Part of USS Denver: Mission 3: War is War

The Man from the Broken Hills

Starbase 75, Betazed System
0 likes 795 views

Golden grasses stretched across the prairie broken by clumps of juniper cedars and the occasional piñon.  A hot wind blew across the prairie as a lone rider topped a rise. He was young, in his late teens or early twenties with a week’s worth of black beard growth on his chin. His black hat was pulled down low shielding his face and neck from the brutal sun.

The horse, and beautiful buckskin with thoroughbred and quarter horse bloodlines, walked briskly despite the heat.  Its golden yellow coat glistened with sweat and the black tipped ears darted about catching whatever sounds it could.

The man wore a gun on his hip. A well worn six-shooter, and relic of the war between states.  The revolver had once been the property of a Captain Talon of the 3rd Ohio Cavalry. A rebel ball had taken his father’s leg at the Battle of Chickamauga, which ended Captain Milo Talon’s career in the Union Army.

Milo Talon returned to the farm in Southern Ohio where his wife Rebecca tried to eek out a living.  But farming was hard for a man with one leg, and in 1870 Milo Talon packed up his family and everything they had left and headed West to ranch in Colorado. 

Like everything else to happen to Milo Talon since the war, that didn’t go as planned either.  They set up a homestead along Beaver Creek, and went to raise some cattle. Rebecca Talon died in childbirth on that little hardscrabble ranch. She was buried on the hill looking over the cabin. The next year a flood took the herd.

Milo took to the bottle after that and started spending more time in Cañon City gambling.   Milo was a fair gambler and might have made a living at it if he hadn’t drank up all his winnings. It was up to Ethan to fend for himself and take care of his little sister.

One night Milo got into a disagreement with a fellow gamber.  The gamber drew down on Milo and before he could clear leather the gamber put two holes in his chest.  As his father lay dying on the floor of that saloon the gamber fled town.

A local family who lived a little further up Beaver took pity on Ethan and his sister and offered to take them in, but Ethan had the wandering spirit. With his little sister being taken care of Ethan saddled up Milo’s old bay mare and left.

For the next five years he drifted. Down in Texas he learned how to punch cows.  It was on the King Ranch Ethan found he had a natural skill with a gun.  

“You don’t need to be the fastest, señor,” Jose told him once.  “When you pull that trigger don’t miss.”

Ethan looked at the old Mexican and nodded to him. “Yes sir.”

“A gun is a tool. It’s not a trophy or badge of courage.  Many men have been buried who wore a gun attracting a reputation.  Don’t draw a gun unless you intend to use it, and never point it at anything you don’t want to shoot.”

It was good advice and Ethan followed it.  He never wanted to make a name for himself anyway.   There was just one man he would face, his father’s killer.  But, until then and hopefully after Ethan intended to just be some no-account drifter.

After Texas he did a little prospecting outside the wild boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona. Had a few drinks, and won a few dollars from Doc Holliday before drifting on to California where he made nearly $400 off a grubstake.  

The buckskin gelding dropped into a little arroyo where scattered juniper grew along the edge. Ethan lifted his canteen to his lips and drank.  The water was hot, stale, and tasted of tin.  It was amazing.   There were turkey vultures up ahead were circling something.  Ethan found him lying on his back with a bullet hole above his heart. A few inches lower would have been instantly fatal. 

Reigning his horse Ethan slid out of the saddle and let the reins dangle.  Kneeling next to the man he offered him his canteen which he took in slow drinks interrupted with spurts of coughing and groans of pain.

The man didn’t say anything,  and Ethan didn’t either as he tore off strips of his old bandanna and dressed the wound.   There was no water here.  He didn’t have enough water in his canteen for just the horse let alone both of them. With considerable effort Ethan helped the much larger man into his saddle.  He groaned in pain, but managed to sit upright.  

With reins in hand, Ethan led the horse northward.   Hardscrabble Creek was only a few miles away, and maybe five or six lay Florence.

They didn’t speak to each other as they worked west towards the creek. The man was barely conscious as it was anyway. Within thirty minutes Ethan stood at the edge of the hill. It was a steep drop off lined in shrub oak and loose rocks.  At the bottom obscured by tall cottonwood trees marked the path of Hardscrabble Creek.

Ethan found a game trail and worked his way down the side with a clattering of rocks.  The stranger was surely a cowboy as he remained in the saddle despite it all.  

At the bottom Ethan found a suitable campsite and pulled the stranger from the saddle.  Stripping the saddle from the buckskin he rubbed the horse down let it drink deeply from the creek before picketing the gelding to graze on the green grass.

Ethan built a fire, and bathed the stranger’s wound packing it with a poultice of wild onions he had found. The shirt he had been wearing was thin and light, and didn’t appear to be missing any pieces.  His father had told him that the bits of the uniform were deadlier than the bullets.   If you didn’t get those peices of cloth out, infection would be soon to follow.  And this infection almost always ended in death.  

Ethan decided digging the bullet out would likely do more harm than good so with his sewing kit he made two quick sutures to close the wound and dressed it with the last of his torn bandanna.   There was nothing else he could do. 

“End of Chapter One,” a disembodied female voice announced. “The time is now 20:00 hours.”

Ethan looked up at the sky, and sighed.  “Computer, save progress and end program.”

There was an electronic beep and the creek bottom vanished to reveal the grid of a holosuite.  Ethan was no longer a young man, but the thirteen-year-old boy that he very much was.  

Ethan tipped his hat to where the stranger had been sleeping, “I’ll see you next time, partner.”  With that he walked out of the room and into the busy corridor of Starbase 75.