In the year 2115, humanity has reached the stars and colonized multiple systems as the dominant galactic power, split up amongst many warring factions. Their only unity comes from their unified dependence on the Railroad, the faction responsible for all galactic FTL travel. The galaxy is far from peaceful.
Tycho Greene, a Pinkerton Agent with a past he’d sooner forget. He travels the Vanover Territories, a star system of wilderness and lawlessness, taking on dangerous jobs for the right price. As a man caught between the roles of detective and bounty hunter, Tycho finds himself at the center of a brewing war between nations, both human and alien. As political tensions rise and the threat of galactic trench wars looms, Tycho must navigate a galaxy fueled by diesel and emerging technologies to overcome whatever issue his clients bring to his agency, be they peaceful or not.
The mark was on the planet Earwood, Tycho Greene knew that much. But he’d worked his way through half a dozen towns, and nearly twice as many thugs to know exactly where he was.
Tycho rode into town from its southside, the dusty buildings cracked with old siding giving way to the redwood beneath. The town signs were chipped, barely legible beneath the layers of grime covering their thick white lettering. Tycho looked through the collection of citizens along this small town of Greenstream, whose name was opposite to the landscape around it. Tumbleweeds and dry gulches marked where water might have been a decade or so ago. But now the land had dried up, sucking the green and water into the arid scape, and leaving a puckering red in its wake.
Tycho ignited an Alter-laced cigarette as he stepped into the Greenstream Saloon, his horse whinnying at the hitching post that he had tied him to. Inhaling deeply, The ozone-scented smoke filled his lungs. Sending an energizing power coursing through him, the chemical Alter rewriting his genetic code with temporary ability. Smoking, Tycho strode forward to the bar, his heavy riding boots sounded off the dusty wooden floors. The soft chime of his spurs sang through the chatter of the bar with each step.
The saloon attendees were an assortment of Humans mostly, but there were a number of alien attendees as well. Avian, Reptilian, and other types of People that came from the distant corners of the stars to work the land as ranch hands and farmers. With that well of money drying like the ground, there was a lot of time to kill for the workers. Some of them played billiards, or cards on one of the tables with the human company. The attendees eyed him curiously from across the bar and Tycho nodded to them. He signaled the bartender over as he sat on the red-capped stool at the bar.
“Shot of Brandy if you will, and let Halgrim know he’s got business with the Pinkertons.” He said, flashing his silvery badge, adorned in the metallic Star of Vanover. The badge wouldn't be a saving grace in this part of the system, but it never hurt to try his luck.
The bartender waddled over, a short, stocky man, bow-legged with a great swaying paunch of a stomach “He ain't here. Made his way to the old ‘Terre fort a week back.”
“‘Terre?” Tycho asked.
“Extraterrestrial? The old Coalition of Systems used to rule out here, not no more though.” The barkeeper harrumphed from behind his handlebar mustache.
They weren’t all ‘terres. Tycho thought.
The Tack piano in the corner of the establishment rang out a tune across the dank air, as if trying to make it livelier. Tycho could tell by the bartender’s uneasiness and flickering eyes that he wasn’t at liberty to speak much more than what he gave.
“Got a gold tooth right? One of those humanoid types, hooked ears, broad nose you see?” Tycho continued, smoking the Alter-laced cigarette he’d entered into the saloon with.
The chemicals in the smoke of his lungs began to take, and his hearing suddenly magnified tenfold. Slowly he made out the slapping of cards, and the ruffling of an alien’s wings, as the power grew, he continued to take another long drag off the cigarette. The Rabbit’s Ear Alter bringing his hearing to the heights of natural power.
“Heard he and his kin are dead. Hangman’s got the better of them, nothing but food for the vultures now,” Though Tycho spoke softly, his words sounded almost like a scream.
“Did you see the silver badge that Pinkerton showed? Bet it’d fetch good from the fence at the edge o’town,” came the whistling voice of a man across the bar, in a hushed tone to his companion.
“Did you see that pistol, Jed? How ’bout that contraption on his arm? No thanks!” Came the hissing reply of his Reptilian companion.
As though on cue, the Recoilator on his arm, a piece of machinery which stabilized his aim in a gunfight, pulsated to near-deafening levels in contrast to its usual soft hum. Tycho turned it off entirely, leaving the metal and tubed contraption limply clinging off his shoulder.
