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The Wanderer

by Jun Kim 10 months ago in science fiction

A stranger walks into an old town, where an unexpected foe is looking for something he stole.

The saloon doors swung open. Audible creaking echoed. The lively chatter dissipated as the sound of boots and spurs hit the iron floor. Gamblers and drinkers looked up and the music bot stopped playing, ending on a harsh note. A broad figure's shadow could be seen from the hazing sun, his pancho waving in the breeze.

He was a gunslinger. A well-kept energy revolver was kept snug in a leather holster by his side. Dust trailed behind him as he walked forward, putting pressure on his left forearm. Blood dripped. The figure looked around, took a rag from a table, and tied it around his wound; he grunted as the rusted white cloth turned red. He sat down at the bar, taking out his revolver and setting it on the countertop.

The chatter, the music, and the gambling resumed. Someone hollered "ROYAL FLUSH!" A choir of groans and laughter followed suit. It was not the first time they'd seen a shot-up ruffian.

A man with greying hair came up to the stranger. "What can I get ya?" he said while cleaning a glass.

"Whiskey and a stim, please."

The bartender nodded and stooped down to get a glass, then reached behind him for a syringe full of a glowing green ooze.

He poured, "Here ya are, and there's that stim for ya," he said smiling. The old man tapped the bar and swiped. A holographic tab hovered before the stranger.

The stranger placed his remaining Virtual Credits onto the holo tab. The credits vanished, a satisfying ding notified the transaction. He took the stim first and punched it into his left shoulder. The bleeding and the pain subsided. He sighed in relief, placing the empty syringe on the counter.

"Thank you," his voice was rough and coarse, like the Irradiated Bad Lands of the south. He reached for the glass with his gloved right hand and took a sip.

The bartender nodded in response.

The stranger looked around the bar. The glass cabinets were stained brown, their frames scratched and dented over the years. Posters of Old World tourist destinations took a corner of a billboard by the staircase. Most of them were torn; on some, you could still see monuments' outlines, their colors faded. Many of them were wiped out by the bombs.

"Gotta name, son?" the old man asked.

Taking his last swig, he finished his drink and looked up, "They call me, The Wanderer."

The aging man chuckled as he went to the back room. "The Wanderer," he said to himself.

The Wanderer's eyes, hidden under his curved hat, were like honey when they shone in the sun, soothing and warm. He wore a grey silk vest over his metal chest plate with a matching pair of trousers to go with them. Under his chest plate was a button-up shirt, with only the left side, rolled up with an untied tie wrapped around the collar. A leather belt and bandoleer stashed his casings, his buckle reading BAMF. On his right knee, another piece of armor. A knife sheathed on his right leg.

Hidden under his pancho was his beloved satchel, crafted by his mother. He took out a battered, charcoal leather notebook, rare to see these days, paper that is. Most of the pages were burnt, torn, or unreadable. The cover had the initials "J.K." written in gold.

He placed it back in; no one could see this.

A gunshot!

The music bot's head jumped off, hitting the ground with a loud clang, rolling towards the doors. Sparks flew out from its mainframe. Eyes followed the head, stopping at the door. Metal on metal could be heard. A shushed sound of cybernetics echoed each step.

The Wanderer sweated with unexpectedness, "Damn, thought I lost her at Nevermore Point." He slowly re-holstered his gun and sat in silence.

The others who sat at the bar stood up and walked towards the louder character.

The bartender ran out of the backroom, seeing the mess, and sighed. "Did ya really have to shoot old M.A.R.V.?" he gestured to the sparking corpse.

The woman smiled and pulled down her bandit mask from her face, resting her pulse rifle on her shoulder. "I'm looking for a man," a broad southern accent boomed as her left hand rested on her hip, just above the handle of a revolver. "He's a man with no name; he calls himself The Wanderer!" She looks around.

Silence.

She could see a figure sitting down at the bar who hadn't stood up.

A man rose from his seat, blocking her view, "Ya know, you shouldn't be showing that pretty little face of yours in such a public place, Sugar," the gambler said. "The bounty on your head is…" he took out a holo-square and clicked his tongue, "pretty high."

Turning on the holo, a banner slowly spun its blue lines showing a bounty: 20,000 Virtual Credits for the capture of Bellamy 'Sugar' McKreed.

A quiet shuffling filled the saloon. Everyone stood up and encircled the bounty. Guns clicked, and the wind whistled silently.

Still holding her rifle, Sugar set the curved stock of the gun on a table, next to a glass. A thud put a few of the gentlemen to flinch.

"Welp," another man said, "this bounty is only big enough to--" the glass flew across the room, smashing into his head. Crystal-like fragments shattered over the floor.

Sugar smirked, "What? Afraid of this pretty face?"

She whips out her electric lasso, putting on a show for the surrounding men. M.A.R.V., upon sensing the commotion, miraculously sparks to life and starts playing a rag-tune.

Gunshots fill the small saloon; many of the shots veer into others.

Realizing shooting isn't an option, fists start to fly, battling each other and the bounty.

Audible punching, grunts, and yelling fill the room, mingling with the smell of spilled beer and blood.

Sugar dodges, ducks, parries, and hits when she can.

