Two Sides of the Same Coin . . .
BATTLE FOR WEST WORLD - PROLOGUE
Were it not for the stars circling around Jack Logan’s head, he would have sworn that he was dead. Facedown against the wood-planked porch, the smell of aged timber filled his flaring nostrils, accompanying the clinking of dozens of falling shards of broken glass. A sharp, stinging pain shot through the parts of his body that had made impact with the saloon window, and he could feel a twisting in his guts, mostly from hitting the ground so hard.
For a moment, there was an unnerving silence. Then Logan heard the dreaded crunch of debris underneath heavy boots as his assailant stepped through what remained of the “Shady Grady’s” window frame. He could feel one of those boots planted against his side and, before he knew what was going on, he felt himself flipping over onto his back. Immediately, his attacker knelt down on one knee and rammed his right fist into Logan’s face, stopping just shy of actually hitting the terrified cowboy. All that Logan really saw was the twin barrels of a weapon built into the forearm of his assailant’s armor.
And a pair of angry, red photo-sensors.
“Perhaps you did not hear me correctly the first time,” Gnomon Chase growled through the voice-modifier built into his helmet, “but do not count on a third chance, scum.” He neared his fear-inspiring facemask closer to the trembling cowboy and repeated his initial question; “Where is she?”
“I don’t know where she is,” Logan pleaded as he shook his head. “I swear on my mother’s grave!”
Although the man’s mask prevented any facial expression from showing through, it was apparent that Chase was suspicious of the gun-for-hire’s answer. Gripping Jack’s shirt near the collar, he furiously lifted the cowboy up into the air so that his feet were dangling nearly a foot off the ground.
“How would you like to join her?—” Gnomon Chase began threateningly.
“—I am right here,” a woman’s voice interrupted.
Chase quickly turned his head to look in the direction from which the voice had come—the other side of the cobblestone-paved street. By now, a crowd had gathered to see what all the commotion was. As it was early evening, most were dressed in fine attire for a night out. The men were decked out in their vested suits and bowler hats, women in fancy corseted dresses. A few onlookers skittishly slipped away on their horses in order not to get involved in what appeared to be a potential shootout. Amid this mass of people, though, one person stood out from the crowd.
Jane Callaway looked ready for action: she wore a blood red, long-sleeved blouse, a black hat, black leather pants, and a black, double-breasted vest with leather lapels. Silver buttons on the vest matched her hatband and the studs in her holster. The infamous female gunslinger carried a pair of chromed, black-handled Windchasers. However, she didn’t bother to unlimber the laser revolvers as she slowly approached the armored menace that had searched her out.
No longer requiring the services of Jack Logan, Gnomon Chase dropped him where he was. The battered cowboy let out a painful groan as he hit the wood decking a second time. As he lay there in a heap, Chase stepped over him and headed down the steps of “Shady Grady’s.” The saloon was located off one of the larger streets of Teslison, a suburb of Old Kaukazen on Yewkay. Chase observed the crowd—mostly native Yewkanians, although there were a few from other worlds peppered throughout the assemblage. Old Kaukazen loomed on the horizon, buildings of ominous black spewing smoke into the atmosphere. In fact, the whole world seemed to take on a sepia tone in the late afternoons and evenings as the sun fought to shine through the ever-present pollution. Once he stepped onto the cobblestone, the masked enigma kept his photo-sensors trained on the approaching woman.
“I see you have now modified your voice to even conceal your accent,” Callaway remarked, seeming not the least bit intimidated by the armored man heading toward her. “This ‘Gnomon Chase’ truly has consumed you.”
“Is that not the pot calling the kettle black, Jane ‘Callaway’?” remarked Chase as he stopped before the Yewkanian woman. By his emphasis, it was obvious that her last name was an assumed one.
The woman laughed as though she was taken aback—caught off guard; she didn’t seem pleased by the comparison. “I guess it is like father, like daughter,” Jane admitted begrudgingly with a slight sarcastic tone. The woman shifted her weight so that her right hip stuck out, and then placed her hands on both hips right above her guns. “What do you want, daddy?” Callaway asked with stronger, unmasked sarcasm.
“These men were sent by Victor Hawthorne to hire your services,” Chase stated as he gestured back toward Jack Logan. By this time, a couple of his battered and bruised comrades stumbled out the swinging doors of “Shady Grady’s.” They started to help Logan to his feet, keeping a wary eye on their armored assailant. “Did you take their offer?” Chase inquired of his daughter.
“Perhaps,” Jane replied coyly. “Why? Are you willing to offer more?”
“It is a matter of principle. Victor Hawthorne is—”
“Do not presume to talk to me about principles,” Callaway interrupted, “not after what you did to our family! This—” Jane searched for the right word as she sized up Chase’s armor—“thing was more important to you than any of us!”
“And once again, I apologize,” Chase lamented. “However, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do—the only thing to do. I never meant for you to get hurt. I never even meant for any of you to find out.”
“Well, thanks to Hawthorne, we did find out. And, yes, I am taking him up on his offer,” the young woman informed her father. “That pirate—Madame Ching—has made herself a nuisance to Mr. Hawthorne, attacking every ship sent out by Hawthorne Industries. I will put her out of his misery.”
“You will precipitate a war is what you will do,” Gnomon Chase cautioned. “Madame Ching will not be easily defeated. And there are those on both sides of the law who will see to it that you do not.”
“At least I will be on the winning side.”
“Are you sure?”
“Hawthorne has the power, the money! He can buy anything, or anyone, to accomplish his ends!”
“Do not underestimate the determination of Madame Ching or Tom Shallowhorne. More importantly, do not underestimate Hawthorne—to him you will be merely a pawn. He will use you up, and then throw you away.”
“Too bad you never cared for us the way you do for this Tom Shallowhorne,” Callaway grumbled. “What is he to you?”
Gnomon Chase seemed taken aback for a moment, pondering his reply. He remembered telling Shallowhorne on the planet Latanus that his assistance was for the purpose of redemption. However, he had never really put his thoughts together into an explanation of why he was helping Shallowhorne specifically. Until now—
“Tom Shallowhorne is now what I was,” Chase explained to his daughter. “I must do this to prevent him from becoming me….”