“Caused a whole lot of trouble in these parts,” boomed the voice of the Bartender as he wiped down a cup on the table. “But they’re alright,”
Tycho continued to the bartender, “Yeah, well, bet he ain’t got more than the nerve of a schoolgirl, you hear how the other Dallinger boys squealed and died? Word said they were all worthless, two-bit, good for nothing…” Tycho was going to continue, smoking once again his hearing enhanced just in time…
For him to make out the drawing of leather.
Tycho leaped off the stool he sat on, hurling it across the saloon towards the man who’d drawn on him, before drawing his own broom handle, semi-automatic pistol. Tycho squeezed the trigger with practiced ease, unloading a flurry of rounds into the figure who went sprawling out the swinging doors of the saloon. A gust of smoke burst from where the figure landed, and the fight was over. Tycho was glad for the short encounter, this place had brought about feelings that he long suppressed. Like a beast scratching at the back of his mind, his memories fought to bring themselves forward.
Do me no good thinkin bout this place again.
After the rush of adrenaline, Tycho felt the effects of the Alter-laced cigarette withdraw. Noises became more discreet, and Tycho turned on his Recoilator. The steadying tubes of it activated, squirming to attention like snakes before striking prey.
The commotion had drawn many people to the saloon, and the attendees left in haste over the flying of bullets. Laying flat in the dirt outside the saloon, with a pool of black blood forming a bloom in his vest, a six-shot plasma pistol rolled from Halgrim’s orange-hued and black-clawed hand.
Tycho had a cursory knowledge of the myriad species across the universe, this one in particular hailed from a people called The Osculero. A heavy brow and wide jaw lined with the crests of teeth laid ajar, and the scruffy sideburns of the ‘terre were flecked in the black blood that poured from its mouth. The Bowler hat he wore over his topknot lay a few paces away before a young human child picked it up and ran off to play with her treasure.
The bartender shoved Tycho aside and opened Halgrim’s mouth wide, eager fingers digging through the teeth.
“You said a gold tooth mister? My Saloon, my gold. Where is it….” The bartender dug a bit longer, and Tycho made out the quickly approaching form of an agitated Sheriff.
“What in the hell is going on in my town here?” The Marshall asked, a star for the Vanovan territories sewn in brass on the lapel of her suede jacket. The Marshall had a cavalry hat fastened hard onto her head like a helmet, showing in the blue coloring of Vanover’s official military.
“Pinkerton Agency, Halgrim Dallinger, to be taken dead or alive by order of Earwood Official. I’m afraid your town’s been the place for a crook like him, sorry for the trouble ma’am,” Tycho said, before producing his own badge and the poster the agency had given him.
“That ain’t the only one, Pinkerton!” The Marshal said “You goddamned fool, now you’ll draw all of Halgrim onto us!” Tycho could smell the booze on her breath beyond the stink of the newly dead and frowned in response. He believed Marshalls were supposed to be people of character, not drunkard veterans.
“What d’you mean?” Tycho said.
“You said gold tooth, mister? Sorry to say, but there ain’t a piece of gold to feed a flea on this cadaver,” the bartender said, before standing with great effort. The realization hit Tycho then, and he tried to contain his rage.
A goddamn clone!
As Tycho rode, Chuck noticed that he referenced no maps on his journey. In the dim light of the world’s glow he surefootedly rode towards the looming fortress a mile away. Which thrust upward like a clawed, steel fist in the horizon.
“You’re mighty sure about this place,” Chuck said.
“Angelo and I had scoured here a good number of times.”
“Ain’t that somethin, to think he’d done all that stuff ma had talked about just out here.”
“Chuck, take one of these,” Tycho threw him a pill, and downed one himself, swallowing it dry with a grunt.
“What’s this for, mister?”
“The ‘Terres are responsible for your predicament, Deputy Chuck. They knew their way around the Atom.”
Chuck gulped the radiation pill with a nod. He had heard stories about them, great bug-like peoples who towered 9 feet tall, centaur like and mean. His mother had always told him, Chuck, you go out there too far, you’re gonna get eaten by a coalitionist.
Ahead of them, Tycho made out the depressed earth that marked trenches of old. It took a chomp at his nerve to walk this battlefield again.