Using her lasso, she catches a chair and whips it towards a man behind her; it shatters on impact, leaving him unconscious.

She punches left, then to her right, she chokeholds, loading her rifle and shooting at the nearest man running towards her.

She releases the chokehold, kicking the man in the guts, and shoots him.

Using her lasso, she shocks four men surrounding her, leaving hair frizzled and tongues sticking out.

Sugar kicks another in the guts, breaks a man's jaw, and uses her stock to break a knee.

M.A.R.V. finishes playing and crashes onto the floor.

She holsters her rifle on her back and rolls up her whip. A collection of mumbles and groans fill in the awkward silence.

The figure who had sat at the bar was gone.

She looks over at the bartender peeking over the doorway of the backroom.

"Sorry for the mess," she tosses him a small bag of Virtual Credits towards him.

Stepping out of the saloon, the bright desert sun glinted off the brim of Sugar's hat. Looking around, Sugar could see that the old fabricated town was past its prime. Many of its metal walls rusted with paint peeling, permanently leaning a little from the blast waves of the bombs. The Old World neon signs no longer shone during the night. Solar panels scattered across the flat roofs of the town. To the north, a field of wind turbines. The townsfolk were inside, hiding from the gunfire.

Sugar walked the main street towards a bank that split off the road into a fork.

The sheriff walked out of the bank, two marshals by his side, "As the sheriff of this here town, miss, you're under arrest." His marshals pumped their shotguns and aimed. "You have ten seconds to comply."

"I'll take care of this sheriff."

She turned around. The Wanderer stood, his hands on his belt and hat tilted down.

He looked up, his eyes meeting hers, "Hey sis,"

"Hey to you too," she grimaced.

"This is unexpected-last time I saw you, I threw you off a cliff, didn't expect you to survive…"

"Well, I did, and what you pulled off at Nevermore, stealing that notebook from Dad, was the stupidest thing I've seen done."

He shrugged, "What can you expect? I wasn't the smartest in the family anyways."

"This is why Dad never let you in on any jobs. This is why you don't have a name, or even a bounty!"

"Again," he steps forward, "Ain't the smartest anyways."

"Speaking of family, Dad says hi."

"Well, tell him hi for me."

"Let's go tell him together."

A comically cliche tumbleweed drifted between them as it was high noon.

The bank clock rang once.

Sugar dropped her lever-action rifle and stood ready. She was quick to the trigger as she always was and smiled in confidence—her hand hovering over the hammer.

The clock rang twice.

The Wanderer's hand mirrored Sugar's. He focused, his cybernetics giving him an edge. A now soft glowing blue eye stared back.

A glare silenced the town, only a crow cawed in the distance.

The clock rang thrice.

A gunshot.

One didn't clear leather. The Wanderer was in his stance, his hammer cocked for another round.

Sugar, finger on the trigger, looked down, seeing a glowing molten hole in her armor as she fell to the ground. In a moment, The Wanderer ran to the body, taking off his leather glove, revealing a metal arm still glowing, holding her as blood mixed with the dirt and covered his hands.

"Lucky shot," she coughed, blood covered her lips, running down her cheek. She smiled and placed her hand over her wound.

"Always was," The Wanderer said, taking out a syringe with a glowing golden yellow hue. "It's gonna knock you out, but it'll keep you alive." He punched it next to the wound on her chest.

"Why'd ya use it on a worthless sister like me?" she sighed in relief, her eyes fluttering.

"Because you're family, and besides, McKreeds don't die to luck," The Wanderer smiled, rubbing away a tear as it formed on his sister's face.

The public came outside to see the duel's outcome; what they saw was a gunslinger holding the sleeping body of a woman, with blood on his hands.

***

"I can't believe he let you live!" The sheriff huffed, curling his mustache between his index and thumb. "Rare to see that."

Sugar sat on the rigid bed sheets, her hands folded together. A visible hole could be seen in her clothing.

"Yup, took his 20,000 credits and headed east, said he was looking for the 'Promised Land,'" the sheriff nodded to himself, now polishing his revolver.

"He's looking for something that doesn't exist anymore," Sugar said in a hoarse voice.

"And what would that be, miss?"

She didn't answer him, staring at the floor, she smiled.

***

On a red ridge, an Old War Muscle car was parked, its trunk popped open. Navy blue matte paint rusted along the edges, chrome highlights faded from age. Bullet holes riddled the frame. Standing on the edge, with his foot resting on a rock, The Wanderer wrote in the black journal and closed it. He walked towards the fire that was prepared for the night. Next to it, a border collie slept, plugged into a diesel generator; its metallic shape bounced the light from the fire. The Wanderer unplugged the robotic Collie. A synthesized bark greeted the tired man.

"Well, Rover," he patted the dog's cool head, "I know where we need to go." The dog tilted its head in curiosity.

He walked to the popped trunk, adjacent to it was a makeshift table. There on a map, he drew an X where the sunset.

"This here book…" shaking it in his hand, "Will lead us to the Promised Land, boy,"

The dog barked enthusiastically, shaking its tail in agreement.

science fiction

Jun Kim

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Jun Kim
Read next: Chapter 1: Mysterious Girl

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