Here we go again with Story Updates. This is Chapter 1 of Lights and Shadows, where we meet the Main Character, Marshal Zack Moreau of the Alliance Investigative Service. Lights and Shadows parallels the events and uses the same timeline and universe as Parallax, but for obvious reasons, takes place in a different set of locations. Enjoy:
A dusty wind blew over Moreau’s brown leather chaps as he stopped the hover bike in front of the Sheriff’s Office and shoved the kickstand down with a booted foot. Pierson’s Point had one paved road that snaked north to south while another intersecting street led west back to the Spaceport. In the distance, he saw steam rise from the biomass reclamation plant as he removed broad-brimmed hat and brushed his long brown hair into place and away from his green eyes . Biomass processing from waste material was big business on Quantros and food synthesizers across the Galaxy needed the biomass in order to create foodstuffs. He longed for a cheeseburger as he watched the steam wisp away into the azure sky. His pistol holster dug into his hip as he climbed off the bike and replaced his hat, reveling in the novelty of sunlight dancing off the silver badge that adorned his gray linen shirt onto the shiny coating that covered the squat slit-windowed building.
“They still call them Constables out here.” He murmured as he brushed the last of the street from his clothes and pulled the arrest warrant from one of the bike’s saddle bags. Paper documents were a rarity these days, but Quantros’ problematic magnetic fields made them a necessity. He stepped under the low awning that hung over the front door like a carrion bird waiting for its next meal. Constable Baker was the law in Pierson’s Point for almost a decade and if anyone knew where Jimmy Munn was holed up, he would. Baker was also a puffed up, self-described autocrat who fought anyone he thought was moving in on his territory. A quaint little town with rolling green grasslands on either side wasn’t a bad place to have a kingdom, he thought.
The old-fashioned metal door squeaked on its hinges as he opened it and stepped inside the office. Whatever kickbacks the Constable got wasn’t put into office decor as he noticed the worn metal desks and straight back chairs. Ancient computers sat forlorn on the desktops, their keyboards telling tales of decades past. A cylindrical Stasis Chamber was the newest piece of technology in the room and its control panel looked in desperate need of dusting. A male figure lay inside covered in a light layer of frost under the clear window. A bored deputy wearing an old Alliance Security uniform, whose blue had long since been washed into pale irrelevance, lounged behind his terminal. His name tag read Manless. When he noticed Moreau, he straightened up and made a show of arranging the desk. The deputy had a competent build, but a nervous posture. He stood and extended a reedy hand. “Welcome to Pierson’s Point, Marshal. I see you found us okay.”
“Not too many towns from here to the Spaceport.” Moreau said, his square jaw clenching and unclenching. He had little patience for idle banter but he had to endure the little pleasantries in order to get to the business at hand. He offered up the warrant. “I’m looking for Jimmy Munn. Intel says he’s been seen around here.”
Taking the warrant, Deputy Manless stood and pulled a long cloth off a computer that had seen better days. He fed the paperwork into the machine and waited as ancient electronic elves studied and verified it. When it finished, he grabbed an official stamp and marked it as received before handing it back to the Marshal. He turned back to the machine and read the screen. Moreau studied the officer’s back and spotted the square bump near the belt line that resembled an android’s power pack. “Where is Constable Baker? I’ll need his assistance in forming a posse to capture Munn.”
The Deputy turned around and the smile dropped from his narrow face. “You hadn’t heard, have you?”
Moreau felt a pit forming in his stomach. “Heard what?”
“Constable Baker suffered an unfortunate fatal head wound two days ago while at the Town Recreation Area”. Manless said. “Wally Plunkett caught him cheating at cards and drilled him through the forehead with a pocket meson cutter. Sad too, they were friends for over thirty years.” He gestured toward the stasis chamber. “We’re holding him for collection.”
Moreau looked in on the frozen man. “Baker was a blowhard and a control freak but I would have never thought him a cheater.” He scrunched up his round face at the image. “Pocket meson cutter, huh? That had to hurt.”
“Yes, Sir but a very clean wound.”
Moreau shivered inside. Androids were very efficient and could almost pass themselves off as human but the cold literal outlook was something the programmers could never remove completely. “So, you’re in charge then?”
