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 Rail Raiders Fiction Part 2 
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Joined: March 29th, 2015, 12:28 am
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The first cargo car looked like a disaster area. Broken crates spilled their contents all over the floor making crossing the car hazardous. Damaged robot parts littered the car, some lying among softly
moaning Lawmen or bandits. A hand jutted up from under a pile of collapsed luggage. Jack recognized the ring.

“Caroline!” He said, frantically tossing suitcases aside until he revealed the pale form of his old friend, Carline Barlow. She’d been stabbed.

“Bless me. I think I must be dyin’.” Her eyes fluttered open. “Now I’m hearin’ Jack’s voice.”

“You ain’t dyin’, Caroline.” Jack said, you’ve lost some blood but whoever pricked you didn’t hit anything important.”

“If I ain’t dyin’ then how can I be hearing the voice of a dead man?” She demanded.

“What are you talking about?” He said.

“Boss-Lady said she took you out on Merope Secundus.” She said.

“What?” Jack’s mind raced, and then he chuckled. “Yeah, she took me out all right. Took me out to a nice place on the waterfront called Ella’s Tidewater Café.”

“That’s nice.” Caroline said, wearily. “You two should get back together.”

“About that.” Jack said. “I had the dessert to go, on account of the restaurant being on fire when I left.”

“Sounds like a fun date then.” Caroline chuckled. “Listen. Hollow stabbed me. I might not make it.”

“Inez is on the way, she’ll be here in a minute.” He said, squeezing her hand.

“Ah, good. I’ll be fine then. I got more’n a minute left in me.” She took a shaky breath. “I’m fixin’ to black out though. Listen. Boss is going after the Hollow Man. That’s why we’re here. Don’t let her do it alone, Jack.”

“Caroline –“

“Go, Jack!” She waved him off with a bloody hand.

“Doc.” Jack opened the comm line. “Caroline’s in the first baggage car. She’s lost a lot of blood.”

“My med-kit is getting pretty sparse, Jack.” Inez said, her voice thick with frustration.

Jack hustled to the door to the second baggage car. It sounded like a riot was going on in there. After a moment he looked around for the “Do Not Cover” markings of the car’s maintenance hatch and dropped into the guts of the train.

It was a nerve-wracking belly crawl through the umbilical to the next car, and then under and through it. He thought he heard a few krumping noises above, like someone was crazy or foolish enough to detonate flashbangs in a pressurized tube shooting through space at near relativistic speeds. The umbilical to the next car was damaged, but the seal still held, and a short, tense crawl later he was in the third cargo car. Still thinking of the damaged coupling between the cars he hastily opened the hatch and popped up into the car.

“Sloppy.” He thought as something cracked against the back of his head and the room spun and went dark.

Jack couldn’t have been out long, as the sounds of the small war in the other car were still raging when he came to. He awoke to find his hands tied behind his back, with more rope around his chest and arms, and that he was dangling from the ceiling of the car, swinging slowly.

The ropes creaked as he opened his eyes and found two smug young people, a man and a woman, standing before him dressed in the uniform of deputies. No badges though, he noted. These two were still so new that they squeaked when they turned around too fast.

“Howdy.” He said.

“It really IS him, isn’t it?” Said the one on the left.

“Yup!” Her partner said.

“Do you think we’ll get a medal?” Said the first.

“I said howdy.” Jack said. “I’m right here you know.”

“Quiet, Prisoner!” The man said, relishing the word. “We’re gonna take you to the Marshal. You won’t resist, if you know what’s good for you.”

“I can’t fathom why everyone thinks they can just tell me what I will and won’t do all the time.” Jack said, irritably.

“Maybe in this case it’s because we took you down and have you all trussed up like a caterpillar.” The woman said. The train car shook as another small explosion and a loud burst of gunfire sounded in the other car.

“You know what?” Jack said, nervously. “You’re right, take me to the Marshal.”

"What?” The man said. “You tryin’ to trick us?”

“Take me to the Marshal. Let’s go, right now.” Jack said.

“We searched you. I have your gun.” The woman said, suspiciously. “And you’re tied up good. You ain’t escaping those ropes when we move you.”

“Nope.” Jack said, emphatically. “I sure can’t get out of these ropes, you done a good job tyin’ ‘em. Now let’s go before that fight in there ends.”

“We figure we’re gonna just wait here and ambush whoever wins and comes through that door.” The man said.

“And you can hang here and be bait.” The girl finished.

