The walk down the lavishly decorated hallway seemed to take forever. Or maybe it was just nerves, and an eye for detail. Destyn was thoroughly impressed that a supposed non-profit like the Sisters’ could manage such a high class establishment. The penthouse was richly appointed with dark, wood-paneled walls (now charred), hung with what had to be expensive tabestries and paintings (now bullet-riddled), and decorated with finely upholstered chairs that, probably until recently, hadn’t entirely been intended to be the kindling they had been reduced to. Of the stained glass windows, there wasn’t much to say. There was still coloured glass around the frames, to be sure, but it was a far cry from the luxury it had presented not that long ago from the outside. It must have been quite the fancy place, Destyn thought, a good location to meet with the Archpriestess of the order, to be sure.
“Quit your gawpin’ and get movin’,” G.C. grumbled, kicking Destyn in the heels.
“You’ve done quite a number on the place, G.C.” Destyn shuffled his feet, slowing his step further. “I’m not sure how much you’re going to have left after they deduct this from your pay.”
“Pay nothin’. Bart’s head’ll more than cover for this outdated holier-than-thou shit. And besides, notoriety is payment enough. Can you imagine how high up the pole I’ll be after this cap?”
“While you’re up there, why don’t you go ahead and shove it up your ass?” Destyn suggested it cordially enough, but the blow to the back of his head showed that G.C. was having none of it.
“If I didn’t need you alive-”
That was as far as G.C. got with his threat before the world went white. Destyn threw himself again to the floor, hands over his head, as the shockwave blasted around him. His ears ringing, Destyn could barely make out a figure sprinting up the hallway toward him. G.C. was sprawled on his back, cursing at any and every god he could think of, when a pair of hands pulled Destyn up and to his feet.
G.C.’s swearing stopped, and when his vision finally cleared, Destyn could see why. A short man in a marshall’s uniform had him pinned on his stomach and was currently cuffing the stunned android.
“You flashbanging piece of shit,” G.C. started, before taking a sharp blow to the base of his synthetic skull. A port cracked open, and the officer pressed his sidearm, an antique pistol by the look of it, directly in the centre of the exposed circuitry.
“I have every right,” the man threatened, “to blow your head clean open. You’ve endangered the lives of everyone in this building, and right now I’m in no mood to take any of your shit. Do you understand and comply with this arrest? Or should I just save myself the paperwork?”
“I comply! I comply!” G.C. was clearly panicked, and he stopped his resistance. “But when this is done, I’m going to-” He stopped short when the man pressed the barrel of the pistol firmly in the open compartment. “I’m going to commend you to your commandin’ officer, is what,” G.C. finished lamely. He visibly relaxed as the gun was withdrawn and the compartment hastily closed.
The marshall stood and dusted off his pants before turning to Destyn. “I’m assuming you were not with him, what with being walked down the hall at gunpoint?”
“Got it in one,” Destyn nodded, and extended his right hand. “Destyn Wu, bounty hunter.”
“Solar Marshall Adjunct Lenz Tio,” Tio replied, firmly shaking Destyn’s offered hand. “I’m here to secure the area against this asshole here,” he hooked his left thumb over his shoulder at the prone G.C., “and take care of that bigger asshole there.” Here he nodded toward the far door, where presumably Bartholmè was holed up. “Care to be deputized real quick like? I could use the backup.”
Destyn winked at Tio, grinning. “Shit, man, I don’t need deputizing to put ol’ Bartholmè down.” He took G.C.’s primed rifle from the floor, resting it on his left shoulder. “Besides, cops don’t get paid by the head.”
“Fair enough,” Tio shrugged and turned his head to look at G.C. “You move from this spot, and I’m putting a departmental bounty on your head. Do you comply?”
“I comply,” G.C. sighed, wriggling up onto his knees and sitting on his heels. “Don’t you boys bother about me none. I’ll be a good little fella.”
Destyn rolled his eyes, nearly matching Tio’s exasperated expression. “Well, Solar Marshall Adjunct Lenz Tio, shall we?”
