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Short Fiction: "Monty Crow's Homestead"

AeternisOct 26, 2021, 2:22:48 PM

"Monty Crow's Homestead" was originally written to a prompt challenge earlier this year and posted as a Minds Plus exclusive. The original story went to the dividing point, and was picked up in a later entry with David fleeing his home into the badlands.

For my short fiction blog, each of these two snippets was built on, resulting in a four part story. The first two parts of the result are contained here.

This series was the first introduction of Botched Ravi to the Angel's Reach, though I'd had its prototypical conditions in mind for some time. Ravi is a place where I can introduce the tropes and themes of Western stories into the interstellar sci-fi of the 30th century Reach.

Banner art created by Aleksei Kashta.

- - - - - - -

David M. could tell the men standing on his broad synthwood-planked porch were bad news before one of them banged on the door. The pair were dressed like locals, with heavy dust-shedding cloaks, smart-glass goggles, and wide-brimmed hats, but they carried themselves like no son of Botched Ravi, adopted or otherwise.

Watching the pair through the eyes of a security camera hidden in the decorative scrollwork of the lintel, David waited on the off-chance they would simply go away. Outsiders on Botched Ravi were trouble, doubly so if they knew that and had bothered to try to blend in. The local posse would ride to David’s help if he called them, but they were minutes away, and the twitchy way the pair’s hands drifted unconsciously toward the smalls of their backs told him that they weren’t going to wait that long for him to open the door. While he waited, he drew and checked his side-arm, a rugged Volkov cartridge-gun which had for years refused to let the razor-edged dust of the world corrupt its simple, sturdy mechanism. No complex machine survived extended exposure to Botched Ravi - it was part of why David had chosen to live there.

The man at the door banged again, this time harder, while his partner scanned the horizon behind them. From the way the second man’s gaze switched between a few directions rather than scanning slowly across the dust-hazed horizon, David knew they had backup out there – three or more additional men who probably had high-powered weapons trained on the door. The cart they’d rode in on, one of Mr. Palumbo’s, might also conceal one more, hiding below the rails of the cargo bed. 

David decided to assume there were at least six, and that their caution indicated they knew who he’d been before he’d come to Botched Ravi. Slowly, to minimize the creaking of the house’s frame, he got up from his sitting chair and opened the desk drawer in the corner to collect an additional pair of magazines for his Volkov, which he checked and stuffed into the breast of his vest. He would have preferred to avail himself of the sealed locker in the basement where he kept the bigger and feistier souvenirs from his fifteen-T-year stint as a space pirate, but there wasn’t time for that now.

Fortunately, David had always known the day would come when either the authorities or a rival gang would pay him a visit. Had it been the authorities, talking might have at least delayed a confrontation, but he’d seen enough to know he wasn’t dealing with lawmen. The men were henchmen of one of his old rivals, one too cowardly to come in person, and it didn’t really matter which. David quietly tapped out a message to Sheriff Deering on a hardened communications terminal built into his study desk, then crept toward the door. The local posse might not be able to help, but they could at least help bury the bodies after the shooting was over.

“Mr. Montero, you in there?” The man at the door banged hard enough to rattle the sturdy synthwood panel in its frame, then gave the door a savage kick for emphasis. “Palumbo down the road sent us.”

David snarled at the mention of his closest neighbor. He’d taken a liking to the crotchety old man the moment he’d started building his homestead on Botched Ravi and would happily torture the ruffians to death if any harm had come to him. Palumbo liked to be left alone most of the time, but he’d been happy to lend David a wagon and Ravimule to help move supplies and finish his house. They spoke rarely, and only about the three Ws - weather (which was always bad), work (by which unending and unpleasant toil human life persisted on Botched Ravi) and women (in largely theoretical terms, since no eligible female lived within a hundred klicks of them). Like him, David got the sense that Palumbo had come to the world to escape an unpleasant past, though it was one perhaps less unpleasant than David’s own.

“Come on, Mr. Montero. Let us in. Storm’s coming, and we’ll be cut to ribbons out here.”

This, at least, was probably true. There was always a storm coming on Botched Ravi, with wind kicking up the razor dust into swirling cyclones capable of stripping human flesh from bone. Most of the local wildlife had thick, hardened skin, but even those creatures adapted to surviving the storms rarely chose to go out in them.

“Go away.” David called, then quickly darted into the next room, keeping low to avoid showing the movement through the windows. “This isn’t some bed and breakfast.”

The two men on the porch responded by kicking the door again, this time harder. David reached one of the alcoves in the main hall and knelt there, lining up sights on his Volkov with the center of the door. The alcoves, with sturdy metal plates built into the walls, had been intended as firing positions from the moment he’d built the house. The bearings that gave motion to automated weapons turrets quickly failed on Botched Ravi, and electronic booby-traps set outside quickly corroded, so he’d always known the only way to defend his homestead would be with a gun in his hand.

When the door finally gave way, David unloaded the big handgun’s magazine into the first man who stepped through. At least one of the bullets struck home – the man staggered back two steps.

David felt the floor below his feet tremble as the man collapsed, but he didn’t see it – he had already ducked back behind the metal plate protecting his alcove to avoid return fire from the other man. A burst of railgun fire cracked down the hallway, shredding the wallpaper and plaster of the walls but failing to penetrate the sturdy metal behind them. The second man was already shouting something, probably demands for backup, but David couldn’t make out the words over the sounds of ferroceramic slugs chewing his home to pieces.

The spray of projectiles ceased, and David could hear the second man moving. After swapping to a fresh magazine, he peeked out to find the second man ducking behind a big chair in his front parlor. The other saw him as well, and rewarded his appearance with a fresh spray of railshot, but David had once again ducked into cover. 