“Yeah. Look.” Jack said. “I really don’t want you to do that. I think you should take me to the Marshal. You know why?”

“Why?” They asked in unison. That was Lawman training for you.

“You hear that? That’s the sound of two hand-cannons going off on your fellas and mine, punctuated by small explosions. You know who uses twin pistols and is crazy enough to throw grenades on a space-train?” Jack said.

He waited while they looked at each other.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud, don’ they teach you nuthin’ these days?” He said, finally. “The Darkspace Gang is on this train!” Their eyes widened and they visibly paled as they finally understood. The two green deputies started talking over each other all at once.

“That means that –“

“Darkspace –“

“Calamity Amelie!” Jack finished.

They stood there for a few seconds, looking at each other.

“Right.” Jack said. “So before she finishes mopping up everyone in that car and comes in here for seconds you should cut me down and take me to the Marshal. Let’s do it.”

“Aren’t you…” The young woman said, slowly, as if she was working through something in her head. “Aren’t you… Calamity Amelie’s ex-husband?”

“Oh.” The young man said. “Ohhhhhhh…. Crap.”

They all suddenly realized that the sounds of combat had died down.

“I think…” The woman said, looking at Jack thoughtfully. “That this is important intel, an’ we should tell the Marshal.”

“I think you’re right.” The man said.

“Dang it, take me with you!” Jack yelled after them, kicking his feet as they ran for the far exit.

Thus, he was left there, swinging and rotating slowly as the door opened and three people walked in. Roxie Cotton, with her short hair dyed a bright pink and no longer dressing like a tomboy as he remembered. Bullseye Hobbs, still looking like he woke up on the wrong side of life this morning. And the always beautiful cowgirl with flowing blonde curls and a glittering smile, Calamity Amelie.

“Why I do declare!” She drawled at him, pressing a still smoking pistol barrel to her cheek. “If it ain’t Jack Stardust. Roxie told me you were skulking around here somewhere. What HAVE you been up to, Dearest?”

“Oh, you know.” Jack said. “Just hanging around. Roxie. Bullseye.” He nodded to each in turn.

“Money.” Bullseye said.

“I don’t follow?” Jack asked.

“They call me Money now, not Bullseye.” Raymond Hobbs said.

“Do they really?” Jack said, looking at Roxie.

“He mostly just calls himself Money.” Roxie said, laughing.

“Ray.” Jack said, shaking his head. “When was the last time you made it through a job and DIDN’T get shot? You got a real knack for being a target, you oughtta be proud!”

“Don’t test me, Stardust!” Bullseye said, shoving Jack back hard and pointing his gun at him.

Jack waited until the return swing brought him back into range and tried to kick the gun out of Raymond’s hand. The kick was solid all right, but the gun didn’t leave his hand. Instead, “Money’s” elbow bent all the way in, and he punched himself in the face with his own gun. Which then went off with the impact.

“A real knack!” Jack said, as Raymond collapsed after effectively shooting himself in the face with his own stunner.

“Aw, Jack.” Roxie said, shaking her head disapprovingly.

“And here I was thinking about cutting you down, Sweetheart.” Tsk’d Calamity Amelie. “It really looks like you might need a hand.”

Cute.

“Why?” Jack asked. “You still have the original?” He flexed his mechanical hand behind his back.

Amelie stepped forward and pressed herself into him, pulling his head down and nuzzling his neck.

“I’ll check under my pillow tonight when I go to bed.” She whispered, sending a cold chill down Jack’s spine.

“Only joking!” Amelie laughed. “I burned it with the rest of your things when you left me!”

Jack took a deep breath. She always went here eventually. Her smile and posture were relaxed, but her eyes were hard as diamond chips. Roxie fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment and then wisely decided to drag Bullseye’s senseless form to the other side of the car.

“You know I love you, Ami.” Jack said, slowly. “Always have. But you just… you just go too far.”

“Said one ruthless outlaw to another.” She jibed.

“There’s settlin’ scores and getting’ your revenge, Ami.” Jack said. “And then there’s wallowing in vengeance and taking it out on everyone and everything that crosses your path.”

Jack saw her jaw clench and she absently tapped her trigger fingers against the sides of her huge pistols.

“There’s livin’ free and takin’ from the corrupt establishment when you can, and then there’s taking out your anger on the innocent people who choose to follow the rules, no matter how insane those rules are. Some people just need to feel safe, even if it limits their freedom.”

“Nobody’s innocent.” Amelie said flatly.

