Since its founding Dustridge had been a quiet, sleepy town. The Weary Man’s Saloon would get a little rowdy from time to time, the sound barely dampened by the wooden planks that made up most of Dustridge’s building materials, but that would only happen when nearly the whole town was gathered in and around the Saloon, so no one would complain about the noise. The loudest things they usually had to contend with were the sounds of operating machinery in back rooms and around unseen corners as craftsmen crafted and workmen worked.
It was because of Dustridge’s usual quiet that the scene that unfolded drew so much attention. Within seconds everyone who heard was leaning out of their windows and doors, listening intently as the Sheriff of Dusridge let loose a torrent of insults, profanities, and threats, all directed at a cloud of dust a small distance out of town, just barely too far and too hazy from dust to make out the cause.
“What’s goin’ on with the Sheriff?” Carly Newman asked, leaning out of the door from the general store. She was a young girl, the youngest of the four Newman girls. Her hair was done up in pigtails, with a modest pink dress draped over her diminutive frame. She was the second child scheduled to be born into Dustridge, and at seven years of age, she was immensely curious.
“I don’t know,” Adriana Newman replied, her head popping out above Carly’s. She was also young, but clearly a few years older than her sister beside her. The second-oldest of the Newman girls. She wore a simple white blouse with pants that were clearly chosen for utility over style, a choice almost everyone in Dustridge made. Her hair was put up into a sloppy bun, and her general demeanor made her seem constantly disheveled and confused, despite her brilliant mind. At 15, she was the first child scheduled to be born into Dustridge.
“He seems angry,” Haley Newman said, squeezing her face out in between her sisters’. Her hair was in a ponytail, and she had a disinterested look on her face. Her clothing seemed to consist of whatever she could grab first, with no regard for either utility or fashion. Her age seemed to fall squarely in between those of her sisters’. Haley was an anomaly in Dustridge, as to date she was the first and only child born through natural conception. The population of Dustridge had been planned well in advance, with frozen embryos and strict schedules dictating the population’s growth. Carly and Adriana were supposed to be the only children born into Dustridge until the town had received a habitable status from the Citadel.
Unfortunately, as their father had said, shit happens. Haley was no more his daughter than the others, though. Ther conception, however unnatural, was still through the genetic material of Harvey Newman and his wife, Rebecca Newman. Both parents had made a point of loving the girls to within an inch of their lives, and they were the darlings of the town, beloved by all.
Like Carly and Adriana, Haley had gotten an implant in her brain the day she was born. The small chip grew with her, integrating into her brain. The three were some of the first people who had cybernetics implanted in them since birth. Aside from the chip though, their bodies were still completely human and would be until they either needed a prosthetic because of illness or injury, or their bodies had stopped growing and they elected to get enhancements. All three could hardly wait.
“Where’s Lana?” Adriana asked, looking up and down the street. The street itself was deserted, but she could see a few people in windows and peeking out through doors, no doubt attracted by the same noise that had drawn them out.
“The man at the bank sent her to that old man who boils the weeds,” Carly said, pointing down the road in the opposite way the Sheriff had ridden out on. The other two peered in the direction she was pointing, trying to see if they could make out the eldest of the Newman girls.
“And neither of you went with her?” Adriana asked, looking at her sisters with a worried expression. She couldn’t see any trace of her older sister, and that combined with the Sheriff’s odd behavior made her heart feel uneasy.
“She’s just delivering something for Old Man Richards,” Haley said, waving Adriana’s concern away. “I’ve done it a few times, and you two will too once you’re old enough.”
“I’m plenty old enough!” Adriana said defensively, stomping her foot and crossing her arms in defiance.
“That old man scares me,” Carly said meekly, her tone a stark contrast to Adriana’s. “I hope Lana will be alright.”
“Lana will be fine,” Haley said, ignoring Adriana and placating Carly. Without Lana there the role of elder sister fell to her, and she took to it like a blind man to the color black. “I’m sure there’s no reason to be concerned.”
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to her, there was a great reason for alarm. Lana had been tasked with carrying extremely precious cargo to Dustridge’s resident scientist, Anton Richards. The cargo was a simple bag of seeds, but contained within those seeds were the hopes of all the citizens of Dustridge. Because of this, whoever had the seeds also carried a target on their backs, and the Rogues weren’t known to miss.
Lana was a fiery girl, with bravery and determination in spades. She was the eldest of the Newman girls and the only child who had come to Dustridge all the way from Earth. She had grown from the town’s poster girl to one of its most dependable citizens, and she didn’t take her responsibility to her town lightly.
It was because of this sense of duty that she refused to hand over her bag of seeds when one of the Rogues demanded it from her. She stood her ground, bravely telling the man off, but unfortunately, bravery wasn’t enough. The Rogues reasoned that if they can’t take the seeds from the girl, they’d just take the seeds with the girl. Thus she found herself on a rickety wagon hitched to the back of three hovercycles rocketing across the sands away from town.
Charles was aware of none of this as he sped out of town on the hoverbike of his own design. Most hoverbikes could perform at two settings. The bike could produce tremendous power, but with little speed, or the bike could go faster than most conventional land vehicles, but with very little torque. Charles’s hoverbike had 10 settings ranging from negative five to five. The negative settings increased power but decreased speed, with the extreme giving him enough power to drag a small building, but at a crawling speed. The positive settings increased speed, but at the cost of power. At the extreme, his hoverbike went fast enough that it could technically fly, but with so little torque it was nearly impossible to control unless he was going completely straight.
None of the components were meant to run at these extremes, and the farther he pushed the bike from the zero setting the more likely it became to critically malfunction. Charles was smart enough to know that if his bike had a critical malfunction while he was riding it his ability to breathe would probably also encounter a critical malfunction.