Unlike the alcoves in the hall, David knew his furniture couldn’t stop gunfire. Rolling out of cover, he fired a pair of snap shots into the chair, then dove for the opposite alcove. Though he was rewarded with a cry of alarm, another spray of shot chased him into cover. If he’d scored a hit, it had probably been a flesh wound.

“Give it up, Monty Crow!”

David hated hearing his old pseudonym. He had left that life behind a long time ago. If his neighbor heard them shouting it like that, he’d be run off Botched Ravi even if he did survive. “Monty Crow is dead, you damned idiot. Hesperus blew her reactor. Lost with all hands.” It was with just such theatrics that he and his former crew had purchased their retirement five T-years before – they'd picked a fight with a rival outfit, then blown up their ship after engaging in a close-range exchange of railshot and laser fire, letting that hapless band of brigands think they’d won an upset victory. Perhaps one of the others had slipped the secret – David would have to find out who and figure out how to go see to them without the trip looking suspicious to his new neighbors.

“You really think anyone buys that?”

The man continued, but David heard the crash of reinforced armor-glass being smashed behind him, and knew he didn’t have much time before he was surrounded. Diving prone into the middle of the hallway, he emptied the rest of his second magazine into the legs of the man crouching behind the chair. This time, he scored more rewarding hits – the self-expanding bullets blew huge holes in the meat of the man’s legs, and he went down screaming and gushing blood.

David didn’t bother to reload and finish the rival pirate off. He got up and sprinted toward the steep set of stairs leading down into the cellar, where he kept all his bigger toys. If the kill-team was stupid enough to follow him that far, his biggest problem would be explaining to Sherriff Deering how the resulting massacre could be considered self-defense.

- - - - - - -

David Montero slammed the door at the base of the cellar stairs behind himself just before a burst of railgun fire battered the exterior. Dragging the thick metal panels used to make parts of his house more or less proof against gunfire across the badlands on a ravimule-pulled cart had been among David’s least pleasant experiences on a planet that excelled at producing unpleasant experiences, but as he slid the heavy bolt into place, he was glad for the trouble.  

The door wouldn’t hold his assailants for long, but he didn’t want it to. He fished into his pocket for the big brass key he always carried and slotted it into a round lock-plate fitted into one ferrocrete wall, releasing the tension on a set of gigantic springs buried behind the wall. With a creaking noise and then a snap, the wall opposite the door bowed outward, its thin plaster façade falling to pieces as a pair of concealed panels swung open. Behind the panel, a closet-like space contained racks of cloth-wrapped guns and a trapdoor leading to his escape tunnel. 

As the thugs outside rattled and then banged the metal cellar door, David unwrapped the oily cloth covering one of the long, sinister shapes racked behind that panel. When his would-be assassins came through that door, a spread of fifteen-milimeter explosive fragmentation microgrenades would probably make short work of them. The microgrenade rifle wouldn’t last long in Botched Ravi’s inclement conditions, but it only needed to last long enough to add five or six more tally marks to the ones David had already scored into its polymer handguard. 

The banging stopped, and David, knowing what would come next, backed into the secret closet and pulled the doors mostly closed, with only his gun-barrel protruding between them. Sure enough, with a flash of an explosion sheeting around it on all sides, the door buckled, then swung inward on shrieking, abused hinges. 

David, ears ringing, held his fire, waiting for his attackers to appear out of the smoke. Instead, he saw a pair of small camera drones zip out of the smoke and into the center of the room, surveying the dust- and smoke-choked cellar. 

"Drones on Ravi?” David muttered. As if to verify his disbelief, one of the two automatons sputtered, slewed to one side, then made a grinding noise and fell to the floor, its bearings choked with razor-sharp Ravi dust. “Idiots.” 

The second drone lasted barely a minute longer than the first, but it did last long enough to sweep the small cellar with its glassy eyes, what it saw transmitted back to the wrist-screen of its operator above – the barren floor and walls, the opened secret chamber, and David’s microgrenade rifle protruding from between the doors. 

When the second drone finally sputtered and died, an eerie silence fell. David, knowing the local posse was on its way, nudged the doors open and stepped out. “You don't get credit for killing Monty Crow by waiting for him to starve, boys.” 

“Don’t worry, old chap.” A voice echoed down the still-smoke-hazed steps. “We don’t got that kind of time.” 

The voice sounded familiar. Of course it sounded familiar. “Grif? Shucks, you came all this way yourself? I would have expected you’d leave the dying to someone else.” 

Griffon Baum, one of David’s rivals from his space-pirate days, chuckled. “I’m leaving the dying to you this time, Monty.” 

“I’ve been out of the game for years. My dying’s not going to put credits in your account.” 

“I’m a man of my word, Monty. I told you I’d pay you back for Jaffe’s Nest before I was through.” 

David winced. He’d never felt right about betraying Griffon’s crew in the Jaffe’s Nest raid, not even at the time, when his morals were somewhat less well developed. Still, that was business, as far as there was a consistent thing to call business among pirates. He and his crew had been stabbed in the back at least as many times as they’d done the stabbing. 

“It’s a shame, though.” Griffon continued, not remarking on David’s silence. “You had a nice set-up here. Shame what’s about to happen to it.” 

“Sure, Grif.” David sidled to one side in the tiny space and lifted the hatch of the trapdoor at his feet, glad the big barrel hinges didn’t squeak much. If Griffon was going to blow up his homestead, he wasn’t keen on sticking around. “Damned shame.”