Manless looked around and shrugged. “I suppose I am, Sir, since we rarely had a need to expand our team past the Constable and I.” He came to Attention and saluted. “Marshal Moreau, under General Order 272 of the Alliance Code, you may assume command of this jurisdiction. Do you wish to do so, Sir?”
Moreau shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary. Are you programmed in fugitive retrieval tactics?”
“Programmed?” Manless said. “Sir, I am not a robot nor an android.” He reached behind himself and pulled out a small tablet. “I heard your bike pull up and hid some light reading. Old habits from Constable Baker. He despised me reading anything but enforcement manuals.”
Moreau nodded, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “My apologies, Deputy. I heard that DynaTech was field testing androids to select planets and assumed. I won’t make that mistake again.” He took the glove off his right hand and extended it. “Let’s start over. Marshal Zack Moreau, Alliance Intelligence Service.”
Manless grasped his hand tight. “Good to meet you, Sir. Deputy Kevin Manless.” He looked around at the office. “From here.”
A hover car whistled past the building. Manless rushed to the window and looked out. “Son of a bitch! There he is!” He stopped and composed himself. “Sir, Jimmy Munn just drove past the station house at a casual rate of speed..”
Moreau sighed and poked his head outside while slipping the glove back on. The hover car was already fading from sight in a cloud of dust. He drew back in and studied the deputy. This is what happens when you don’t see a lot of action, he thought. “Deputy, suit up. If he’s taking his time, he probably isn’t feeling very twitchy or quick to run. If we hurry, we can catch him before he puts two and two together.”
“Where would we put him once he’s in custody?” Manless jerked a thumb at the stasis chamber. “We’re kind of full up at the moment.”
“You let me worry about that.” Moreau said. “Once I have him, I won’t be sticking around long.”
Deputy Manless slipped on a heavy black vest and helmet before grabbing a long silvery gauss rifle from the office’s armory. He slipped an ammo pack into the receiver and sling the rifle over his shoulder. “I just have to borrow Mr. Parker’s crawler and I’ll be right behind you?”
“You don’t have an official police cruiser?”
“We’re a small town, Sir.”
Moreau shook his head as he adjusted his hat. “I’ll give you ten minutes and then I’m going without you.”
“I’ll only need five.”
Moreau watched him rush out a side door and down the street. He strode over to his bike and climbed on, pressing the starter while raising the kick stand. The bike hummed to life and rose up on an invisible force cushion. He pulled his pistol from the holster and popped the revolver’s cylinder free to study the six rounds in the chamber. Directed energy weapons were common sidearms among the Alliance, along with plasma-based firearms, but batteries had a tendency to fade with repeated use and without a handy charger, that fancy schmancy laser pistol turned into a flimsy club. Plasma weapons fared a little better, but they tended to break under arduous conditions. Projectile weapons almost faded away altogether except for the invention of the smart bullet, turning an ordinary lead bullet into a deadly accurate slug with an onboard guidance system capable of traveling around corners and some cases, straight through a wall. Now, all you had to do was aim, wait for the targeting data to be uploaded to the bullet, and then squeeze the trigger. He admired the feel of the brushed chrome finish before he snapped the cylinder back into place, giving it a spin for luck.
“Damn it, Manless.” He muttered, keeping his voice down as several townspeople strolled past. “Where the Hell are you?”
A rickety yellow vehicle lurched around a far corner and came down the street toward him, its six rubber wheels independent suspension making it bob up and down as it drew closer. Moreau was surprised to see such an old vehicle is working condition. Manless had hung an official seal on the rear view mirror and had slid the retractable bubble canopy back, giving the vehicle an open cabin. He came to a stop and stood up on the seat. “Munn’s hideout is about twenty miles southeast of here. He has a private hopper parked there and I’ve heard he plans to head offworld within the next fifteen hours. The road veers off about five miles from there but if we go overland, we might be able to catch him before he leaves.” He pointed to a long tube with a square box attached at one end resting on the back seat. “I grabbed this to deal with the hopper.”
Moreau grinned and put the bike in gear. “All right, let’s get moving.”
