Gunslinger

Wednesday! Story day! Well I dropped the blurb yesterday, so not much to say about the story itself other than it was inspired by The Mandalorian, seeing as I re-watched it recently. Other than that this is a shorter story (about 9100 words) and I really enjoyed writing it. Hope you like it!

Karas is sat at the bar of the Ensorio Cantina. The cantina is a large open space filled with patrons, all of which are staying clear of Karas. The human has a reputation that follows him wherever he goes. It suits the man, who is sat upon a high stool sipping at the liquid in the glass in his hand. His shoulders are hunched making it abundantly clear that he does not wish to be bothered or conversed with by anyone. That includes the bartender, Kentor, who is also human. Though he is nothing like Karas. People don’t fear Kentor. He’s a simple man with a simple job, serve the patrons and ensure they stay happy. After all, Ensorio Cantina is located on one of the mid levels of Exodus, a dead planet.

Many would ask how a dead planet can have life on it and the truth is there is no life on Exodus, as it isn’t a planet anymore. Instead, it’s a husk that was hollowed out over many centuries by the countless dozens of species from hundreds of systems that have converted the former planet mine into a colony.

The interior of Exodus consists of thousands of levels which provide homes to billions of lives. However, Exodus is not the most reputable of places and the likelihood of a fight breaking out even on the mid levels is relatively high.

Kentor hopes that won’t be the case as he continues to polish glasses. He doesn’t have to do such things; he could instead relegate the job to a minion. If he does that though, he won’t be able to keep busy. For while the cantina may be bustling it is far from overflowing. He’s thankful for that as he’s the only bartender on duty tonight. It’s why he’s on duty alone. His boss knows better than to under staff a shift.

At that moment Kento is called to serve a patron and quickly crosses the space behind the metal and glass bar that rings around him in an oval shape to oblige.

The bar isn’t centred in the open space; instead it sits a little off centre allowing patrons to pour into the space from the entrance when the establishment is at its busiest. The low flat ceiling broken only by small vaults within which reside the bright beaming soft yellow lights that bathe the room in just enough light that the patrons can still conduct business with relative seclusion.

Karas gazes into his glass seeing that he has little more than dregs remaining as he mulls over whether he wants to order another shot of the ale. He doesn’t remember its name but decides he’d just rather wait. Bendo, the guild contact, should be along soon. Many of the patrons around the cantina, which is named after the district it is nestled within are laughing and chatting while they knock back booze, indulge in the plentiful supplies of narcotics which flow like water in this establishment or leer at the scantily clad barmaids who when not serving customers are writhing around provocatively.

Karas doesn’t know if they’re working girls or whether it is simply an added layer of entertainment. What he does know is that the writhing is part of the job description. There is no arguing against it. The girls know that if they want to work in the cantina then they have to be willing to strut and sway in ways that will please all the male patrons of the various races that frequent this place.

And Karas has to admit that the patrons are a healthy mix of most of the species that call Exodus home. It isn’t his home, at least not strictly. Karas, in truth, doesn’t really have a home as he’s a gun for hire. He goes where the credits take him and that is why right now he is here.

Karas casts his gaze around, taking note of how the patrons make sure to keep their eyes averted from him. It humours Karas how his reputation of the ‘slinger, as he has been nicknamed, follows him wherever he goes. He doesn’t even have to announce himself anymore. Everyone seems to know him just from a single glance of his six foot one inch height, his thick short brown hair and orange eyes. They aren’t the eyes he was born with; he doesn’t even remember what colour they were. Or what became of them for that matter. No, these eyes are enhancements that allow him to track, mark and locate targets in addition to them having significant zoom functionality readily at hand.

Still, Karas swirls his glass round and round in circles making the dregs of his drink lap lazily at the vertical sides of the tumbler which he holds between his first two fingers and thumb. It’s a sign that he’s bored, but he has to wait, the chance at extra creds is too good to pass up. He doesn’t know what mark Bendo might have for him, but he knows it’ll pay well enough. Bendo always pays well. In fact, every job from a Guild Practioner of Bounties pays well. It’s why Karas has been taking more of their jobs recently. It would help if Karas had a starship of his own, but he doesn’t. Not that he needs one on Exodus.