Still, Charles pushed the throttle to two, accelerating him to disconcerting speeds. His legs clamped down on his bike as he focused on keeping his balance and chasing down the men who had raided his town’s last hope. He squinted into the wind stinging his eyes as he rocketed across the sandy expanse, Dustridge quickly shrinking towards the horizon behind him. He knew there was a deep canyon somewhere in front of him, with the Rogues encampment on the other side. He was determined to catch them before they crossed the canyon. He didn’t like the idea of fighting them with his back to it.
Charles could make out the faint glints of the Rogues’ hovercycles as he closed the distance between them. He could count six in total, three dragging some form of carriage. The other three were riding behind the carriage, seemingly ensuring the cargo remained there. Charles could easily tell Vince, the leader of the Rogues, apart from his lackeys. His arm glinted in the harsh sunlight, clearly marking it as cybernetic.
Charles didn’t like rushing in like this. He was slightly to the right of Vince, meaning Vince would have the advantage in a shootout. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to return fire. He couldn’t risk damaging the seeds. That meant he had to try something else. He pressed the throttle forward to three and felt the bike nearly lurch out from under him as it picked up speed. The distance between him and the Rogues closed rapidly, and Charles drew his revolver. He’d have one shot at this. So far he hadn’t been spotted yet, and he had to keep it that way. As he closed in he drifted slightly farther to the right, increasing the angle he had on Vince. He took aim and held his breath, waiting till the carriage and Vince were no longer in line with each other. Charles made a small adjustment to his aim and fired. The bright bold traveled across the field, crashing into Vince’s shoulder and causing his arm to fall limply to his side.
Immediately the eyes of all the Rogues were on Charles, but he could hardly bring himself to care. All of the Rogues, like all of the citizens in Dustridge aside from him and the children born there, had some kind of cybernetic implants, if not full replacements of limbs. None of them were as dangerous as Vince, though, and with his arm disabled Vince would have a much easier time dealing with them. He swerved closer and shouted to be heard over the wind.
“Alright, boys, why don’t you hand me back those seeds and come with me to the holding cells?”
“Go to hell!” Vince shouted back. With his left hand, he unholstered his sidearm and aimed it straight at the carriage. “Back down, or the lady gets it!”
Charles was confused for a moment, unsure what exactly Vince was threatening, right up until he looked into the carriage. There, he saw Lana. She had a gag in her mouth and clung to the side of the carriage as if her life depended on it.
“You bastard!” Charles shouted.
“You got that ri-” Vince began, but he was cut off as something heavy suddenly struck him in the chest, causing him to fly backward off his hovercycle, crashing and rolling onto the ground behind them. In unison Charles and the other two Rogues whipped their eyes forwards. Lana stood in a low crouch in the carriage, wielding a bag of seeds in her left hand. Charles fought back a smirk with all he had as she whipped her arm forward, launching the bag of seeds with more force than a human appendage could ever muster. It hit its mark, sending the second rogue flying from his hovercycle in much the same way Vince had. She picked up a third bag but lost her nerve when the last Rogue leveled a gun at her.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Charles said, swerving hard right and crashing into the Rogue, sending his hovercycle spinning out of control. He nearly lost control himself but threw his throttle all the way down to a minus two. This gave him the control he needed not to wind up like the three Rogues, but it also slowed him significantly. Once he was sure of his balance he cranked up his speed again and quickly caught up with the carriage. He motioned to Lana to get down into the carriage and to brace herself. She obliged, and he continued forward, overtaking the carriage. The three Rogues towing it seemed completely oblivious to what had just happened behind him. Charles aimed his revolver at the knots that tied the carriage to the hovercycles. In three quick shots, he severed the ropes, sending all three Rogues rocketing forward as their loads suddenly lightened considerably. He didn’t bother chasing them, however. Instead, Charles slowed down with the carriage until it came to a complete stop.
“Are you alright?” Charles asked Lana when they came to a stop.
“I think so,” Lana said, her eyes wide and her hands shaking slightly.
“You did great,” Charles reassured. “I wasn’t sure how I was going take them all on, and you throwing those bags helped a lot. When we’re back in town I might just make you my Deputy.” He offered her a hand and helped her get off the carriage. She was about to accept when her eyes locked on something behind Charles. There, closing in fast, was Vince and his men.
“Oh no,” Lana said, retracting back onto the carriage and grabbing another bag of seeds in her left hand.
“Drop that,” Charles barked. He quickly tossed her his revolver. “Do you know how to use that thing?”
“Not really,” Lana said, only barely catching the gun.
“It’s easy,” Charles said, talking so fast it was almost unintelligible. “Point it at them and pull the trigger.” As he spoke he leaped back onto his bike. “Don’t worry, you probably won’t have to use it. The way I know Vince he ain’t the kind of guy to pass up on a chance like this.” With that Charles sped away, riding perpendicular to the direction the Rogues were approaching from.
“Come on boys, he’s alone. We ain’t missin’ a chance like this!” Vince barked, changing his direction to pursue Charles. He knew what Charles was doing. He was drawing them away from the girl and the seeds. It was an obvious distraction, but he didn’t care. It was still a golden opportunity to kill the Sheriff.
Lana watched the scene unfold. She quickly scrambled over the carriage to look in the direction they had been going. To her dismay, she saw the other three Rogues also moving her way, then to her relief they also turned to chase after the Sheriff. She felt a pang of guilt at her own relief but quickly pushed it away. Putting himself in danger to protect the town was his job, after all.
“Goodspeed, Sheriff,” she said softly, watching his dust trail as he sped away.