The Swordsman winced as the alcohol burned his wounds. A necessary pain, his old teacher would have told him. Pain builds endurance of character. Endurance of character builds a man. In the days of his youth, these words may have been true; but that was then.
Now the world has changed.
He took care to wrap the bandage around his shoulder properly, remembering how his hand puffed up horrifically the last time he didn’t. He knew that his job was complete when the dressing was complete, and the bandage was pressed firmly against his skin – no loose strips, no trapped air. Sarah would have been proud.
His hand fell to his sword, lying on a nearby table, tucked in its sheath. There was a time when it was no more than a ceremonial item. Indeed, there was a time when peace and pacifism were regarded as virtues. The code of the old days have passed, leaving them to figure out the ways of the new world for themselves. For most parts, the Swordsman have figured out how he would fit in this new world. It wasn’t much, but it was good enough for now:
I am a swordsman. I live by the sword.
There is a time for everything, a forgotten man said in a forgotten time. A time to live, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to harvest. A time for peace, and a time to kill.
The time for peace has passed. The Swordsman picked up his sword.
‘DON’T DO THIS! DEAR GOD – I’LL TALK! PLEASE DON’T LET GO, I’M BEGGING YOU!’
Deciding that the soldier sounded sufficiently desperate, Rayna yanked him back into the cargo hold and shut the side door, cutting off the roar of the wind. It was good timing too – she wasn’t sure if she had enough strength in her arms to continue holding him out the door like that for another minute.
‘Alright, then talk,’ Rayna said to the sobbing soldier, who was crawling away from her, dragging his belly along the floor of the cargo hold. ‘Who are you; and what did you want with me?’
When the soldier did not begin talking, she whipped out her knife and prodded him a little with the tip, eliciting a yelp. ‘Don’t keep me waiting, big boy,’ she said. ‘You know what I can do with my bare hands – imagine what I can do with this little darling.’
‘Okay, okay!’ he yelled, flipping around to hold his hands up before him. ‘I’ll talk – just– just give me a minute to gather my thoughts, kay?’
She shook her head. ‘Too long,’ she said, and lifted the knife-
‘WAIT! WAIT! My name’s Samuel Carson, Squadron number two hundred and forty-seven!’ he desperately listed. ‘I’m just an ordinary aircraftsman, doing my time out patrolling the area! As for you – I never wanted anything to do with you, ma’am; that’s up to this guy over here!’
Still locked in his cage, Damien gave him a pitiful head shake.
‘Well then, Samuel Carson,’ Rayna said slowly, ‘What brings an ordinary aircraftsman like you into the company of this guy over here?’
‘I’m only in this under Officer Lyatt, ma’am,’ he gulped. ‘He was the one who brought the group of us out here and–’
‘Who in hell is Officer Lyatt?’
‘Officer Eric Lyatt – my direct superior,’ Sonny said. ‘The man who contacted Damien over here.’
‘So where is this officer?’ Rayna asked, catching Damien’s withering glare. ‘You wait right there, pretty boy – you’ll get your turn. You and I have some personal matters to discuss.’
Damien shrugged as if to say “as you wish”. Now with his back against the far wall of the cargo hold, Sonny continued: ‘Out in the airbase, waiting for us. He’d realize something’s gone wrong by now.’
‘Out in the airbase?’ Rayna repeated, and then to Sonny’s surprise, she threw her head back and laughed. ‘I hate to be the one to break this to ya, buddy,’ she said, ‘But your officer’s dead as fossils.’
Sonny stared at her with a blank expression. ‘Dead?’
‘Shot,’ Rayna nodded. ‘Didn’t see it, but heard it just fine. Our chief, who’s out there on his own business at the moment, apparently decided to wipe the airbase clean on account of his hat being taken from him. Not to say that I didn’t play a part in allowing direct line of sight between him and your friends, if you know what I mean.’
‘You killed them?’ his lips trembled. ‘You – you monster! Murderer!’
‘Mate, if you miss your friends that much, the open sky is right beyond that door,’ Rayna gestured to the side door. ‘But for now, get back into your cage.’
The soldier obediently complied. Clicking the lock shut on the soldier’s cage, she turned to look at the bounty hunter, staring him straight in the eye. He glanced up at her with a contemptuous look, as though challenging her to a staring contest.
‘And now for you,’ she said.
‘Bring it,’ he spat.