Tio had been relieved to find that most everyone had safely evacuated the building before the rocket attack, but he had enough singed clothing to show for the bodies he’d pulled from the burning rubble. His hands had blsiters, here and there, and were soot blackened from the smoke damage. Every body he pulled free of the wreckage had added another weight of guilt to his shoulders, and nothing had been more devastating than the little girl. She couldn’t have been more than five or six, and she had been caught while cowering under a long table in what had appeared to be a dining hall on the fourth floor. The ceiling had given way and crushed her legs, and the smoke had done the rest of the work, he assumed. He couldn’t blink now for seeing her, sprawled there helpless, her pink dress burnt at the edges. She had been clutching a toy elephant in her left hand. That was going to haunt him, he knew, for many, many nights to come.
But he had captured the fucker who had bombarded the building, that much helped. And knowing, too, that he would have shown up anyway to blow the place to hell took some of the onus, for sure. But Tio couldn’t help wonder if a larger Solar Marshall presence would have disinclined the hotshot from his course of action. He was going to pay for that little girl, of that much Tio was certain, and for all the others who hadn’t been able to escape from Bartholmè’s siege in time to escape another madman. And he called himself a bounty hunter! They were all mostly scum, in Tio’s book, people who went out of their way to dole out justice for cash. They had no honour, no reason for being other than to fatten their bank accounts. They thrived on misery, as far as he was concerned, and got in the way of real peace officer work. Today, if anything, was a prime example of how little these types could be trusted. Still, he was happy to have the help of this Destyn Wu, bounty hunter or no. Bartholmè’s cruelty was notorious and boundless, and he was a damned good shot to boot. It would be helpful to have another gun, hired or otherwise, when it came down to it.
Thinking through all this, pushing that little girl to the back of his mind, Tio led the charge down the hallway. And it would have been an impressive charge if, at the end of the run up, they hadn’t both just ricocheted off the locked door. It was an imposing door, to be sure, but Tio had had a small hope that it wasn’t as structurally sound as it looked. For all their effort they both got bruised shoulders and, had they not dodged up against the wall, barely avoided being riddled with holes as Bartholmè fired through the door, sending wood shrapnel bounding down the hallway.
“Please tell me,” Destyn said, “that you have a backup plan.” He was wiping wooden bits from his face, looking none too pleased.
“To be honest, I’d been banking on that to work.” Tio flinched as another volley shot through the door, shaking it in its firm hinges. “Who knew they’d have such good architecture, eh?”
“You think this is funny?”
“No, I think this is desperate.”
“At least you’re honest.”
“So they tell me. Hold on.”
The continued gunfire from the other side of the door had made a considerable hole in the centre of the door itself, almost wide enough for an idea to get through. And a grenade. Tio sidled as close to the door as he dared, pulled the pin on another flashbang, and gently slid it through the new egress. There was a duo of screams as the grenade went off, and the door rocked from the concussion of the blast. Tio reached through the hole and managed to open the door from the other side all in a matter of heartbeats. Rushing through, Destyn and Tio both dove into the open, weapons ready and trained on Bartholmè, and, unfortunately, on the elderly woman he had firmly clutched to his chest.
“You sons of bitches gone and blinded me!” Bartholmè shouted, firing wildly in their general direction. “I’ma gut you like pigs, you fucks.”
Tio flinched away just in time to avoid taking a bullet to the leg, and scurried behind an overturned desk. Destyn followed, and the two of them took up positions at either end. The situation was indeed dire. Bartholmè was furiously rubbing his eyes with his gun hand, the older woman still held securely against his person. Tio looked to Destyn to get his opinion, and found the other man levelling his rifle at the target.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tio hissed in a whisper. “He’s got a hostage!”
“I can see that, thanks.” Destyn replied, lining up his sights.
“What if you miss?”
“I don’t miss.” And he squeezed the trigger.
There was a shout of pain, from Bartholmè and from the archpriestess. Bartholmè fell back, clutching his bloodied hand and the archpriestess fell to the ground in a faint, blood pooling out from the gunshot in her right shoulder.
“I thought you said you didn’t miss!” Tio shouted, jumping to his feet.
“I didn’t.” Destyn aimed again, firing, and Bartholmè dropped to his side howling, his left knee shattered.
