They say when the Nagglfar first set down on Tarsonis that its passengers wept tears of joy. Banished from their homeworld, they had awoken from a cryogenic nightmare to find a planet much like their own. They took this as a sign from providence and vowed to never allow for the kind of oppression and greed which had poisoned Earth. The passengers of their sister ship, the Sargengo, we’re not so lucky. That vessel crashed upon landing, thirteen thousand souls perishing in an instant. It would be over a century before a young prospector, himself lost, would discover the wreckage. He named the desert planet Mar Sara. It means “Wasteland.”
The mood in Joey Ray’s that morning had been unpleasantly sober. I'd been up all night before, tracking down wayward cattle from Ms. Welke’s ranch before the Lyote could get at em. Which explained why I felt all sorts of bushwhacked and beat up. Joey was in his usually spot, behind the bar, wiping mugs and nozzles with a rag that was dirtier than anything you'd ever see and certainly the glassware. The jukebox was caterwauling, those oldies which Joe seemed to favor. Sweet Home Alabama. And I was staring down the barrel of a shot glass, at the whiskey-brown reflection of someone I used to recognize.
“...and in other news,” the TV buzzed, “a global manhunt continues after the bombing of a local hospital yesterday. The Sons of Korhal have claimed responsibility for the attack. The current death toll, five hundred and seventy…”
The doors wheezed open, letting in the rush of mid-day heat. Then closed again. I turned around to see a man in the doorway. Cleanly shaven. Three button suit. Jodhpur breeches. The “not from around here,” type. For sure. I turned back to my drink.
“I’m looking for Marshal Raynor,” he announced. He had the voice of someone from Tarsonis. Proper and high-toned, the kind of voice that could still look down on you from the bottom of a gravity well.
“Looking for Marshal Raynor,” he said again as if we hadn't heard this fellow the first time.
“Who's asking,” said Joey. I looked up. The bartender had stopped tending to his bar and was eyeing the man instead. Trying to decide if this meant business or trouble. I knew the answer to that. Someone came calling for the marshal, it was always trouble.
“Matthew Horner. Emissary of the Grand Magistrate to Mar Sara.”
The man, Horner, took a seat beside me at the bar. He looked over, nodded my way, asking Joey. “This him?”
“Yeah,” I said, swiveling around on the bar stool so that I could look him in the eye. “What can I do you for...emissary?” The man had enough polish on his boots for a gymnasium floor.
“Marshal Raynor. By order of the Colonial Magistrate your services are hereby requested and required. There is a squad of Confederate Marines. In the canyons up near Perdition’s Crossing. We need your help to find them.”
“Perdition’s Crossing? Lemme guess, y’all lost radio contact soon as they entered those ravines.”
I reached for my hat and slid Joey some credits.“It’s the lodestone in the bedrock. Always messing with the electronics. Happens at least twice a year, some ambitious ranch hand or rookie trucker gets himself lost in those trenches. You know who always has to fish them out?” I got up. “Welst, I reckon you do, else you wouldn’t have come to the right place.”
“Wait,” the emissary called out. Practically bleating. I stopped at the door.
“I’m coming with you.”
“Like hell you are kid…”
“By order of…”
“Heard about a damn ‘nough of this….” I pushed my way through the door. The sun had risen to high noon over the bar, forcing me to tug my hat just a little bit lower. Waiting outside by the entrance was a line of hover bikes. My 2479 Vulture, idling at the end. Next to this was another bike. A Dabirir Zephyr. With a wizard blue paint job that just so happened to match Horner’s suit. You could smell the ionized chrome coming off the repulsor plates, refreshing as a mint julep in the Sahara. I turned.
“That your ride?” I pointed to the Zephyr.
“Not a bad rig…” I said to myself. “You wanna tag along, that’s fine.” I settled into my Vulture. Ignited the engine. “Just don’t slow me down.”
I'd always found it a little funny. How a man like me could have become the law. I'd grown up in Mar Sara. Went to the local highschool where I was voted most likely to sow seed. Figured I'd be dirt farmer like my father and his father before me. But that didn't happen. My old man got shot, out there on the I-8, Omer's boys, and the next day I applied for the academy. Don't know how I even got accepted or didn't get kicked out but six months later I waltzed back into town with a shiny new badge. And thirsty need for revenge.
We rode out into the Akilon Flats. The salt plains were an endless wash of whites and red, all melted together under the hot, desert sun. Could hear the roar of our engines for miles, least they could if there were anyone out here, which there wasn't. This place was emptier than deep space and half as interesting. I kept my Vulture at full throttle, just to see what the Zephyr could do, and I'll be damned if his bike didn't keep good speed. Here I was, sitting on a custom hog, 318 Scotia engines, nitro-injectors and he was matching my speed. It was a damn fine machine.
“So explain something to me,” I said after a while. “What’s a group of Confederate marines doing out in the Mar Saran desert anyway?” You guy’s ain’t taken an interest in these parts since all the vespene dried up over fifty years ago.”
“Mar Sara is a member of the Confederacy,” Horner yelled over the wind.
“A ‘member’ of the Confederacy. Well that makes it sound like we on equal footing with Tarsonis, when we both know that we’re stuck firmly under their boot heel.”
“Careful marshal, that sounds suspiciously like treason to me. Everyone knows that Mar Sara has become a breeding ground for insurrection. Sons of Korhal practically call this dustbowl home.”
“True, course that never would have happened if you Confederate types hadn’t blown up theirs in the first place. You didn’t answer my question either. What’s Confederacy doing here anyway? All day I see the drop ships, flying in and out of Mar City.”