It was as though he was in the ramparts of his youth, mounted on a steel-augment horse and ready to charge the point. The ghostly fortress echoed ahead bringing him from his stupor, and the sound of abandoned metal creaked across the gouged plain.
Tycho’s memories came in a rush, and he felt a pounding in his ears. He took a minute to recollect himself, this was a bad place to be, a tactical mistake to be exposed like this. But the realization hit him a moment too late, as he heard the crack of a shot.
My head playing tricks on me?
With a disastrous screech, Hickok bucked him headlong into an old trench. A Sniper’s shot from the fortress ahead ripping through its steel heart. The ground met Tycho with a rush, and the crash of his head into the trench wall sent a white cloud into his eyes.
Tycho’s vision went blurry from the blow to his head. Between consciousness, he saw Chuck dismounting and running to his side. He took shots with his lever action with the precision shown at the camp. Everything hurt, Tycho’s legs tingled, and his shooting arm was only saved by his Recoilator taking a brunt of the damage.
Tycho reached into his satchel and withdrew a cigar that had a bucking stallion wreathed in energy on its paper cover. He fumbled for his lighter but felt it drop from his hands as he reached, his hands and fingers shook in shock, he leaned to grab the lighter, but stinging pains rang in his chest, ribs are broken, goddammit. Once more he fumbled for the lighter, but no luck.
Aint no smoking it.
As Chuck fired onto the fortress and wherever the shots came from, Tycho unraveled the Alter-laced cigar. He hadn’t been to a city or a salesman for a while, and his supply of Alter, a drug he relied upon, had dwindled to a few cigarettes and this cigar. A laced cigar strand that would give a man amazing strength and vitality for a fight. Meant for recovering from breaking down an angry horse.
Bronco, goddamn bronco.
The Bronco brand would thicken his bones, and cord his muscles in regular use, but at the moment it would get him into fighting condition. There would be a phantom pain to follow, but he would at least be able to move on.
He brought the unraveled cigar close. Beyond the brown leaves of the tobacco, Tycho made out the glistening crystals of the Alter within. With trembling fingers, he took the crushed crystals to his nose, weakly thrusting them into his nostrils.
Intense pain, the feeling of a broken bone resetting over and over again. Before he felt a jolt of energy course through his veins. Tycho’s eyes opened wide, as his brain exploded in sudden, wrenching power. He was down most of his Alter, which meant a trip to a metropolis was due.
First I gotta make it out of this.
Tycho knew these trenches, he’d been one of the sorry saps to dig them. He knew exactly how to break the sniper who watched them from ahead.
Tycho stood, dusting off his broom handle pistol and gesturing for Chuck to follow.
“I’m trusting you, mister! We’re out here like fish in a stream!”
The two coiled through the depressed earth, and Tycho kicked open a door to one of the inner bunkers of the system. Within was an overturned table, and wooden chairs rotted through, the walls were lined with the redwood that was common in the forests of the world. Scurrying from the sudden intrusion, a family of rats scattered towards a line that led directly beneath the citadel.
Tycho squinted through the dim light, his head rang, and though his body was functional, his mind wracked once again with searing pain. In the light, Tycho saw a flashback of his fellow troopers. Appearing like images in a forgotten photograph, black and white, the apparitions ran around him as his brain replayed his memories with an intensity he couldn’t fight through.
“Corporal Greene! Get your Men, Get your horse! Charge the rear! Send these Coalition bastards screaming down to the burning hell! ” A black and white, ghostly Sergeant Hickock yelled to him from behind the birdie and gasmask of his standard issue. This battle was before Hickock had become major, one of Tycho’s first tastes of combat in a life wrought with gun smoke.
Tycho rubbed his eyes, and the black and white drill sergeant vanished to a concerned Chuck.
“You rocked your head pretty bad Mister, gun firing stopped but I heard horses up above us, heading on down! What’re we gonna do?”
“Keep your head down boy, no good to me with a canoe through you. My shot now, ya’hear?” Tycho replied. Stepping to one side of the door, he’d kicked open, gesturing for Chuck to take the other.
Tycho heard the voices of soldiers once again, and the flashback of soldiers in black and white floated around him. His head thundered with a cavalcade of pain and sensitivity before Chuck brought him back to the present.