“You hit the Reverend Mother!” Tio was flushed with anger, his fists shaking. “Are you telling me you did that on purpose?”
“It was the only way to get the shot. If I’d gone higher or lower I’d’ve hit something she needed.” Destyn stood calmly and walked swiftly to Bartholmè, kicking him onto his stomach with a grunt. The large man tried to swing at Destyn’s leg and got the butt of a rifle to his nose for the trouble. Destyn pressed the barrel of his rifle into Bartholmè’s forehead, and spoke through gritted teeth. “The warrant says Dead or Alive you idiot fuck. I don’t have to make this hard. Get on your stomach or go to Hell.”
Growling, Bartholmè complied, rolling heavily onto his stomach. Bartholmè groaned in pain as Destyn put the weight of his left foot on his ruined knee while he cuffed him. Tio, meanwhile, was attending to the fallen woman. He had produced a handkerchief from his back pocket and was pressing firmly against the wound. If nothing else, Tio was thankful the Reverend Mother had passed out from the shock, making his attempts at compressing go that much easier.
“She’s in her eighties, Wu,” Tio chastised, glaring at the other man. “This can’t be good for her, vital organ or no.”
“She’ll live. She’s one of the richest people on Mars. I’m sure she’s got thousands of followers eager to cough up their hard earned credits to see her up and about in no time.” Destyn sat down heavily on Bartholmè’s back, eliciting a grunt from the bleeding man. He took a packet of cigars from his breast pocket, selected a half-burnt dog end, and lit up. “Don’t you want to radio for backup or something?”
Tio flushed, this time with embarassment. In all the commotion, he’d forgotten something so basic. He pressed his index finger into the earpiece in his left ear, waited for a tone, then spoke. “This is Solar Marshall Adjunct Lenz Tio reporting. Clear. Repeat, we are clear.” He waited a moment, listening, and nodded to himself. “Yes sir. Bartholmè is subdued, as well as the Grand Champion droid. Both have been detained.”
Destyn leaned back and looked down the hallway, before letting out a bitter laugh. “Might want to check that again, hot shot.” He pointed with his cigar to the spot G.C. should have been. “I think your captive went and released himself.”
“Oh for fucks-” Tio jumped up and ran to the doorway. Sure enough, G.C. was nowhere to be seen. All that Tio could see was an abandoned pair of handcuffs laying on the ground where he had been. He let out a deep sigh, deflating considerably. He pressed on his ear again. “Correction, sir. Grand Champion has made off. Presumed to be armed.”
Destyn gave a bitter laugh, flicking ash onto Bartholmè’s prone head. “He’ll be laying low for a while, and no mistake. That asshole’s got hell to pay and I’ve got his rent check right here.” He patted Bartholmè gently on the shoulder, getting a growl for his efforts. Destyn drew on his cigar again, before his face lit up. “Oh damn. I do have him.” He laughed again, this time quite happily, and pulled up his sleeve, exposing his wrist computer. With a few taps of the screen and a bit of a wait there came a bright, tinny fanfare.
“Congratulations, cowboy!” The synthesized voice grated, but it was still a welcome sound to Destyn. “500,000 credits will be deposited in your account upon delivery of Bartholmè Uzuner” the voice hitched here, presumably filling in a blank, “to your nearest Peace Officer for confirmation! Happy hunting!” There was another brief fanfare, and then silence.
When Tio returned, Destyn was all teeth and grinning.
“I take it you’ve gotten good news.” Tio knelt back by the archpriestess, checking her pulse at her left wrist.
“The best.” He offered Tio his packet of cigars, but got a stony glare in return. “Fine then. But,” and here he held out his wrist, “I need you to confirm this cap.”
“You shot an unarmed woman, in front of a Solar Marshall, and now you want said Marshall to confirm your capture.”
“I can’t believe this.” Tio sighed, but leaned in and typed in his IDN. When he finished, there was yet another fanfare, and the bright voice came back.
“Thank you Adjunct Lenz Tio for your cooperation! 500,000 credits have been desposited in the account of Destyn Wu, available for withdrawal in one Martian solar day. Happy hunting!” Fanfare. Silence.