He looked uncomfortable. Like the man had something inside him, something that was eating him up. “There’s something happening on Chau Sara. Something big. “He slowed his bike down so that I could better hear through the noise. “Even the Magistrate can’t figure it out. Complete radio silence. Like the whole planet just disappeared...”
“What do you mean?” I asked but Horner had dropped off even further. He was stopped, looking at something on the ground. I circled around and dismounted. There was a dark spot in the dirt, like the kind leaking engine oil leaves on concrete. I kneeled down next to it.
“What is it Marshal?”
Reaching down, I touched the sand. Sniffed. It smelled like iron.
“Its blood,” I said, rising up. I looked around. “Something died here. Something big?”
I scanned the horizon. Nothing moved.
“I’m not sure. Let’s keep moving.”
The hours passed but the salt stayed the same, here and there were some cracks from where ancient water had bubbled up to the surface. There was a tumbleweed bush, sticking out like a sore thumb, where some poor seed had had misfortune to land. We rocketed around it, Horner going left and me choosing right, giving it a wide berth. The sun chased after us, then caught up and overtook us. It was just beginning to turn a crimson red when all of the sudden one of the moisture cracks split open, widening until it was a deep ravine. This was it. Perdition's Crossing.
We nosed our bikes down into the canyons and it wasn’t long until we found our first clue. CMC boots, only thing which makes footprints that big. Six or seven marines, moving fast by the looks of it. But this number seemed to dwindle as we tracked them further into the gorge. There was something else, a prickling on the back of my neck that had started when we slipped in here and wouldn’t go away. Like we were being watched. It was getting late now and I was beginning to think we might as well make camp, call it a day and resume our search when light broke in the morning, when Horner yelled out again.
“Marshal! Over here!” His voice had lost some of its pedantic edge. He sounded almost nervous.
He was holding something in his hand for me to see. A metal cylinder.
“Yeah, C-14 rifle rounds.” I spun around, scanning the canyon walls for any bullet holes. Which was how I saw it. Would have passed it by otherwise. There was a gap in the stone, maybe three meters wide and twice as tall. It would be a tight fit but I supposed that a marine could squeeze power armor through that crack. With the proper motivation.
“Stay here,” I undid my holster. “I’m going to go check it out.”
I crawled up a slight embankment to reach the cave. From what I could see it was a grotto, at least twenty feet deep before it twisted out of sight. I entered. The air was cooler here and smelled like peat moss and guano. It was dark. I took a flashlight out from my jeans and pressed on. The stones were slippery and once or twice I almost took a spill. Soon, the cave opened up again. My light played across the limestone walls until I saw something, hunched over behind a rock on the far end of the cavern. It was a marine. I could see his power armor, like a gorilla encased in steel.
CMC. Confederate Marine Crop. Militaries run on acronyms and the confederacy was no exception. This armor was standard for marines. Three hundred pounds of titanium-plated exoskeleton. Normally, fog would be spilling from the exhaust fans on back. Fact that that wasn’t happening meant that the suit was dead. Cautiously, I inched closer. It was indeed damaged, I could see that clearly now. Two large boreholes. Like someone had sliced through the chestplate with a butcher's knife but there wasn’t a knife ever made as could cut through neosteel. Reaching over, I hit the visor’s release. It flipped open. It was empty. The suit was empty.
I heard a click behind me. Then a voice, raw boned with just a hint of southern drawl.
“That’s far enough, chief. Drop the gun and turn around slowly.”
I did as he said. Raising my hands, I turned around to face him. Slowly.
The marine standing in front of me was big, what some would call gigantic. He had an easy 12 inches on me and I was six one. All muscle and grit. He was wearing mojave fatigues and a bloodied wife beater. The blood was from two gaping wounds in his chest. They looked bad. His oversized hands were cradling a rifle. C-14 Impaler, also standard issue. It whined at the barely perceptible edge of hearing.
“Kick that iron over here. Communications too.”
“Easy there big guy,” I said calmly, still doing as he said. “Names Jim Raynor. Marshal of these parts. “I’m here to rescue you.”
“Just you? I heard voices.”
“Just me,” I said at the same time Horner called up into the caves.
“Raynor! Have you found anything.”
I winced. The marine smiled, “Oh you found me alright.”
“What happened here?” I asked, glancing over at the armor. “There were twelve men in your squad. Where are the others?”
The marine unhooked a pouch on his fatigues and pulled out a rolled cigar. He stuck this in his mouth. Then raised the gun. I dove for the ground as he fired. Would have took my head off if he hadn’t been aiming high. He casually dipped his head to light his cigar off the white hot barrel of the gun. “They didn’t make it,” he said at last.
Horner, Emissary to the Grand Magistrate of Mar Sara, didn’t put up much of a fight at all. The big guy marched me out of the cave at gunpoint. Horner was down near the bikes, a luger in hand which he dropped almost as soon as the marine pointed the gauss rifle on him. “What do you mean they didn’t make it?” I asked as the marine took Horner’s weapon.
“Monsters,” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Monsters,” I repeated. “Monsters, that’s just wild.”
I turned toward Horner who was still shaking in his over polished boots. “I figured out what happened to your missing squad, Horner. You wanna know what happened here? This jarhead went postal. Shot em all up. And is not holed up in a cave because he knows the only thing waiting for him back in town is a date with the hangman.”
The marine smirked.
“Is it true?” Horner asked the marine, “Did you do this? What’s your ID marine?”
“NSC92572,” the marine said. “But you girls can call me Tychus.”18 Read the full article on Reddit