The sun seemed a little hotter and the air hung still in the wooden canyon of the street as the lone figure walked along. Dust swirled around her as the skirt of the habit fanned the ground as she walked with a metered determination down the street towards a tall store-fronted building midway down the block. A few locals sat in the shade of a nearby business and wondered what the church was doing here.
Emmanuelle looked up at the sign above the door and smiled to herself. The words were written in badly faded red paint, inscribed with the words “Packer Mercantile”. She smiled to herself and stepped up the stairs towards the front door. The ring of the bell was the only cheery or pleasant thing about the place as she walked into the store. The interior seemed to radiate a sort of grim order, with the rows of dully labeled cans and dingy boxes. Creaks from the bare floorboards as she walked across to the counter sounded more like muted cries from lost souls than the parched wood’s normal sounds. The man behind the counter wore his glasses down on his long nose, staring intently at the open ledger book in front of him while making notes in the margins with a crow quill pen. With his head down in the book, Emmanuelle couldn’t help but notice that while he had taken great pains to preserve his appearance from the front, the man behind the counter was fighting a severe case of advanced baldness. She stepped up to the counter and placed her bag on the floor in front of the counter. Pausing for a moment, she stood there waiting for the man to acknowledge her.
The balding man looked up and regarded the nun that stood before him with a look that was equal parts contempt, disgust, and outright anger. She stood there with a beatific smile as he put the pen down and folded his arms.
“Can I help you with something?” he said, the edge in his voice sharp. Emmanuelle performed a very shallow curtsy, and removed a small card from inside her robe. “Bonjour monsieur. I was wondering if you could assist me with something, s’il vous plait?” She put on a look of abject sadness, enough that by his expression the balding man seemed to moderate his next comment from what he had originally thought to say.
“Look lady, I’m running a business here and I don’t have time for charity cases,” he snapped, “maybe you need to either get to shopping or move on.” She held out a carte de viste to him in a gloved hand, and he took it without really looking at the person who held it. It was a head and shoulders picture of a woman in a military uniform. The balding man began to shove it back across the counter to the waiting woman when the face staring back at him from the card sparked a moment of recognition. With a start he looked back up at the woman in the habit, and he realized that all this time her gaze had not wavered from him, that the eyes behind the tinted glasses had been watching, evaluating, sizing him up…and despite the fact that when he looked at her he only saw his reflection in the reddened lenses, he could feel the gaze behind them. He stammered momentarily as he began to speak.
“You need to get out before there’s any trouble…”
The nun turned and walked back to the door, pulling the shades and turning the deadbolt with a resounding click. She turned as the man closed the gap, running towards her red-faced and out of breath.
“What are you doing? You are going to be in a world of hurt if you don’t…”
She cut him off mid-sentence by saying “Too late chere, that world of hurt is already here.” He lunged forward and grabbed the veil and coif on her head, and tried to pull her into a nearby counter of tools but Emmanuelle dropped to the floor and rolled over backwards into a crouch leaving the balding man with a handful of cloth. He cursed and spat, screaming something unintelligible as he tossed away the head covering and started towards her. She threw a punch with her right hand that he blocked easily, laughing as he did so but missing the intent as she pivoted quickly and planted the point of her left elbow on the bridge of his nose with a crack. The balding man’s nose flattened with the strike, dropping him to the floor in a gout of blood.
The door in the back of the store burst open and a huge man wearing a bloody apron charged into the room. He bellowed and lunged toward the raven-haired woman in the dark robes. She spun low out of his grasp as he tried to seize her clothes, her left leg snaking out to strike his shins as he realized he was going too fast to make a sudden enough turn to catch the woman. Stumbling and sliding on the wooden floor, the huge man careened headfirst into a shelf of dry goods and toppled over the store’s far counter. She pivoted back towards the door as another man in a bloody apron came through the back door. He was obviously related to the other two men, bearing what would be considered more than a familiar similarity in appearance, the difference being the unruly crop of blonde hair that adorned his head. The blonde man paused for a brief instant then lunged at Emmanuelle, a heavy cleaver raised high over his head. She faced him in a crouch, her right arm going straight with a flutter of the loose robes, the blue steel of the pistol in her hand appearing out of the sleeve. A single shot rang out, and the man paused his advance suddenly. The look on his face changed from rage to confusion as his hand went up to his forehead and came back with a weal of red on it. A thin trail of blood ran from the inside corner of his left eye as he toppled over in a heap onto the floor.
The huge man regained his footing and was on her within a step, gripping the robes and tossing her bodily across the room. Emmanuelle crashed into a shelf stacked with prospecting supplies and rolled to the floor. The huge man turned the corner to find the woman crouched behind a stack of saddle blankets. He bellowed something at her, and she responded by jumping up in front of him. She slid neatly out of the robes, revealing her clothed in boots, fitted trousers, shirt and corset. The huge man’s massive hands sought to grasp the girl as she pirouetted in front of him, leaping into the air in a spin. He was within a finger’s breadth of grabbing her as her leg lashed out, planting a heel firmly against his temple. The huge man’s eyes rolled back in his head and he toppled over onto his back.
Emmanuelle turned back to the main counter to see the balding man peer over the counter behind the barrels of a 10 bore coach gun. His face was pale save for the streamers of blood that ran from his crushed nose to his shirtfront. With a scream he fired, as the dark clad girl dove across the floor with a roll. The first heavy load of buckshot skidded across the planks of the floor and the second shredded the side of the now prostrate huge man. She reached the cleaver the blonde man had dropped in his death throes and threw it hard towards the counter with a snap of her wrist. The cleaver struck the barrel of the shotgun and clattered off behind the counter, punctuated by the wail of the balding man. He dropped the shotgun and balefully grasped the bleeding wreck of his left hand. The cleaver had managed to strike the forearm of the shotgun, taking with it the fingers of the balding man’s left hand.
Emmanuelle walked behind the counter and stood over the kneeling man, watching him sob as the blood ruined the sleeve of his crisp white shirt and puddled onto the worn wooden floor. He looked up at her with tear-rimmed eyes just as the muzzle of the little Colt struck him in the bridge of the nose.
“Mark that bill paid in full.” she said just before the hammer fell.
The dark haired drover had been sitting at the bar of the “Snake Eyes” for some time, the long duster hanging loose over the stool and the broad brimmed hat pulled low over her eyes. None of the patrons took particular notice, and none of them particularly cared. Somewhere between the second shot of Rye whiskey and the third glass of nearly flat beer one of the saloon girls looked outside and screamed like an overheated kettle.
“FIRE! THE STORE’S ON FIRE!”
The patrons of the saloon flooded out into the street as the flames roared into the evening sky. Pity, Emmanuelle thought to herself, storing all that coal oil in the back room.
Solarium, Ying Research Inc, New Babbage
Since her return from Bump, Jed had been spending a bit of time in the sunroom. Kimika had insisted that the sunlight would be good for her, so rather than ruffle her feathers Jed had reluctantly relented. Nearly nodding, her sleep was interrupted by a knock at the door. The messenger handed her a small package wrapped in plain brown paper.
She carefully unwrapped the package, and found a small pouch made of a fine brocade cloth, of the sort that men’s waistcoats are usually made. Jed felt the pouch and counted three vaguely cylindrical objects inside. She tucked the pouch inside her robe and settle back to sleep.