The ‘slinger wonders if on is the correct way of categorising his presence in regards to Exodus. He isn’t technically on the dead planet, as that would imply that he is stood upon its surface. But there is nothing on the surface of Exodus, save for the defensive weapon systems. He doesn’t know the last time the heavy ion cannons were fired or why this particular rock was chosen to be converted from an exhausted mine to a deep space colony that sits in an otherwise dead end system. After all, Exodus is not unique in being a dead world that was mined for resources.

Though, Exodus is the only planet in this system and its star is long since dead. That’s why the surface of the sphere is nothing but heat blasted rock. Exodus, Karas doesn’t know what its name might have been before, sits on the very limit of the system, which is the only reason it wasn’t vaporised into dust when the systems star exploded. He has no idea how long ago that was as Bendo finally arrives.

The Guild Practioner of Bounties slinks slowly down the stairs into the open floor of the cantina. He catches the glances in his direction from a healthy number of the patrons. It makes him chuckle silently as he paces toward the bar, taking note that Kentor is serving tonight. That’s a good thing he notes to himself as he comes to sit on the stool next to Karas. He knows it’s the gunslinger even though the man, who is a fellow human, refuses to turn and greet him. The Kellar armour and a grey fray edged cloak that hangs off one shoulder are enough proof of how he has just sidled up next to. Bendo is sure Karas knows he is here, but the ‘slinger seldom partakes in welcomes and niceties. He is all business, which is why Bendo snaps his fingers several times to get Kento’s attention.

Bendo is parched and in desperate need of a drink. He licks at the corners of his mouth where his thing chapped lips meet, above which sits a flat nose and small sunken blue eyes. Bendo’s head is shaved but his jaw line is buried beneath a thick yet well maintained blonde beard that exaggerates his otherwise lacking natural jaw line helping to give it definition.

“What’ll it be Bendo?” Kento asks with a warm wide smile. It’s a sincere gesture which is why Bendo likes the bartender and continues to regularly frequent the cantina.

“Flask of Benshin.” Bendo answers succinctly as he continues to lick at the corners of his mouth. He can feel how dry his throat is, which is why he is pleased to see Kento waste no time in pouring a healthy dose of Benshin Pearl into the stout metal flask.

“Keep the change.” Bendo offers as he throws down more than twice the credits needed to pay for the alcoholic spirit, which he quickly raises to his lips and greedily sips at.

The burn of the alcohol stretches down his throat quenching his thirst. He doesn’t know how the powerful spirit manages it, but he isn’t about to question the miracle as he lets out a long sigh of satisfaction followed by slight nods and a lick of the entire surface of his lips. He refuses to waste even a drop of the precious beverage. But begrudgingly, he sets the flask back down onto the glass top of the bar below which are a couple of shelves packed full, he of thousands of species alcoholic delicacies.

Bendo wonders whether he should offer Karas a drink, but decides better of it. The gunslinger isn’t known for accepting gifts. Bendo doesn’t know why, but he does know better than to question. The man’s reputation is fierce and if he’s here in the cantina then it means he is expecting a job. Karas isn’t a bounty hunter but Bendo still offers him marks, as Karas likes to call them, as though he is a member of the guild. No one will question it. If they did Bendo can always put a bullet from his concealed Bell Pistol in them. The snub nosed projectile firing weapon might be considered old school or archaic, but it still gets the job done. If it didn’t the weapon would have gone out of production centuries ago, but it hasn’t. In fact, Bendo is pretty sure that it is still a favourite among smugglers, dealers and traffickers. The same sort of people Bendo issues jobs to have taken down or apprehended. Even if the people issuing the bounties are also the exact same types as those with credits on their heads.

Bendo doesn’t discriminate. He only cares that he gets paid. It’s been a long time since someone has dared to try and swindle him. Mainly because few people want to end up on the shitlist with the Practioners, who could quite easily someday be needed to put a job up with so a rival or problem can be resolved.

