Calamadrin 1A, June 1st, 2040

Deep in the vast, unexplored reaches of the new West, untold dangers lurked. A largely unexplored planet cluster, the Calamadrins lay unmapped, a refuge for outlaws and misfits hiding out from the Empire. Alaina sheathed her blaster pistol and looked around the tavern.

Alaina Maye Brookings was on the run from the authorities, and she’d come to Calamadrin hoping to find her lost brother, Gregory James Brookings.

So here she was on planet 1A, in the landing city known as Perim. And in Perim, there were only a couple of bars: the High Noon, and this one—the Wagon Wheel.

The three suns of Calamadrin 1A made the whole place hot as Hades and twice as desolate. Alaina looked around the tavern before ordering a reconstructed water, flavored with artificial lemon. She reached for her blaster pistol and found it safely tucked into her leg strap, hidden by the long black overcoat she wore. The overcoat helped to hide the raised bumps on her skin—some kind of unknown space disease that the doctors couldn’t figure out. As an effect, giant stingers could come out of her elbows and knees at will—great if she ever needed to Thai-fight somebody, but an awkward conversation starter for sure.

“Going for the Doc Holliday look, sugar?” said a newcomer, tall and handsome and dark as sin. This one looks like trouble. That intrigued her.

“Sure, but without the tuberculosis,” she replied, turning back to her drink. Ancient Earth diseases were disgusting—not that her New-Age space disease was any better. Besides, starting a conversation awkwardly was a good test for strangers. Alaina loved testing people and throwing them off their guard.

The stranger brought his hand down on the bar, revealing some interstellar coinage. “A whiskey on the reconstituted rocks for me, and a whiskey sour for Doc Holliday here.”

“Sure thing,” replied the bartender, gingerly grabbing a hand towel.

The newcomer took his drink and then wandered over to the gambling tables, taking a seat as he kept his hand at his holster.

Alaina motioned for the bartender to come closer.

“Who is that?” she whispered.

“Well, Alaina, that’s A.J. Rossi, the famous bounty hunter. He must be here looking for somebody.”

A dread fear gripped her heart. What if he’s here searching for Gregory, too?

“Scott, you’ve got to help me. My brother might be in trouble.”


Alaina started to walk out of the room when, all of a sudden, she heard Scott Malcolm say, “Alaina, before I forget, there is something you must know. Sit down, please; we need to talk.”

So she did sit down, and Scott continued.

“Back when you were on the planet Backtide, your father had racked up quite a debt. Well, Mr. A.J. Rossi here paid that debt but requested something in return.”

Alaina listened, transfixed. Her father had never mentioned anything about a debt, to her, not that he would.

“Alright,” Alaina replied, coming to terms with the reality of the situation. “So what did A.J. request in return?”

Scott looked anxious, like he didn’t want to tell her. He pointed to her untouched whiskey sour. “You might want to finish that first.”

She did so, downing it in one chug. Then she glanced over at A.J. Rossi to see him smiling and clapping his hands together in delight, as though he’d won a round.

“It’s you,” said Scott, and if Alaina hadn’t just downed her drink, she surely would have spat it across the bar.

“What do you mean me?” Alaina asked, slamming her fist onto the bar. The men looked over from the card tables for a moment and Alaina raised her hands in the air as though to surrender. “Sorry, fellas,” she said, turning back to Scott. “Can I get another whiskey sour, please?” The men went back to their digital holographic card games.

Scott brought her another drink. “Look, I wanted to tell you earlier, back when we were on Backtide, but there just wasn’t a good time. Your father never would have done it if there was any other way, but he was in a real bad bind. A.J. was the only one with the means to help him out of it.”

Alaina took another sip of her whiskey sour, and glanced over at A.J., a lean, well-built stack of Oh Shit if she ever saw one. Scars adorned his dark features, one over his eyebrow and the other, along the side of his neck. The neck one looked particularly painful—a blaster wound that grazed him and cauterized instantly, if she had to guess. I wonder where he got those. At any rate, time to play it cool, Alaina told herself as she left the barstool and sauntered over to A.J. “So you own me now, is that it?” she asked him. He tilted his head up and flashed his pearly white teeth.

“Seems so,” he replied matter-of-factly. That angered Alaina greatly. But she didn’t want to show it. Instead, she told herself, two can play this game. If I can just outfox A.J. Rossi, he’ll decide he doesn’t want me anymore. Men like the chase. Let’s end it.

Hitting on him hard seemed like the most obvious solution. She slinked on back behind him and set her hands on his shoulders, massaging gently while lowering herself so that her breasts rested against his back and her lips edged the outside of his ear. “Well, that’ll be fun,” she whispered. A.J. shot up like a bolt of lightning, grabbing Alaina, pulling her into his arms and into a deep French kiss. Never opening his eyes, he reached for his blaster with his right hand and shot it toward the door of the saloon, all the while involved in his moment of passion.