“Let’s change the subject.” Jack said, exasperated. “Archie stabbed Caroline.”

Jack heard Roxie gasp and Amelie looked up at him sharply.

“She lost a lot of blood, but I found her and called Inez over to patch her up.” He continued. “I think she’ll be OK.”

“If I cut you down, are you gonna be trouble, Jack?” Calamity Amelie said, suddenly calm. “Or are you gonna help me get Archie Hollow?”

“You know I want Archie as bad as you do.” Jack said, watching her closely.

She was moving very deliberately and smoothly. He was in the eye of the storm now, and it made the hair on his neck stand up, electrified. She’d gotten the Calamity part of her name added to her moniker ten years ago when she was in a state just like this one.

They were still rebuilding that spaceport, last time Jack had checked.

Amelie cut the ropes, starting with the one he was hanging from and seeming to enjoy watching him fall on his face. She reached for a holster behind her back and pulled out a beautiful pistol. It was Jack’s old weapon, formerly his signature piece.

“You kept it.” He said, feeling the familiar old grip for the first time with his new hand. He’d been holding this gun when Amelie had taken his hand off, and he’d assumed she’d destroyed it.

“I’ve been planning on shooting you with it.” Amelie said. “But the time has never been right, you know? You can have it back if you shoot Archie with it.”

“Gee, thanks.” Jack said, with heavy sarcasm.

“Awww, don’t be like that, Dearest.” She said, all smiles again. “Roxie, wait here for Jack’s crew and see if you can get Caroline and Bullseye on their feet. Jack and I should be able to take on the Marshal, and that bounty hunter that’s been chasing me. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Bounty hunter?” Jack said. “Is that the woman in the infantry armor I saw earlier?”

“That’s the one.” Amelie said. “Leona Moon. I call her Awful Lawful Leona because it seems to make her ever so angry.”

“I think I’ve heard of her.” Jack said. Calamity Amelie just shrugged.

“Time’s wastin’.” She said. “Once we deal with the Stooges of Oppression and Tyranny we just need to take out Painkiller Tate and the Hollow Man himself.”

“Inez and I took care of Tate earlier.” Jack said.

“Perfect!” Amelie replied, delighted. “Dead?”

“No.”

“Pity.” She said, frowning. “He’d have killed you, you know.”

“I’m better than he is.” Jack said.

“Aw, of course you are Dear.” Amelie said, patting his cheek. “You’re also famously lucky. And dumb. Really, REALLY, frustratingly dumb, so it’s a good thing you’re so cute. It’s perfectly OK by almost anyone’s standard to off someone who tried to take you out first.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Jack said, drily.

“You do that.” Amelie nodded. “Roxie, what do I always tell you?”

“Remember Roxie Cotton, live enemies make armies, but all that dead enemies make is graves.” Roxie said in a slow honeyed drawl that Jack felt was a pretty credible Calamity Amelie impression.

They went through the door to the next cargo car together, Amelie sweeping left, Jack tracking right as they walked down the center of the car. Four deputies leaned out of cover to take a shot at them, and they left every one twitching on the floor of the car, stunners still at full charge, never fired.

The next car turned into a brawl, and the men and women that attacked them were good, but they found fighting against Amelie and Jack to be like running up against a single entity, one that had four hands, four feet, and eyes in the back of its head.

It really was like old times.

Something about the dead quiet of the next door screamed “Trap.” Jack picked up a suitcase and stepped into the sensory field that triggered the door opening. As soon as it opened he heard a loud “Whomp” sound, and threw the case forward into a spreading stun-net.

The electrified net wrapped around the heavy suitcase and rolled away as Calamity Amelie slid past Jack into the car and landed a handful of shots on Leona Moon’s armor before she could scramble to cover. Instinctively, Jack fired a shot down the most likely sight-line, and the sizzling purple bolt from his weapon took Marshal Reed’s hat off as he ducked back behind a crate.

The Marshal and the Bounty Hunter settled in behind their barriers in anticipation of a long standoff, but the outlaws had other ideas.

“Give up, Jack! You can’t WHAT IN TARNATION?!” Marshal Reed hollered, as Calamity Amelie dashed full speed past Leona’s position, kicked off a pile of luggage and dove headfirst over him, guns blazing as she sailed away from the Lawman, upside down and laughing maniacally.

Leona Moon turned and dropped into a crouch, drawing a bead on the Rail Raider, just putting her finger to the trigger of her shotgun when she felt Jack’s pistol tap the back of her head and heard the hammer fall.