Kento scurries off again having been called by a patron at the far end of the oval bar. Bendo isn’t surprised that everyone is keeping their distance from Karas, who is visibly armed with twin Strike Bolt plasma pistols as well as a Devour Blade. The large knife is strapped to the centre of the hired guns Kellar chest plate. It’s a clear warning to anyone not to mess with him. Though, the gunslinger refuses to wear the helmet that would complete the armour. Bendo doesn’t get why. If he was Karas he’d make sure to never remove a helmet in the presence of anyone, for fear of having his head shot off. However, when you have the well earned reputation of being the quickest draw in the galaxy, like Karas, maybe it makes sense why he refuses to wear a helmet. Few aim for the head. The target is too small for most of the weapons wielded by the kinds of people Karas will face. Still, it’s a risk Bendo wouldn’t be willing to take if he were in the other man’s shoes he decides as he turns his focus to Karas. The hired gun is still sat facing forward swirling his tumbler absentmindedly. His eyes are locked forward in a blank stare that the patrons across the room from him seem uneasy have pointed in their direction. They won’t dare say nor do anything, except maybe retreat to a different alcove, all of which are identical with the small round tables and the semi circular bench seat that rings it. Still a barmaid quickly rushes across from whether she had been moments ago to block Karas’ stare and writhe suggestively. It’s a simple distraction for the three patrons who begin to grin crazily at the barely covered flesh of the human woman.

Bendo notes that she is one of the only human barmaids working tonight and that he has never seen her before. Maybe he’ll have to get acquainted with her later, but first business. He knows Karas is growing weary. The cantina isn’t his kind of place. He doesn’t indulge in narcotics or the barmaids and the swill he drinks has barely any potency. In many ways Karas is an anomaly. Perhaps it’s all an act to give him more mystique, but Bendo doubts that.

“Got a nice job for you Karas.” Bendo begins. He sees no point in wasting any more time. He knows the perfect mark to give the gunslinger.

“A Garteen…with a list of cred crimes as long as an Anacrisses’ tail.” Bendo continues. He knows Karas won’t say anything. The hired gun is a man of very few words. Most would find his lack of chat disturbing but Bendo has dealt with him long enough that it doesn’t bother him. Plus Bendo likes to talk. He loves the sound of his own voice, and that is why, in part, he became a Practioner of Bounties.

Though to him, anything is better than a life as a grub farmer or tunnel monkey. However, Bendo must admit that he has no idea why he compared the long list of crimes that this target has to his name to the length of the almost dinosaur like Anacrisse. Bendo has never seen one of the reptilian beasts, but he’s heard tell that their tails often stretch to more than seven metres. It humours him to picture the animal in his head, whose body is apparently less than half the length of its tail. He knows he could just look up an image of the creature, but that would take the fun out of imagining it, he thinks.

“It’s a real good job, with a hefty bounty. Fifty Thou.” Bendo advises with a wave of his hands to make a point of how big the bounty is compared to the incredibly low risk that the target poses.

“Names Velber. And the best part…He’s right here on Exodus.” Bendo informs between sips of his Benshin Pearl and long loud licks of his lips.

Karas can tell Bendo is pleased with himself for having this bounty on his books. He doesn’t know why, but clearly he’s been saving it. He can’t have known that Karas would be coming round. Bendo isn’t as well informed as he liked to think.

“He’s somewhere in the slums, the lower levels. Little toad is hiding. He thinks no one will find him down there. Obviously forgets that he’s got a disc in his neck like the rest of us.” Bendo says with a chuckle and a shake of his head. His beard rustles in response to the swift yet slight movements.

The Guild Practioner is referring to the transit discs that everyone on Exodus has embedded under their skin, except Karas and others like him who don’t actually come from Exodus. They’re visitors and as such aren’t required to be fitted with the devices which can easily be tracked to within four millimetres of the owners’ location. That’s of course, if they are still in one piece, seeing as trying to dig the small disc out will in almost every instance result in death.