“No one likes a tease,” he said, clapping an electronic cuff onto her wrist, one with a screen for receiving text messages. He snapped his fingers; one of the outlaws with a big, bushy moustache seemed to be the Clean-Up Man, because he saw the order and made for the door, immediately dragging the dead man out of the way of bar patrons looking to enter.

“Be at the Hotel Outback at 8PM sharp, or that thing will give you no end of zaps,” advised A.J. He smiled brightly, pretended to blow smoke away from the barrel of his blaster, spun and holstered it, then walked out of the dirt-floored bar, his boots tapping on the dusty ground.

Damn that A.J. Rossi, thought Alaina. There had to be a way out of this mess somehow. In the meantime, she had no choice but to stick with Rossi, and doing so, might mean she’d find her brother eventually. But she was free from now ‘til about 7:30, and she’d use the time to visit an old friend.

Alaina silently gaped at her wrist cuff and then shrieked as the cuff gave her a tiny jab of an unknown substance. She took a seat in one of the chairs. After a moment, she tried to get up and then found herself unable to do so as her body protested and her mind went all fuzzy. So much for having all that free time. But eventually, the effects of the jab wore off and Alaina left the Wagon Wheel and walked over to the High Noon.


Julieann was a dancer at the High Noon. She had been for many years, and Alaina walked in, throwing open the saloon doors to see Julieann up on the stage, dancing in a skin-tight outfit with strategically-placed colored lights. The speakers blared a techno tune and Alaina twerked to the beat, every now and then stopping to gaze at random patrons, who tossed their coins onto the stage. Alaina took a seat and hollered along with the men. She saw a knowing look in Julieann’s eyes as her friend spotted her.

When the dance was over, Julieann put on a long black trenchcoat and made her way to the back door to vape.

“Hey baby, got a tip for me?” Julieann asked playfully as Alaina approached.

“I will, once we kill the guy that put this on me,” Alaina replied, holding up the wrist cuff.

“Oh shit!” Julieann replied, taking a close look at the cuff. “That’s wild. That thing’s heavy duty. What asshole did that to you?”

“A.J. Rossi,” Alaina replied.

“Oh,” said Julieann, putting vape juice into her vape pen. “Oh shit.”

“Does that mean something to you?” Alaina asked.

Julieann sucked on the vape pen and then breathed out a mouthful of smoke that smelled like artificial fruit cereal.

“Well, I know you’ve been away for a while—you know who the sheriff of Perim is?”

Alaina felt the blood drain from her face all at once. Circumstances being what they were, Alaina had turned outlaw. A string of crimes committed on Earth led her to run here into the reaches of space. And now she’d been caught by the man here who was the Law. What rotten luck. She looked down at the wrist cuff. Only about an hour of freedom remained, and every minute felt to her like a thousand years.

“No,” Alaina admitted. “Who’s the sheriff of Perim?”

“Your boyfriend that slapped the cuff on you,” Julieann replied.

Alaina’s countenance fell. Here she was, caught by the long arm of the law. There had to be a way out of this. Maybe Julieann will help me come up with a solution.

“Julieann, you have to help me. My father sold me to this A.J. to settle his debts. And Rossi put this cuff thing on me, and if I don’t get to the Outback hotel by eight, this thing will zap me. I have a feeling that it’s gonna be more than just a little jolt.”

“Okay, let me think,” said Julieann. Then after a moment, she nodded matter-of-factly. “Okay. I got it,” she said, and then explained the plan.


Alaina showed up in a trench coat at the Outback hotel well before eight. Her wrist cuff told her to check in at the desk and then come up to Room 1142. Alaina and Julieann had it all figured out: Alaina would walk in and drop the trenchcoat, appearing completely naked before A.J. Julieann had given her a communicator device, which was tucked in the pocket. Once seduced, there would surely be a way to get A.J. to get the cuff off.

“You just say the word, and after A.J. is knocked out and the cuff is off, I’ll meet you at the main floor,” said Julieann from the communicator, as Alaina took the elevator up toward Room 1142.

“Got ya, sugar,” Alaina replied, running a hand through her auburn locks of hair.

She knocked three times upon the door and then gasped as she saw four men sitting around a table. One of them was A.J. Rossi and the other one was her brother Gregory.

“There you are!” Alaina exclaimed.

A.J. beamed and then said cordially, “Alaina, meet my new deputy: Gregory Hawthorn.” Gregory stepped forward and gave Alaina a big hug. Alaina glanced worriedly at all the new tattoos that Gregory had acquired, after the hug. He had a lot of new scars, too. She wondered what kind of dangerous shit her brother had been up against.

“May I take your coat?” A.J. asked with a devilish look in his eyes.

He knows, thought Alaina. Maybe he’s got some kind of X-ray vision upgrade.

“No, thank you,” Alaina replied, though part of her wanted to say yes.

Then A.J. turned to the group and said, “Guys, we’re here for an important mission. Like good old Robin Hood, our mission is to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Well the poor just happens to be us. And the rich? That’s the U.S. government.”