Lawmen sorted, the pair of outlaws checked their gear, nodded to one another, and approached the secure cargo car. The lock had been hacked and then smashed, and the door stood open, its proximity sensor fooled into believing the Special’s captain was standing in front of it. Jack and Amelie slipped quietly inside the dark and quiet car.

The only sounds in the Secure Car were the two partner’s footsteps and the soothing thrum of the propulsors pushing the energy from the Engine down the length of the train. Dim light flickered from the status LEDs on the crates and boxes stacked in truncated rows down the length of the car. The brightest light source, a soda machine with a large “Out of Order” sign taped to the front, cast flickering red and white light through the space from its position next to the door at the far side.

In the center of the aisle a cracked safe lay broken on the floor.

“Still wearing that horrible cologne, Archie?” Calamity Amelie said, wrinkling her nose. “It smells like old rust in here.”

Jack crouched down, listening for any movement that might betray the Hollow Man’s position. After the space of ten heartbeats he heard the scuff of a shoe, and a shadow darted in front of the soda machine from one side of the car to the other.

Calamity Amelie fired a handful of shots down range, tracking the shadow but not catching it. One of the burning lances spanged off of the soda machine. Jack winced.

Amelie went left, covering the aisles while Jack hot-footed down the center, hurdling the broken safe. He heard the sounds of weapons-fire behind him, and knew that Archie had to be pinned down. He dropped to the ground in a slide.

Sure enough, Archie came around the corner, weapon ready, hoping to square off against Jack rather than let Calamity Amelie box him in. Jack crashed into his shins and the Hollow Man came down on top of him.

Archie Hollow wasn’t just some random thug or toady, he was justifiably famous for his fighting skills, tactical mind, and ruthless efficiency. By the time Amelie came around the corner Jack had already been picked up and maneuvered between her and Archie, and was struggling to give as good as he was getting.

“You’re getting slow in your old age, Jack.” The Hollow Man said, landing a solid shot to Jack’s body.

“Well.” Jack said, gasping for breath. “I’ve already had to rough up Painkiller and the rest of your gang, not to mention a Marshal and his squad of Lawmen, a LawMaster robot, and a bounty hunter, so you’ll forgive me if I’m kinda tired. What have YOU done today?”

Archie accepted a shot to the jaw in order to pull Jack into the stacks on the right side of the car as Amelie closed on them, blocking the narrow aisle with Jack’s body. She cursed up a storm, torn between waiting for an opportunity to help where she was and circling back around behind Hollow.

“Me?” Archie Hollow said, blocking a knee to the ribs and ducking a metal fist. “Why I’ve been restin’ up for the main event here, and stealing this mighty valuable jeweled pendant as well as some other valuable odds and ends.”

“You shoulda ran when you had the chance, Hollow!” Amelie shouted as she dashed back down the car and skidded around the corner into the aisle.

“Probably.” Archie admitted. “But the opportunity to finish one or both of you off might not come up again for a while.”

He kicked Jack in the ribs, knocking him back into the center aisle and then shoved a stack of luggage. Amelie yelped in surprise as the aisle collapsed around her, desperately trying to skid to a stop before getting buried under the falling trunks and boxes.

“That should hold her for a minute.” Archie said, turning back. “Long enough to finish you off at least, Stardust.”

Jack pulled himself to his feet, breath rasping in his throat as he leaned against the far aisle. He saw Hollow dip a hand into his vest and dispassionately withdraw a long knife. Wasting no time, Archie lunged, thrusting the tip of the blade at Jack’s center of mass.

Jack pulled a suitcase from the shelf and let it fall in front of him, stepping forward and to the side as Archie stabbed the luggage, then hammered the Hollow Man in the nose with his metal fist. Archie spun away and staggered back, slashing his knife in a series of short jabs and cuts to keep Jack from closing with him while he recovered.

As he stumbled away from Jack the pile of debris to his left burst apart. Calamity Amelie exploded out of the pile of luggage. Quick as a snake, the Hollow Man reversed his grip on the blade and whipped it back at the enraged woman’s eyes, trying to force her to flinch back and buy himself some space.

Hollow had forgotten something important.

Calamity Amelie never flinched.

Instead, she grinned and held up a hand, and Archie’s blade sank up to the hilt in her palm. Amelie closed her hand around the hilt, covering Archie’s hand, and shoved it back into his face, pommel first, cracking it against his forehead just above his left eye.

