Santos didn’t like Cabry much. It was small and crowded and hung precariously from a mined out husk of rock. Every building looked worn down, like the inhabitants built them from discounted materials obtained second-hand. Even the glass that held his whiskey looked like it had been discarded by two or three far nicer establishments before ending up in Cabry’s single saloon: Friendly’s Hangar. Santos also knew these were not the reasons he wanted to get out of Cabry. He’d stayed in worse towns and choked down worse whiskey. What he hated about Cabry was all the Null-bound patriots.
“It’s only a matter of time before the Bans put an end to the rebellion,” the enormous man shouted then emptied his mug. “You burn down enough of those colonies and the rest of ‘em will fall in line.”
His friends, which filled up most of the bar, murmured agreement and pounded on tables as though they were anxious to attack a colony right after the next drink. Their leader was blonde and muscular and wore a weathered Ban Altian uniform. Santos recognized the colors but the cut looked outdated. Even the patriotism in this town was acquired second-hand. He motioned for the bartender to fill his glass.
“Do you know Captain Harrison?” Santos asked as he paid for the drink.
“Sure,” the bartender replied, “he glides through Cabry pretty regular.”
“Have you seen him lately?” Santos asked.
“It’s been a turn or two. Let me see…”
The bartender stopped when the patriot stumbled against the bar. He slammed his mug on the table and asked for more. His eyes locked on Santos while he waited and silence fell over his friends. Santos knocked back the last of his whiskey then stood.
“Can I help you with something, friend?” he asked.
“I was just overhearing your conversation, friend,” the patriot spat. “You talking about Captain Harrison and his Rogue Winds?”
“I suppose so. We have a mutual acquaintance, and I’d like to pass along a greeting.”
“I don’t like Harrison. He’s a coward. Too afraid to stand with the Bans against the ‘Durins and their colonial trash,” the big man leaned toward Santos as he talked. Two of his friends stood up and wandered toward the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, Santos caught a flash of metal as the bartender reached for something under the bar. Then a chuckle escaped Santos’ lips and turned into a belly laugh. The patriot didn’t react at first then joined in with a laugh of his own.
“As I said, he’s just a friend of a friend. I’ve never even met the man. Though your high opinion of him seems like a mark in his favor,” as he spoke, Santos backed toward the door. “You boys enjoy your evening.”
|A Young Santos|
The night had cooled down, and the air shocked Santos after the close heat of the bar. It took him a moment to get his bearing in the darkened streets. The Limitless, a Trade Guild zep he was crewing, was hangared and resupplying. He’d hoped Captain Harrison would be in town because the zep was moving on in the morning. Santos sighed. Another tour with the Limitless seemed inevitable. At least Baggar planned to stick with the crew. He could count on Baggar to keep things interesting.
Santos focused on not getting lost and almost missed the sound of footsteps behind him. He glanced back to find the patriot and a couple of his friends approaching. A narrow, cluttered alley presented itself, and Santos took a quick turn into it. The patriot charged after him, afraid of losing his prey, and Santos greeted him as he came around the corner. A boot to the groin sent the burly man groaning to the ground. His friends, who seemed less drunk, came into the alley more slowly. The alley was too narrow for them to flank Santos. He stepped over their collapsed friend and waited for them to make a move. The lead man charged at Santos with his arms spread like they were going to hug. Santos ducked under his arm then body checked him as he passed. He stumbled off balance and slammed face-first into the wall. The last man started to pull something from his coat, but Santos closed the distance between them and punched him in the throat. The gurgling sound he made seemed comical after his bravado.
“Stop,” shouted the patriot, and Santos turned to find a gun flashing in the moonlight. He raised his hands and took a step back.
“Looks like your fists…um…you brought a gun…I mean…This is a gun fight!” the drunk managed to stutter.
“Listen,” Santos began, “there’s no reason…”
“Shut up! I don’t like you smart-mouth tone. That’s reason enough.” The patriot raised his gun and drew back the hammer. Then a voice from the street caught them both by surprise.
“Shift’s wings, Dugan, I told you to be gone when I came back to Cabry.”
Santos couldn’t convince himself to look away from the gun, so he just listened for the new comer to take action. The patriot, Dugan apparently, got pale and let the gun droop just for a second. Then he tightened his jaw and his grip.
“This is none of your business Harrison. This boy ain’t…”
The thunder of the gun in the confined space stunned Santos. He waited to feel the pain from then gunshot. When Dugan fell to the ground, Santos realized he wasn’t going to die. He spun to find an older man with a dark flecked gray hair and beard wearing a long coat. The man was holding a pistol with a wisp of smoke rising from the barrel. The gun slid back into its holster as the man stepped forward.
“I told him I’d collect the bounty on him if he didn’t make himself scarce,” the man said to no one in particular.
“Captain Harrison?” Santos managed to ask after several false starts.
“I’m Edward Santos.”
“Pleasure to meet you Santos. You might want to get a move on before the local law shows up,” Harrison said as he checked on Dugan’s friends to make sure they were out of commission.
“But I’m here…” Santo started.
“Meet me at hangar 12 at dawn. If you handle yourself in the air as well as you did tonight, I might have a place for you on my crew.”
Santos couldn’t think of another thing to say. He jogged away from the alley and started toward The Limitless. Less than an hour later, he had packed up his few belongings, said his goodbyes to Baggar, and let Captain Kern know she had a hole to fill on her crew. He couldn’t sleep, and dawn rushed at him like a crashing fighter.
Santos comes from Qullo, a small town that was once a Ban Altian colony. He joined the Ban Altian military at 18, a talented young man anxious to fight the good fight. The Ban Altian exploitation of the colonies and the ensuing revolt was still just a dark cloud on a distant horizon. Santos just wanted to fly, and his natural skill served him well in the Air Corp. But after a few years at war, he began to question why he kept fighting. The Horizon War wasn’t about good versus evil or right versus wrong. It was two groups of people squabbling over lines on a map.
When Qullo and the rest of the colonies rose up against Ban Altia, Santos’ life in the corps got harder. Suspicion grew among the men, and the commanders started looking for “agents of the revolution” within the enlisted men. A letter from an old friend named Slip convinced Santos it was time to fly toward new skies. He deserted the army and took odd jobs for a while, drifting all over Caelum. Slip had suggested he seek out Captain Harrison and the Rogue Winds. When he finally found the Captain, he also found a new life.
Written by Paul Dodson
Illustrations by Vince Medellin
Story by Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin