Sharoma Frontierverse Why Did The Groigan Dance? Chapter 19

Why Did The Groigan Dance?

Chapter 19


It was nearing darkness when I neared my target's residence, a dilapidated white house in the poorer sections of Duval City. His house is a relic of ancient pre-duralium architecture badly in need of paint and a landscaping. Parking my vehicle a street away, I traveled to his house on foot.

The target was a local drug lord - I didn't want to start off with more than I could chew. The bastard wasn't even a smart pusher; he'd wore the flashiest clothes and the drove the flashiest car, pissed of a lot of his "fellow" pushers, and generally thumbed his nose at the local police and population. The locals had finally gotten sick of it, and the police hired me, the hot new blood out of Basic.

My target was not home yet, but his family was inside. Kitchen pans rattle. A teenage sister chatters on a phone near an open upper story window. I slide behind an untrimmed bush (ah, sweet irony), and I prepare myself for the wait. My employer informed me that the target wouldn't be around until 20:15.

Fate was kind that night. The sister emerged with friends, wearing their best dresses, escorted by her parents. Late church. None of them saw me behind the bush.

For their sake I hope they don't return to soon. I pull my mask from my pocket and stare at it, a latex wolf's head. I feel like it is Halloween as I slip it over my head.

I pull my modified Colt .45 from my waistband (you got to love the classic projectile weapons). Quietly, I screw the silencer into place and pop in a clip of high velocity Sharoma safety shells. I didn't want any stray shots to pierce any walls across the street.

At 8:15pm a black Faulcon De Lacy low rider hovercraft pulls up to the curb, filled with young men wearing the signature white headbands of the Dos Loco Toros gang. My target exited the vehicle. The driver cranked up the stereo and peeled down the road in a cloud of dust and exhaust.

My target laughed and flicks the bird at his buddies. Chuckling, he stepped beneath a streetlight and adjusted his headband, giving me time to confirm his identity. He is muscular and pale, his hair a painful blend of multi-hued dyes, his face criss-crossed with scars from numerous knife-fights. Mathew Williams, twenty one years old, son of a Biggs colony slave.

As he approached the steps of his ratty house, I stuck my arm through a hole in the bush and put three rounds in his chest.

The impact knocked him off the walkway and onto the weed-choked lawn. He gurgled, rolled his glazed eyes in my direction, and died. The prefragmented ammo had done its job correctly, sparing him a drawn-out and painful death.

Blood filled my mouth. I had bitten my tongue.

He was dead. That wasn't a moment to hesitate. I tucked the Colt into my waistband again and pulled out a small charcoal pencil. Quickly, silently, I drew a small wolf's head on his cheek.

Then a scream issued from the house. I turned and ran.

Bush sighed and put his pen down as the door to his quarters opened and Duke Charon walked in. "Hello, sir," Bush said.

"Baron," the Druid replied. Both were in their dress blues, though Bush's were to be removed for the flogging. Charon pointed to the paper sitting on Bush's desk. "What's that? A will? This isn't going to kill you, amigo," he joked. Bush didn't find it very funny.

"I know it's not, sir. Its a memoir of sorts," the Baron explained. "I figured I'd let public some of my experiences, let the people see 'the true Wolfsheart' if they want."

"And make you some money, eh?"

"No, sir!" Bush looked shocked. "That has nothing to do with it! I have more than enough money in the bank from all my years of assassinations. I'll make some money from it, but so little that it wouldn't even be a tenth of my total worth."

"Really?" Charon asked incredulously. He gave Bush a reappraising eye. "Something like that could make you quite a bit of money. Alex Ryder's got him over two million credits, and his exploits are nothing next to yours."

Bush smiled, a bit pridefully. "Yes, sir. As I said, maybe a tenth of my total worth."

Charon whistled appreciatively and leaned over to look at the paper. "Not bad, either. Don't forget the thirty year rule."

"How could I forget it?"

The room fell into an awkward silence. Both men examined their shoes quietly, Bush's eyes making little whirring sounds as he did so. He was beginning to get used to it, though, and more than one hot-blooded young hero had been discouraged from trying anything when the said heroes looked into the Baron's blood red eyes.

Charon spoke first. "You know I hate this as much as you do."

"Yes, sir."

"We just can't let you go unpunished. It sets a bad example for the recruits."

"Yes, sir. I hear they look up to me greatly, sir."

"Damn, right." Another pause. "Are you ready?"

"Yes, sir."

The Duke gave Bush a sad look, then pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Bush.

Bush looked down. It was a small, wooden stick. He glanced at the Duke, a confused look on his face.

Charon looked positively guilty. "Bite down on it, amigo. It helps."

Then, with one final look at Bush, the Duke threw open the doors, revealing the large crowd of somber soldiers outside encircling a steel construction.

The construction looked like the framework of a rectangle, with rusty manacles hanging from the corners. It was the construction in which the criminal was restrained during a switching.

Bush was stoic as the cuffs were slipped around his ankles and wrists, silently resigned to taking the punishment like a man. The stick was set firmly in his mouth and he closed his eyes so as to not witness all the disapproving faces gazing up at him from the crowd. The minutes passed slowly, the sameness of them making them seem an eternity.

Then, finally, Charon's voice boomed from behind him.

"Fellow Imperials," Charon cried, "loyal soldiers, green recruits, we are here today to bear witness to the consequences of those who dare to break the laws set by our civilization and our military. It is unfortunate that one of such high respect and honor as the Baron must be punished, but without law there is anarchy, and without punishment there can be no law.

"Baron Jonathan T. Bush, you stand accused of assault, public disorder, and conduct unbecoming of an officer. How do you plead?"

Bush held his head high and proud, though he didn't dare to open his eyes.

"Your silence is considered to be an admission of guilt," Charon intoned. "The punishment is switching, to be carried out immediately."

Bush felt the sun beat down on his back suddenly as someone ripped off his shirt violently. The silence beared down on him from all sides.

Then the silence was broken by the sharp sound of the whip slicing through the air behind him.

Oh, the pain! Bush's back arched when the hissing whip connected with his bare back. He had never felt such agony! Bush screamed, but it was choked back by the stick in his mouth; it felt as if his back was on fire.

Then came the second lash; then the third. Each sent a blast of pure agony through the very core of Bush's being. He couldn't take it anymore - the fourth lash loosed a scream from his mouth, the stick dropping uselessly to the ground.

It seemed to last forever - the old man screamed and wished for death with each lashing.

And then it was over. Someone unchained him, and he looked up at the silent crowd.

The Emperor's cool eyes gazed back at him from the front.

Bush wept.

Continue the story with Chapter 20