The road toward Munn’s place veered off near a town called McCloskey Junction just as Manless had said so the sleek hover bike and the rickety car went off the stability of the paved road and into the tall grass just beyond the trimmed road shoulder. Moreau’s bike made short work of the terrain, rising up on its thrusters and easily cresting the green sea. Manless, on the other hand, had a little more difficult time stopping every few minutes to clear blades of grass from the car’s intakes hoping that the grinding noise and smoke from the straining engine didn’t alert their prey.
Moreau put his bike in hover and looked down. “For God’s sake, Manless, I’ve seen brothel raids go smoother than this.”
The deputy cleared the rest of the grass from the car and looked up. “I’m sorry, Marshal. I’ve got her going now.”
Moreau’s patience was quickly wearing out, but not his hearing. In the distance, the sound of turbines winding up to speed echoed across the plains. “Munn;s starting up his hopper. If we can’t get there to stop him, he’s going to get away.”
Manless started the car’s engine and put it in gear. The car lurched forward, stopped, lurched again and then gave up its fight with a final groan. He slapped the dashboard. “She’s not going to get any farther through this brush, Sir.”
“What about towing?”
Manless shook his head. “The intakes are getting too clogged with grass. She’s not going to move another inch unless we can get a path cleared. Running a tow line will only slow you down and Munn will get away.” He picked up the weapon from the back seat. “Use this to keep the hopper on the ground. It’s an EMP Projector that will scramble the in-flight motors. It’s only good for one shot so make your aim count, Sir.”
Moreau shook his head and grabbed a length of rope from a saddle bag. He looped one end and dropped it to Manless after tying the other to a bracket. “I’m not trained in heavy weapons but you are. Put that around you and grab your gear. You’re going for a ride.”
“Sir, I’m not comfortable with this.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass.” Moreau held the bike in place using the brake. “I need you and those weapons. Ready?”
The deputy grunted as he secured the rope under his shoulders before slinging his rifle and the projector over both shoulders. “This is going to hurt.”
Moreau released the brake and opened the throttle. The bike wavered under the extra weight before finding its footing and rising above the grass’s surface. A quick gear change and they were moving forward toward a white dome shaped house in a distant clearing. Behind the house, a red and white aircraft with a high cockpit and a flat bottom was rotating its four small engine pods into position for takeoff. He allowed himself a chuckle as he imagined what a sight he must be: a hover bike barreling over the grassland with a man in full riot gear hanging underneath and weighed down with heavy weapons. A sound caught his attention and he looked down to see Manless struggling in the makeshift harness. He leaned over. “Damn it, Manless, you’re going to give us away!”
Below him, Deputy Manless was struggling to keep the tall grass from shredding his trousers while fighting to keep hold of his rifle and projector. He pointed to the house, where several figures were starting to mill around watching the odd sight closing on them. “Uh Marshal? I think they know we’re coming.”
Moreau fought to keep the bike in the air as the strain of holding a hanging man began to tax the engine. The bike’s instrument readout began to creep closer to the red line and warning lights began to flash of imminent system shutdown. “I’m going to have to set her down if we keep this up.”
Acrid blue smoke began curling past Moreau’s hawk-like nose. His thick brown mustache began to twitch as the smoke began to thicken and the bike began to lose altitude. He reached for the large survival knife clipped to his belt. “Manless, I have to cut you loose before we crash. Do you understand?”
Manless looked up and nodded. “Do it, Sir. I can’t aim the projector while in this rope.”
“Worst day of my life.” Moreau said as he pulled the knife from its sheath and sawed away at the rope. After a few seconds, the synthetic line parted and Manless dropped the fifteen feet to catfall among the grass. Freed from the extra weight, the bike jumped higher into the air, where incoming fire finished what the strain had begun. Blue smoke turned to black as the bike’s engine failed and the emergency crash skirt deployed. The bike dropped like a stone and landed in a heap in a small clearing. He rolled away and laid on his back, fighting to catch his breath. “I can’t imagine this day getting any worse.” He scrambled to recover his pistol from the grass. Just as his hand curled around it, a heavy boot pinned his hand to the ground.