Archie Hollow reeled back and Jack threw his arm around his neck trying for a sleeper hold. Even with a broken nose and one eye swelling shut, the Hollow Man still managed to duck his chin and keep Jack from choking him out. Jack settled for jerking his body, keeping him too off balance to land a solid kick or knee on Amelie while she slugged him with her free hand, over and over.

They struggled for probably a full minute before the Hollow Man worked some space out of Jack’s hold and smashed his head backward into Jack’s face, then let go of his knife and grabbed Amelie by the hair. With one hard jerk and an elbow to Jack’s ribs Archie was free, and staggering through the door to the caboose.

Jack helped Calamity Amelie to her feet, and the two of them, panting and bleeding, rushed toward the door. As they looked through the window into the caboose they heard a loud explosion, and saw a small inflatable lifepod get blasted out the back of the ruined caboose.

Amelie screamed in rage and hammered on the door with a bloody hand as the Secure Storage car automatically locked down to protect the rest of the train from the hull breach. After a few moments they turned around and put their backs to the door, sliding down until they were sitting side by side. Jack tore a piece of his shirt off and wrapped her bleeding hand.

“He’ll have his ship out there following behind him.” Jack said, wearily. “Cyrus is probably flyin’ it.”

“My ship ain’t far.” Amelie said.

“You’re going after him?” Jack asked.

“I came here to get him, and I ain’t leavin’ until I get him.” She said. “Besides, it’s likely just him and Cyrus right now, until he recruits another gang and busts Painkiller out.”

“What about Caroline?” Jack asked.

“I’ll need you to take her until she heals up enough to come back to where she belongs.”

“Done.” Jack said. “Anything else?”

Amelie slowly got to her feet and picked up Jack’s old gun, holding it up before tucking it back behind her.

“You didn’t shoot Archie with it, so it’s still mine.” She said, as he started to protest. “Maybe I’ll give it back to you when you bring Caroline back. Maybe I’ll just shoot you with it.”

She shrugged.

“Live enemies make armies, Jack Stardust, but all that dead enemies make is graves.” She hesitated for a moment. “But you, you’re kind of a quantum fringe case. Both at once. I haven’t decided what to do with you.”

… … … … … … … … … … … … … …… … … … … … … … … … … … … …

An hour later with the passengers locked down and the Engine Crew still tied up they were saying their goodbyes. Roxie and Molly had compared notes on their favorite knives, and updated each other on whatever romantic excursions they’d embarked upon since the last time they talked. Flossie had taken Caroline back to their cabin to get comfortable, and Bullseye Hobbs just skulked in the assault pod, waiting for the order to launch.

As the door to the car that was about to be de-pressurized closed behind her, Calamity Amelie stopped and turned. Just before she closed the door and decoupled from the train she held up a glittering pendant the size of her fist.

“Pulled it off Archie while you held him for me.” She said over the comm-link.

“I thought you didn’t even come here for that.” Jack said.

“I didn’t!” She said. “But if you’re going to sit down to a game you might as well play to win.”

Calamity Amelie flashed him a wide smile.

“Looks like I win again, Jack!” She said. There was a loud clang as she left the train.

“Did you?” Jack asked her innocently, and shut down the comm-link, signaling his crew to rotate the frequency.

There was a loud thunk behind him, and he turned to see Oliver and the robot, Karl set down a large soda machine. Now unplugged, it no longer flickered with red and white light, but it still had a large “Out of Order” sign taped to the front, written in Oliver’s handwriting.

“Just got the signal from our boat, Jack. We’ll be ready to load this up in ten.” Oliver said.

“Outstanding.” Jack said, rubbing his hands together.

“I can nae believe we’re goin’ ta get paid so much fer what amounts to a couple a’ cases o’ Cola.” Molly said.

“It’s not just cola, Molly.” Jack said. “It’s contraband. Caffeine and sugar content in this stuff is so high that it got taken off the market. Limited run. Rare. Illegal now.”

“You never did tell us who the buyer is, Jack.” Inez said, disapprovingly.

“Who else would it be but Candy?” Jack said, laughing.

“Candy?!” Oliver said. “THE Candy?”

“Of course.”

“I hope I can get her autograph.” Oliver said. “I’m her biggest fan!”

“Then I hope you have your signature book, lover-boy.” Flossie said, coming up behind him.

“No.” Oliver said, pulling his vest and shirt off and flexing his pecs. “I’m her BIGGEST fan!” He said emphatically, tapping on his chest where he wanted the signature.

…..

End


November 20th, 2015, 12:24 am
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