yet again. And when the sun went down, the man opened his eyes in the darkness once more.