“Hell yeah!” exclaimed a guy wearing an eyepatch.

“What do we have to do?” Gregory asked.

“We’re gonna go into an abandoned shipyard and take out a serial killer for the bounty money. Then we have to salvage what parts we can find from the ships.”

“That doesn’t sound so hard,” said Gregory.

“It would be a piece of cake, if not for the sandworms,” replied A.J.

At the thought of giant sandworms, Alaina’s blood ran cold. Serial killers and sandworms; what have I gotten myself into?

A.J. directed Alaina’s attention to her wrist cuff, which had a profile readout of the serial killer. It was a woman, which surprised Alaina. The name was Ghislane Wallace, aged 60, with white hair and stunningly blue eyes.

“That’s our target,” he explained. “We leave in the morning.”


The next day, Alaina found herself wandering the abandoned shipyard. The place had the creepy vibe of a ghost town on Earth, and each of the five travelers split up to examine one of the ships. It was the only way; there were hundreds of them stuck in the sand. Alaina saw a large one with a circular bridge and no visible entryway and a smaller ship that vaguely resembled a cargo plane. I want to examine that one, she said of the larger ship, and began walking toward it. Then she saw the sand on the horizon raising and moving toward her. One of the sandworms had smelled her and from so far off. She looked behind her, at the smaller ship. That one had no door, but a gaping opening where the door should be, as though something had ripped the door off its hinges. If she made a run for it, she might make it before the sandworm attacked. So she ran. Both arms pumping, legs taking her as fast as she could go, she crossed the sands.

The sandworm emerged as she reached the opening, and with gigantic teeth, clung onto the edges of the door frame. Alaina could see a pathway down its throat, a hallway to the depths of Hell. Frantically, she looked around the ruins of the ship and found a broken salt lamp, large as a small boulder; she lifted it up and threw it into the creature’s mouth.

The creature bubbled, fizzled, and emitted a sulphur-smelling cloud. It tried frantically to extricate itself, but the creature’s teeth were already stuck into the metal door frame. With nowhere else to go, the creature continued popping and fizzling. Alaina covered her nose but could not look away because it was like watching a trainwreck. All at once, as the creature’s innards exploded, they blew inward like a giant stream of vomit from a firehose, into the doorway of the ship, completely coating Alaina in filth. The putrifaction and stench of offal, guts, blood, and undigested meat chunks made Alaina lose her lunch as well, and she threw up her sandwich. Her eyes watered as she retched, and when she was done, she removed her long coat and stepped away from (and out of) the considerable pile of muck.

Then she made her way through the ship and halted in her tracks as she saw a disembodied arm hanging from a chain above the next doorway. The hair and tattoos told her it had belonged to a male. The lack of decomposition told her that it was fairly fresh. The serial killer might be nearby.

“Anyone here?” Alaina called, stepping past the arm. “Yoo-hoo…Ghislaine…you here, you bitch?”

Out of the shadows stepped an old woman with white hair. Both women acknowledged each other with a knowing nod and each grabbed for their blasters as they began circling one another in the interior of the ship. Alaina winced as her stingers pierced through her flesh, and Ghislaine smiled widely as an insect’s giant mandibles emerged from her mouth.

The showdown began.

Alaina’s communication device began beeping uncontrollably, but she dared not look down to see what it was trying to alert her to. Ghislaine held her blaster in her left hand and curled her right into a tight fist. She reached out and tried to grab a handful of Alaina’s hair, but Alaina swiftly dodged, reeling back and out of the way of the swipe. She looked around in her periphery, trying to scan the ship for anything that might serve as a distraction in this fight. Nothing immediately presented itself.

Alaina threw a front kick toward Ghislaine, who deftly dodged and then kicked in a circular, sweeping motion, taking Alaina out by her feet and causing her to fall to the ground. Alaina panicked but kept hold of her blaster as she fell, landing on her side painfully.

Ghislaine seized this opportunity, taking her blaster and aiming it at Alaina’s forehead. “Any last words, little try-hard?” she asked.

Stall her, Alaina thought. Stall her until you can get the attention of your group, or send a message…or something.

Alaina let go of her blaster and put her hands in front of her, in a gesture of surrender. “I just want to say a prayer before you kill me,” she said.

There came a sound from the other end of the ruined ship, and Alaina could see Ghislaine hesitate for just a second, wanting to turn around and check, but not wanting to give up her position of advantage here.

“Whatever, make it fast,” said Ghislaine.

Alaina pressed her hands together in prayer and began the traditional chant that her mother had taught her as child. I call upon all the gods of creation and destruction…

The sounds behind Ghislane grew more pronounced, and now footsteps could be heard. Still, Ghislaine stood, unflinching. And then all at once, a giant bloody hole appeared where the guts of her torso should be. And through that hole, she could see her brother, blaster held high.

“Dead or alive, sis,” he said, holstering it like an Old West gunslinger.