At that moment an angry looking Nairian barges into the conversation. He shoves at Bendo who is nearly sent flying off his high stool by the bird like alien with black soulless eyes, a stubby beak within which are short sharp serrated teeth, and a rust coloured plume of feathers around his neck that make him look larger than his actual six foot two inch frame really is.

“Move human.” The Nairian orders with a growling voice and what can only be described as his species own version of a snarl.

His black eyes burrow into Bendo who on the surface smiles, but is really seething at this aliens interruption and obvious lack of decorum.

“We were here first. But how about I buy you a drink and we go our separate ways?” Bendo says trying to barter with the Nairian who shuffles angrily on his wide splayed four toed feet. The fourth toe jutting out the back of the aliens’ foot in much the same manner as the birds found on human worlds do.

Bendo is trying to keep the mood light as many of the patrons stare at them it silence. They are clearly waiting for a fight to break out, but Bendo doesn’t intend for that to happen. Even if he would like to shove the stubby barrel of his pistol into the Nairian’s gut and fire off several of the four rounds loaded into its barrel cylinder. He doubts the alien would be so brash with his guts hanging out and blood pooling at his feet.

“How about you buy me a drink and then you and your friend move? This is my space.” The Nairian spits angrily as it glowers menacingly while clenching its four digited fists tightly. It’s clear to see that the Nairian is not just ready to throw a punch, but eager as well.

Bendo always forgets that Nairian’s are covered from head to ankle in feathers. The’re are so short and flat that they appear more like skin in comparison to the kinds of feathers found on the birds he is used to seeing.

He wonders if Nairian’s have any genetic links to the birds found in human systems, but something tells him that’s doubtful. Birds, unless provoked, are never as ill-tempered as Nairian’s, who can’t even sing pretty tunes.

“How about some creds then? Will that bring this to a close?” Bendo then offers seeing that his bribe of buying the alien a drink has clearly fallen flat.

“Teeluk, don’t cause any trouble. Not tonight.” Kento says butting into the conversation and giving the Nairian’s name. But Teeluk ignores the human who is tending the bar of the cantina.

“Creds? How much you offering human?” Teeluk queries greedily. Few try and bribe with actual currency, which means the human is loaded, he concludes.

“Two hundred and you leave us be. What do you say?” Bendo offers confidently and with a forced smile on his face. He doubts the Nairian will know that the smile is forced, seeing as they aren’t the best at reading human facial expressions. That’s because the Nairian’s themselves have no facial expressions. They simply look angry all the time. It’s their voices that hint at their emotions, which is how they read other species, which is why Teeluk is sure Bendo is being sincere. Though, Teeluk believes the human a fool for his attempts at bartering.

Karas meanwhile says nothing. He continues to sit their swirling the tumbler in his hand round and round. He knows what will come next, even if Bendo doesn’t, but he’s ready for it.

“Sounds good.” Teeluk answers as he offers his wide feather covered four fingered hand ready to accept the credits Bendo has promised.

Bendo, being good to his word, drops the credit chip into the open waiting paw of the Nairian and then smiles. He is sure the brief albeit unnecessary tussle is over, but Teeluk doesn’t walk away. Instead, he grabs Bendo by the shoulder and wrenches him off the stool.

Bendo goes flying a couple metres across the empty floor space of the cantina before painfully slamming into the hard metal plating of the cantina floor. It’s unforgiving and Bendo can see little more than stars in his vision as he blinks rapidly hoping to clear them.

He is cursing himself for being civil and believing that the Nairian would do the same. He knows most Nairian’s are rarely civil, and by the looks of things this Teeluk definitely falls in with that majority.

The Guild Practioner considers pulling his Bell pistol and loosing off several rounds, but from this distance it’ll be little more than useless. After all, the projectile firing weapon is meant only to be used in the closest of quarters. It has no range, unlike the Strike Bolts that Karas has strapped to both of his thighs. Bendo doesn’t know if Teeluk has seen them, but he be surprised if he hadn’t.

