Anderson and his men rode up and he nodded toward the chest. A subordinate moved over and opened it.
He stood up abruptly, golden-brown grains falling through his fingers. “Sand!” he spat in disgust.
Anderson’s eyes narrowed. “My instructions could not have been more explicit.” His voice was cold as it rose. “Do you take me for a fool?”
“No,” an unfamiliar voice to him cut through the water. “We think you’re insane and a threat – but hardly a fool.”
His eye rose. “Who goes there?” he demanded. “Show yourself!”
All over the low roofs, men stood. Some Native, some unmistakably Sapiens – revealed by their Converters – and some in between. “Well….” Anderson said with naked contempt. “What do we have here?”
“Best ride on outta here,” Vin growled down at him.
“These people are under our protection,” Chris informed the colonel.
Anderson’s reply was a bark of a laugh. “PEOPLE?” he snarled. “You call these low-lifes people?”
“War’s over,” Buck ground out. “There’s no room for the Federation’s nasty brand of propaganda.”
On a different rise, Ezra quirked an eyebrow. Perhaps he’d have to reassess the IQ level of his new compatriots.
Anderson’s steel gaze moved from one man to another, to another. Then he bellowed, “Men! ATTACK!”
A moment later, gunfire erupted throughout the Settlement. The Federation men had the superior numbers, but Larabee’s seven and the Natives would not give up.
When Anderson ordered his men to retreat and regroup, the Natives cheered as the transports sped from the village.
“Don’t celebrate so loud,” Chris growled. “They’ll be back.”
“Soon,” Vin finished. “We’ll need everything we can gather and throw at them.”
“He is right,” Nadaskay sighed. “Anderson is an old soldier. He will not give up until our village is destroyed or he is dead.”
“Or he gets the gold he desires,” Ezra said as he walked up, his arm at a strange angle from the shoulder.
Nadaskay shook his head. “There is no more gold.”
Chris nodded slowly. “Then we stay – and we fight to the end.”
Buck looked at young JD and murmured, “I just hope it’s not to our end.”
Each of the Seven had formed a bond with a facet of the village. Chris with the leader, Vin with the warriors, Nathan with the healers. It was Nathan who had fixed Ezra’s dislocated shoulder.
For Ezra, it was with the children. Slowly, he drew their confidence out and then began to ask them about the mine where the gold had come from. When he found out, he taught them tricks with waterproof cards. Then he was gone.
Less than half an hour later, the insane Federation colonel attacked in a big way. Cannon fire ripped through the village, and homes were flattened.
Federation soldiers swarmed and overpowered the villagers. The six remaining hired guns were rounded up and brought before Anderson.
The crazed colonel took a swig from this bottle. Nathan’s eyes widened as he recognised it as opilude – a pain-deadening drug useful in limited amounts and addictive in large.
“Well, well…” Anderson growled through a smile. What have we here?” He gazed at them. “Several who would oppose the revival of the proud Federation?”
Buck glared at him. “You mean your pathetic excuses to rob and commit violence?”
Anderson walked over and backhanded Buck across the mouth. “Blind fool!” he roared.
Buck opened his mouth, and Chris shook his head, mouthing ‘later’. Anderson moved away, ranting and raving.
Chris had seen something among the rocks…movement from stone to stone, ever getting closer. He raised his eyes up toward the surface – miles overhead – and sent up a prayer that the movement was the wayward Mixed.
It was indeed Ezra who was moving closer. He’d found the undersea gold mine empty, and then had decided to merely take his leave.
Ezra had gotten only a few miles away when he’d stopped his transport. An incredible play of emotions danced on his face as his thoughts warred with each other.
Finally he’d turned his transport and rode back toward the battle.
Now, he was sneaking ever closer. His eyes searched and searched – looking for any opportunity to strike. One thought lodged itself into his brain.
Anderson was a monster. He had to be stopped. The best men to do that were tied up by Anderson’s hands.
That left it up to Ezra to get them out.
Wonderful, his mind snarked at him. Simply wonderful.