“Ugliest bird I ever saw.” A fat face bearing crooked teeth and an ugly scar looked down. Jimmy Munn would never win any prizes for looks, but he was a genius at finding ways to circumvent the law. Moreau remembered the briefing and the very long list of offenses listed in the file. If ugly was a crime, Munn would have at least two convictions to his credit. He hitched up his worn trouser legs as he moved his foot and picked up the fallen weapon and examined it. “You always had good taste in hardware.” He tucked the pistol into his waist band. “Moreau, you are one persistent perkat. What you ain’t is smart. When will you learn that no matter how fast you chase me, I will always find a way to run faster.” He brought the double-barreled autoshot’s muzzle down toward Moreau’s face. “I am really going to enjoy this.”
Moreau ignored the Paran insult for a slow moving and dull witted animal native to Paran II as a stray thought nagged at him. Where the Hell was Manless? “You move pretty fast for a fat guy, Munn. What’s your secret?”
Munn turned the autoshot around and struck Moreau in the face with the stock end. When he pulled back, he signaled to a man and woman who ran up from the house. “Take him to the hopper. I want to see what he looks like chewing vacuum in low orbit.”
Moreau’s vision blurred as he felt arms lift him from the ground and drag him toward the waiting aircraft. He shook the stars away from his head as the throbbing in his forehead rose up and demanded attention. “Easy Guys, I’ll go quietly.” He said, getting his legs under him and adding his own power to the walk. The house and the hopper grew in size as he was half dragged half walked to the aircraft’s entry door. Where the Hell was Manless? He thought as his hands were bound behind his back before he was shoved into the cabin. The engines whine increased to a roar but they haven’t taken off yet.
Munn sat across from him and played with Moreau’s pistol. He made a show of pointing it and faking a shot between the eyes. “Your daddy would have found our feud ending like this to be very poetic, Moreau.” He slid the cabin door shut and regained his place. “If he had lived to see his boy get this far.”
Munn nodded as he set the pistol aside. He reached into a pocket under his long coat and retrieved an old pocket watch. He dangled it in front of Moreau. “Recognize this? I think he wanted you to have it but alas, he just didn’t have the chance to give it to his darling boy.” He held it up to his ear. “It still works too.” He reached over and tucked it into Moreau’s shirt pocket. “If it makes you feel any better, he didn’t go out without a fight.”
“It’s not over yet.” Moreau gave the ropes a slight wiggle and felt them loosen. “Especially now that I know you killed my father. Before, I was just doing my job. Now, it’s personal.”
Munn laughed and signaled the pilot to lift off. “We’ll be in orbit in under twenty minutes. Think about what you want to say to your Dad when you meet him.”
The cabin floor trembled and then tilted beneath their feet as the outside view dropped away. Moreau’s thoughts clouded with anger and the introduction of new information that conflicted with his experience. His father was a Marshal before him but there was never a mention of a feud between the Moreaus and the Munns. If I get out of this, I’m going to empty my magazine in Manless’s face, he thought.
He had almost gotten one hand free when he heard alarm buzzers go off in the cockpit. Munn jumped up and dashed up the small stairs as the lights began to flicker and the engines began making a very noticeable sputtering. Moreau undid the last knot in his ropes and was ready to pounce when the aircraft came back to ground with a loud crash. The cabin door popped free from its mountings and flew off into the grass as Manless, his rifle at the ready, stormed in and took charge of the scene.
“Sorry, Marshal.” He panted, his voice muffled by the helmet visor. “I managed to call in some reinforcements. We got Munn’s people tied up behind the house.” He raised the rifle. “There’s nowhere to go so you might as well come out before we come in after you.”
The cockpit door slid open. Munn, followed by the two hopper pilots, came out with their hands up. Moreau reached over and pulled his pistol from Munn’s waist band. He gave the criminal a sharp tap on the back of the head with the barrel before placing it back in his holster. Seconds later, a set of wrist restraints was fitted and Munn was ready for transport in the back of a hover car that they found behind the house.
“Congratulations, Deputy Manless.” Moreau said. “Your timing needed some work but you pulled it out in the end. I believe that you’ll find your crime rate dropping a lot after you bring this bunch in.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you, Sir.”
You’re damned right, you couldn’t, Moreau thought but the words came out as “You did just fine, Manless.” A cloud of dust on the horizon heralded the arrival of Manless’s backup. “Call the Spaceport and tell them I’ll be leaving upon arrival with my prisoner.”