With the first human out of his way Teeluk only now has to deal with the silent one. The patrons in the cantina all take a half step back. It’s good to feel powerful, Teeluk thinks as he invades this second human’s personal space.

“Move! This is my space, krem.” Teeluk spits the words in the native human tongue with venom. It’s a simple language to Teeluk who finds it vile to speak due to its lack of proper depth. His own language is far superior. In fact, most other species languages are superior to the human tongue, which isn’t even named after their species. In fact, Teeluk doesn’t actually know what it is named after. Some relic likely. The humans do seem to favour relics and the past, which Teeluk doesn’t understand. Plus human’s rely too much on facial movements and expressions for Nairian liking. But the use of the insult krem is common in the galaxy, especially in places like Exodus or some of the others crime controlled worlds.

Exodus isn’t a crime controlled world per se, but it does have plenty of crime. None of which exists on the high levels. No, instead that is often where the crime bosses and warlords can be found. They live in luxury with massive abodes that occupy large estates cut off from the rest of the colony by huge walls and intricate security systems.

Bendo can barely believe Teeluk has called Karas a krem. He doesn’t know the true meaning of the word or where it originated from, but he had learned over many cycles that it can be roughly translated to be something vaguely equivalent to being called a wanker in his own tongue.

Bendo doesn’t know if Teeluk is unaware of who he is speaking to or simply doesn’t care, but the Nairian grins widely all the same. At least that is what Bendo thinks a Nairian grinning looks like, though he can’t be sure.

However, Karas says nothing. In fact, he simply downs the dregs of what remains of the drink in the tumbler and then sets it down on the bars glass surface. Karas can guess what will come next, but he doubts Teeluk can.

As if on cue Teeluk takes a swipe at the glass tumbler with the back of his right hand. The glass flies off the bar top and across the room before detonating on the metal floor of the cantina, under which lies solid cold bedrock. The shards of the glass come to rest in a fan shaped pattern that shows the direction the tumbler had been travelling in when it met the immovable object, as well as the velocity it had been travelling at.

Karas simply sighs. It’s the most he’s done since he entered the cantina, took up a stool and ordered the drink. He doesn’t know how long ago that was, but he can guess.

Teeluk goes for Karas, roaring as he takes a swipe. Karas however, is faster and leaps back off his stool, pulls one of his Strike Bolts and fires a single plasma shot.

Bendo had tried to warn the Nairian by declaring that he is tangling with the ‘slinger, but his voice had got lost in Teeluk’s angry roar and now Teeluk is dead. A single hole burrowed into the space between Teeluk’s black soulless, and now dead, eyes by the plasma round.

Karas, with his Strike Bolt already returned to its holster, looms over Bendo. He doesn’t offer to help the man up as the patrons make sure to keep their heads low and gazes averted.

Some keep their heads low as a way of mourning for Teeluk who surely didn’t know who he was dealing with. While others fear that they might be next if they make a wrong move. They won’t be, but they don’t know that.

Karas gestures for Bendo to give him the tracking disc so he can go after the mark the Guild Practioner had spoken about before they were interrupted by Teeluk.

Bendo hesitates at first, blinking several times before then offering Karas the tracking disc without a word.

“Put anyone else on this mark?” Karas asks. His voice is low and gruff as he speaks.

Bendo isn’t sure when was the last time he heard the gunslinger speak, but the feeling he gets when he hears the man’s voice is still the same. A shudder ripples down his spine as he shakes his head slowly from side to side. It’s the only response he can bring himself to give the man, who raises an eyebrow in response.

“I swear.” Bendo then offers raising his right hand; the Bell Pistol in his left. Not that he got to use it; Karas had put an end to Teeluk before he’d had the chance.

Though, Bendo sees now that the patrons are continuing to all keep their gazes averted and heads somehow lower than before now that Karas has turned and is walking his way slowly across the open cantina floor. He is heading toward the stairs that lead back up to the street above.

Kento calls for someone to help him move Teeluk’s body to the alley out back. The Nairian will be dumped there, unceremoniously, which few here will argue is any less than be deserves.

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