Procuring a disguise – including a Converter that he didn’t need – Ezra slid to where the others were being held. He demanded their release and shot one of those holding his friends.
A one-eyed henchman laughed cruelly. “That rifle’s only got one shot left!”
Ezra’s eyes narrowed. “Then, gentlemen – I suggest you discuss amongst yourselves which of you is going to die.”
The henchman shot back an acerbic response and the verbal sparring was on. As Ezra kept them distracted, Chris leaned toward Nathan. He used the sharp edge of the decorations on Nathan’s empty knife holster and made a shallow cut to his own wrist.
Blood stained the water near his wrist, and Chris used the extra lubrication to work the handcuff off that hand. He kept an eye on Ezra and the henchman as he worked.
The henchman abruptly lunged at Ezra. Josiah roared up and clouted him on the back of the head. After a short but brutal scuffle, all the guards were unconscious and Vin was swiftly freeing everyone.
“So what next?” JD asked.
Chris looked at the cannon. Anderson, far below, was organizing a raising of the Federation flag. Once it wove in the current, the cannon was to rain death on the village. “We take out that cannon. Then we take out Anderson.”
“Trash detail,” Buck chuckled. “I love it!”
The men started to move out, and Chris grabbed Ezra’s arm. Hazel green eyes bored into emerald as Chris ground out, “Don’t ever run out on me again.”
Forced to look away under that piercing gaze, Ezra could only nod.
Anderson grinned as the flag reached the top of the pole. Safe atop his transport, he waited for the drum to stop and the cannon to roar.
The drum stopped – but the cannon did not fire. Seconds ticked by in eerie silence.
Anderson looked at the rise and frowned. “Why isn’t that cannon firing?” he grumbled.
Suddenly, the cannon did fire. A ball tumbled through the water and hit the flagpole with enough force it broke it in two.
As the ball kicked up dust and the flag floated to the floor of the sea, Anderson roared, “WHO DID THIS?!” He raised his eyes to the cannon.
Through the dust, a grinning Ezra Standish could be seen by the cannon – cheekily saluting the madman.
Anderson roared and drew his saber. The other six protectors came into view – high and low – guns drawn.
Fury blinding him to anything but hurting them, Anderson rode hell-bent-for-leather toward the nearest one.
There wasn’t time for Buck to squeeze off a shot. He tried to dive out of the way, but the saber slammed into his chest, cutting deeply into his skin and muscle –
And slicing through the Converter tubes on his left arm. Water began to flow into the tubes as blood billowed out.
Unless help got to him, Buck Wilmington would drown in less than a minute.
Nathan got to Buck in seconds and pinched off the Converter tubes as he drug him toward shelter. Sealing the sliced tubes together with a strip of sharkskin leather, he had Buck breathing again a seconds after that. Then, and only then, could he tend to the saber wound.
Enraged by the attack, JD raced out with both guns blazing. Anderson growled and swung the saber, but the young man ducked and shot point-blank.
Anderson went spinning from the transport, landing in a heap. Blood poured from his shoulder.
JD sighed and relaxed. He caught hold of the panicked transport, taking it aside and speaking gently to it, calming the cyborg.
“Holy--!” Josiah breathed as Anderson struggled to his feet. Before the big Gill could do anything more, a bullet from Anderson’s gun caught him and spun him around and down.
Nathan cursed and went to get Josiah as Vin shot the gun from the madman’s hand. Another bullet from Chris caught Anderson in the stomach and sent him back down. He struggled to rise again, and Ezra entered the fray with one bullet into Anderson’s leg.
There was a moment of peace, then Anderson climbed to his feet again!
“Bastard won’t stay down!” Ezra roared.
Nathan roared back, “He’s so full of Opilude, you could cut his head off and he wouldn’t feel it!”
Anderson’s eyes reflected that he’d lost the last shard of sanity he possessed. “You can’t kill me!” he roared. “I’m a ghost! I’m already dead! The Federation will rise again as I do!”