Destyn grunted as he hopped to his feet, and gave a light salute in Tio’s general direction. “And now this piece of shit is your problem. Take it easy.” He turned to go, but was stopped by a cold metal band snapping around his right wrist. “The hell are you doing?”
“Destyn Wu, you are hereby under arrest for the unlawful injury of the Archpriestess Tedra Blythe-Smith.” Tio quickly secured the other wrist, to the background of Bartholmè’s hoarse laughter. “As of now, anything you say can and will be recorded and collected as evidence.”
“You are an absolute little shit, you know that?” Destyn sighed, his shoulders slumped. “What’s the fine for that, by the way?”
“Fine? A pillar of the community is bleeding on the floor and you’re worried about money? You’re a stand-up fellow, Wu.”
“I’m not the one going around arresting heroes!”
“Hero? Heroes don’t shoot clergy!”
“Oh give me a break,” Destyn said, turning around. “They spend all their time preaching about doing the right thing, no matter the consequences, don’t they? Might as well help them walk the walk, y’dig?”
“No, I don’t dig.” Tio waved over Destyn’s shoulder, and two uniformed Marshall’s entered the room. “Bartholmè’s, well,” he pointed, “he’s obvious. And I’ve also got-“
“Destyn-fucking-Wu!” The shout was followed by the entrance of Marshall Fort. “I haven’t seen you around here in some time.” He looked Destyn up and down, then turned to Tio. “Why the hell is this man cuffed?”
“Sir,” Tio saluted crisply. “Mister Wu is responsible for, well,” he gestured vaguely at the Archpriestess, who had finally come around and was groaning. “He shot the archpriestess, Sir.”
“You shot Tedra?” Fort turned back to Destyn, both eyebrows raised. “You’ve got more balls than I gave you credit for, Wu.” He turned back to Tio just as quickly. “Uncuff him.”
“Did I stutter, Adjunct Marshall?”
“No sir!” Tio hastened to undo the clasps around Destyn’s wrists. When he had finished, he gave Destyn a wicked glare, then turned back to Marshall Fort. “If I may ask, Sir-“
“You may not.” Fort slapped Destyn on the back, laughing. “Come with me, Wu. If I know my figures, you can afford some celebrating.”
Destyn retured Tio’s glare, rubbing his reddened wrists. “As much as I would love to accompany you, Fort, I’ve got to get back to the Honeybadger.”
“You’re still flying that junkheap, huh?” Marshall Fort shrugged, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Ah well, if you’ve got to go, then you’ve got to go.” He turned to Tio. “As for you, Adjunct Solar Marshall Lenz Tio, I hereby relieve you of duty active immediately. Give me your sidearm and your badge.”
Destyn let out a low whistle.
Tio blanched. “Sir?” he stammered. “You can’t be serious.”
“Can’t I?” He stepped aside as the two attendant Marshall’s carried out the now doubly-bound Bartholmè, the archpriestess following. “Your incompetence this morning has directly contributed to this state of affairs. Had you followed protocol, there’s a good chance none of this would have happened.”
“But, Sir!” Tio protested, his right hand clutching the badge on his chest. “Everyone was on vacation! I was the only one available!”
“That’s why, Tio, we have a thing called phones. You use them to fucking call people.”
Tio flushed, his red cheeks contrasting starkly with his fainting pallor. “Sir, please-”
“Enough. Tio, hand over your badge and sidearm, or face arrest. Those are your two options.” Marshall Fort rested his hand on his own sidearm, casually shifting to his firing stance.
Tio, looking very much on the verge of tears, unpinned his badge with badly shaking fingers. He handed both the silver disc that marked him as Marshall as well as his official weapon over to Marshall Fort, then he sat heavily on the floor, head in hands.
“Thank you for not making this any more difficult than we needed this to be, Tio.” Fort did sound grateful, but Tio was having none of it.
“Please, that’s enough. Just leave me.”
“I don’t think that’s the best idea,” Destyn chimed in, looking for all the world like he would rather be somewhere very far away. “Who knows what shape this foundation’s in? G.C. did a number on the place. We’re going to need to move out.”
“What Destyn said.” Fort nodded, and turned on his heel. “Both of you, with me. Now.”