Drifter

He would always be an outsider in this sleepy mountain town, but he’d stay a while. The innkeeper and his daughter were keen to take his money, no matter whence it came, and no one gave him any trouble. His reputation proceeded him.

Annette, who spoke a little English when she had the nerve, brought him biscuits every morning, saying she’d put them on his bill. In six months he’d never seen any kind of a tally, but she wouldn’t let him refuse. “You have to eat, or you will die. I will bill you. Do not worry.”

She owned him by this point, most likely. Someday she’d cash in, though what she planned on doing with a wreck like himself, he couldn’t rightly figure. “Thank you much, Miss Annette. I do so like your biscuits.”

At the edge of the bar, he savored a single bottle of whisky for the rest of the day.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve, showing your face in public.”

He shrugged at the man, an either short or hunched-over sort he didn’t recognize. As he lifted his bottle to his lips, he tried to think of who it might be. Some banker he’d ripped off? Some rancher onto whom he’d pawned a dead horse? Could even be an ex-lover, or an ex-lover’s lover. He squinted, trying to recognize any familiar feature in the man.

“I figure someone has to,” he said, gesturing to the empty room. The stranger or old friend or old enemy, whoever he was, made some threat and stomped away. They’d fight later, at sunset no doubt. Another man dead, another identity to take. This next time, he hoped it was someone interesting.

#boring, #genre, #identity, #lawless, #meta, #western

Homunculus

The Phoenix Lord was in the middle of some speech when Jocelyn received the order to strike. Even though she was newest member of the right arm, she was in charge of the killing blow, a complicated manual control that required finesse. The rest of the crew stood around her console, shouting encouragements. She could do it. As she began the crank, tension built, and she steadied herself. She spun the wheel faster, pulling out the pegs as necessary, in even intervals.

“You’ve got it.” Murmurs from all around her gave advice, but she maintained her concentration.

“Pull the switch!”

“You have to do it now!”

She waited. The official go-ahead hadn’t yet come through, and she couldn’t make a move without their say-so. A sudden quake knocked her from her seat.

“Are you going to finish the job, or do I have to take over?”

She looked up. The final lever was only a few feet away, and she leapt toward it. Her fingers fell into place around the shaft.

“Why isn’t she pulling the lever?” asked her head of operations. The crew around him made no suggestions, though they clearly had ideas of their own. “What’s going on in the right arm?”

“We’ve lost communications. Most likely, they’re waiting for our go-ahead.”

A hand pushed her back to the floor. Jocelyn looked up at her coworker, a stodgy fellow in a bird costume. “You had a chance to prove yourself, but that moment is over. You will have to defeat me if you want any professional glory, but as you can see, I’ve already won.”

As he yanked down on the switch, Jocelyn struck him in the eye, a perfectly tuned punch that knocked him cold. Her coworkers gasped.

“What’s gotten into you?”

#fractal, #mecha, #meta, #microfiction, #professional-rivalry, #science-fiction