“SHUT THE HELL UP!” Chris bellowed. There was a triple roar, and Anderson’s chest opened. Blinking, he fell to the sea floor for the final time.
Chris, Vin and Ezra all lowered their guns. Chris then stood and looked at Anderson’s stunned men. “Go home!” Chris ordered. “It’s over! Go back to your families!”
One by one, the men mounted their transports and rode away meekly. The Natives and Vin took Anderson’s body and put it on the shark feeding pile.
It was over.
Chris and Vin walked through the quiet village. “So,” Chris asked the young Gill. “What are you going to do next?”
Vin shrugged. “Been thinkin’ about goin’ back to Tascosa Settlement.” He looked sideways at Chris. “Got a bounty on my head for murder.”
Chris met his eyes. “Did you do it?”
“Mind if I ride with you?”
Chris smiled. “Why not?”
Vin studied him, then gave a small smile and a nod. “Let’s head back to Four Corners first. Got some things to settle.”
“All right.” Then they whirled, hearing a noise behind them.
Ezra walked up, unsmiling. “I heard.” He met Vin’s eyes. “If you are truly innocent, you’ll need a lawyer. I’ve done some work as one.”
Vin’s eyes widened. “You’ll ride with us?” he asked, visibly startled.
“If you’ll have me,” Ezra said softly.
For answer, Vin mounted his transport. “The more the merrier.”
Ezra’s gilded grin flashed, and he mounted his own transport.
As they rode to the edge of town, Chris flanking them, Vin turned to Ezra. “That was some mighty fine cannon-shootin’.”
The Mixed snorted. “Dreadful. I was aimin’ to hit Anderson!”
Nadaskay walked to them. “You are leaving, then?”
“Yeah,” Chris said. He pulled the mask from his pocket and held it out to the chieftain. “Couldn’t figure out how to split it seven ways.”
As Nadaskay took it, he smiled. “Thank you, my friends. Any further enemies, we shall greet them with hospitality.”
“I think you mean hostility,” Chris chuckled.
“No!” Nadaskay shook his head. “I mean hospitality! I shall even open the doors of my home to them!” He gestured toward a hut.
The doors swung open to reveal the cannon inside.
The three laughed as Nadaskay beamed. “That’ll do it,” Chris chuckled.
“Safe journey, my friends,” the old chieftain finished.
JD got the transports ready to go. Anderson’s transport had become rather attached to him, and he honestly didn’t mind. He wondered if he’d been the first to show the beast any kindness.
“Hey, kid,” came a welcome, if tired, voice behind him. “If you ain’t gonna wear that – I’d like my hat back.”
“BUCK!” JD gasped, whirling to face him. His delighted grin couldn’t be hid as he saw his friend – bandaged and using the Converter Ezra had stolen – sitting on his transport. JD couldn’t erase the grin even as he empathized, “You look awful!”
Buck grinned as JD handed him the hat. “Well, now, kid, that’s near to impossible.” He gingerly put his hat on.
JD mounted his own transport. “Buck, you need a real hat!” He put his tiny hat back on and rode past Buck.
Buck snorted. “Aw, hell, kid, don’t make me laugh – it hurts!” He turned his transport to follow JD.
Nathan walked out with his arm around the shoulders of Rain – a Native girl he’d come to care for. He frowned as he saw Josiah – hunched over – ride past. “What the hell are you doin’ on top of that beast? You get down from there!”
Josiah smiled at him. “Nathan – much obliged – but I’m ridin’ with my friends.”
Nathan snarled, “Your damn tentacles’ll get you soon enough! Don’t you go chasin’ after ‘em!”
Josiah just smiled as he turned the transport toward the others.
Rain watched Nathan’s face and smiled gently. “Go,” she said, nudging him gently. At his look, she smiled larger and kissed his cheek. “Go,” she repeated. “You know where I am. I will be here when you return.” A second quick kiss and she stepped back.
Nathan mounted and rode to join the others. Once he was there, they set their mounts toward Four Corners and rode.
Return to The Realm