Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gauntlet - Episode 4.



Episode 4 – This Is Your Stop, Now State Your Business Stranger

The frontier town of Redemption greeted Marshall as he left the Titan Train and it’s crackling Thunder Rail. Carved from the rising ridges that rose to become the reaching mountains Redemption sat at the feet of the rocky range. Surrounding it was a sweeping sea of salt flats that shimmered in the sun. The arcing expanse of stretched steel snaked its way back behind him as it ran up alongside to skirt the edge of town before doubling back on itself. This was the end of the line; people either settled in Redemption or took their chances going any further on their own.

Most of the other passengers had already disembarked save for Marshall and a handful of others. One of whom caught at his attention with a shout as she struggled with a crewman over a small bag. “But I paid for my ticket,” the weary widow objected weakly. “Not my problem,” the man mentioned as he ripped the property free from her grip. Already Marshall could see the woman was falling to tears and he decided he had seen enough sorrow visited upon others for one day.

“Release that lady’s luggage at once,” Marshall demanded as he snatched a firm hold of the man’s arm. “Mind telling me what is going on here or do I need to inform the Sheriff that we have a man mugging the elderly?” The crewman shot Marshall a furious glare and clutched a steady hold at the bag. “This is none of your concern stranger. Every passenger is responsible for his or her passage, and this lady only paid for part of hers up front. The remainder of her ticket was purchased en-route but that money was stolen. It’s simply rail policy that she forfeits her belongings to cover the remainder of what she owes. We are not responsible for lost or stolen valuables that occur in transit.”

“But I already paid!” The widow wept as her strength began to fail her in the face of loosing what little seemed left to her. Reaching deep into a vest pocket Marshall fished out his last remaining Regal and tossed the coin at the waiting crewman. “That should more than cover her expenses now release her property before I decide to change my mind and remove it from your possession personally.”

Catching the coin easily with his other hand the belligerent bag-man’s eyes widened at the sight. A whole Regal was more than enough to pay for the woman’s trip ten times over and he wasn’t about to offer to make change even though they both knew he couldn’t. “Sure thing mister,” he offered as he released the bag to fall to the dirt. Marshall immediately retrieved the luggage for the lady and carefully dusted it off before handing it back to her still shaking hand.

“Th-Thank you,” she gratefully whispered with a sniffle. “Don’t mention it, ma’am,” Marshall added with a slight tip of his hat before turning to bid her farewell. Doing a good deed always left him feeling better inside and planted a grin on his face. Even if it had cost him his last coin, no lady deserved to be treated that way.

“Greetings, traveler,” a smooth level voice called to Marshall the moment he had turned back around. Leaning back on a slab of stone was a broad shouldered man with the weathered features of someone at home in the rough environment. A bright badge of silver gleamed on his breast and Marshall didn’t need to read it to guess that it said Sheriff in scrawling script.

“Good day to you, Sheriff,” he politely returned the salutation with a slight nod and started to walk towards town. Before he could move a full two steps a quick gesture called for him to stop. “Not so fast friend,” the Sheriff interrupted. “I like to make it a point to officially meet every new face that finds its way to our little town. And seeing as how you are another one of those fresh faces I think we should have a little talk. Why don’t we start by you telling me who you are what business you have here in Redemption?”

Already Marshall was finding this local lawman irritatingly annoying. What nerve did he have asking him who he was when he obviously didn’t care about his sworn duty enough to put a stop to these train robberies? And what about the attempted strong-armed mugging that nearly occurred to that poor woman on moments ago? No, he was well past the mood to play nice.

“I’d like to report a crime or two Sheriff,” Marshall mentioned with a veiled hint of sarcasm. He tossed out the claim like a baited lure and waited to reel it in to see what manner of man he might catch behind the badge. A raised eyebrow and crooked grin looked back at him as if there was some humor in the sentiment of a reported crime.

“Alright, stranger, let’s hear it; why don’t you open my eyes for me. Go ahead and reveal to me what breeches to the law I ought to be crusading after. Do be so kind as to let me know before we get started if I’ll need to write any of this down.” The Sheriff made it a point to cross his arms and focus himself fully on Marshall.

“First of all, Sheriff, there was a robbery that took place on the train ride here,” Marshall recalled holding a finger up to mark the matter. “Secondly, there is no way you missed that unfortunate woman nearly be taken advantage of. She was almost mugged man!” As he spoke Marshall tried to keep his head lowered slightly to keep his growing frustration veiled from view. Making a display as a disappointed drifter was one thing but outright disrespecting the local authority was bound to earn him an overnight stay in a prison cell. Already he had begun to fear his mouth might have outpaced his self-restraint.

With a Yawn the Sheriff paused for a moment to patiently ensure all complaints had had their chance to be brought before him. “You heard the man mister, that woman was responsible for her debt same as you. If it is the policy of the Thunder Rail to not cover anything lost then that is the way it is. That is as simple as a customer-relations problem as I see it. And as for anything that occurs outside of the town well it isn’t under my mandated authority. Now unless you have further issues to bring before me, my name is Pierce Arbiter and you can find my office in town. It’s the one with the words ‘Sheriff’ hanging above it.”

“Thank you kindly for your time then Sheriff Arbiter,” Marshall remarked as he once more moved to make his way towards town. “Hey,” Arbiter called from behind him. “You never answered my questions. Who are you and what are doing here in my town?” This time though Marshall didn’t stop to turn back around before he answered.

“I’m just passing through, Sheriff,” Marshall replied. “And your name,” the Sheriff demanded again. “Oh, nobody of any account,” was the only explanation Marshall offered before another booming bellow erupted from the Titan Train. Arbiter watched as this newcomer continued on towards town and scratched at the stubble sprouting on his chin. “Well, we’ll soon see about that then won’t we,” he remarked to himself. “Welcome to Redemption friend.”