A Glibertarians Exclusive:  Things Have Changed II

Mountain View, Tarbos – February 2256

The tall, thin man in the knee-length black coat and slouch hat who confronted Hector Gomp in the deserted lobby of the building where Gomp had rented an Efficiency Personal space had a Grendel SBD needle gun.  The SBD was a compact little sidearm that fired polonium-coated steel darts with a magnetic rail system, the perfect assassin’s piece, and the genesis of the gun’s nickname “Silent but Deadly.”

Damn, but I’m staying in the wrong end of town, Gomp thought as he saw the sudden movement.  The man’s hand emerged from under his jacket, bearing the SBD.  Without breaking stride, Gomp scooped up the big metal trashcan that sat on the floor just inside the door and hurled it in the would-be assassin’s face.  Gomp followed up as he had been taught in the Confederate Marines in in ten years aboard a privateer starship – aggressively.  As the assassin staggered back, Gomp grabbed his right arm, pushed it straight up, and as his attacker reflexively fired three darts into the ceiling, Gomp dealt three smashing rights to the man’s jaw.  The attacker, beaten by the hammer-blows of Gomp’s rocklike fists, collapsed.

“Should have just told me you wanted to dance.”  Gomp bent and picked up the SBD.  “Nice piece,” he said companionably.  “Think I’ll just hang on to it.  Got any reloads?”  He quickly, efficiently searched the fallen man, who was just starting to regain consciousness.  “Oh, nice.  Three reloads.  Twenty darts each.  And handcuffs!  Tell me, sport, how many people are you supposed to hit tonight?”

The man’s eyes fluttered open.  Gomp took hold of his lapel in his left hand and placed the muzzle of the SBD against his attacker’s forehead.  “Now,” Gomp said, “let’s talk about who you are, who sent you out tonight to kill me, and why.”

“Hah!” The assassin spit blood.  “Like it’s gonna make any difference to you.  Nobody sent me, buddy.  Nobody had to.  Bolivar Taliaferro put a price on your noggin, sport.  A quarter-million dead.  A half million alive, so he can teach you about messing with his business before you check out.”

Gomp digested that news with a disappointed look.  “Only a half-million?  Really?  That’s disconcerting.”

The assassin shrugged.  “It’s enough to get every cutthroat, murderer and bounty hunter in the city out looking for you.”

Gomp thought of Faye for a moment.  He shook his head.  “So, who are you?”

The man grimaced.  With the muzzle of the needle gun still pressed into his forehead, he had few options.  “Liberty Paine,” he said.

That startled a laugh out of Gomp.  “The hell.  That your real name?”

“Real enough.”

“Fine.  If that’s how you want to be.  Well, since you already know who I am, let’s just get on with this.  Stand up.”

“You going to shoot me?”

“No.  Unlike you, I’m not a cutthroat or a murderer, and only a part-time bounty hunter.  No, I’m just going to handcuff you to this door handle,” Gomp said, and did so.  “Now listen up.  I’m sure an enterprising sort like you will be out of those cuffs in no time.  So, I’m going to tell you this just once.  Come after me again,” he said, placing the SBD in a pocket, withdrawing his big 10mm revolver from under his field jacket and pointing it at Paine’s chest, “and I’ll take you out.  And it won’t bother me if you take a hit, say, in the liver, and take a while bleeding out.  I was a Marine and went through the war in a privateer, so after boarding a few Grugell warships under fire, taking on a little scrawny piss-ant like you ain’t so much of a much, got it?”

“I got it.”

“See that you do, killer.  See ya ‘round – or not.  Up to you.”  Gomp walked towards the lifts.  Gotta find a new place to sleep, he told himself, right the hell now.  I’d give my left nut for a set of Marine surplus power armor.

His rent was paid up until the end of the week, but prudence declared immediate movement.  Gomp went to the tiny, claustrophobic Efficiency Personal, gathered up his few possessions, stuffed them into an old Marine Corps rucksack and headed for the old-fashioned steel fire escape.

They were waiting for him in the alley.

Two bullets pinged off the steel grating of the fire-escape landing as Gomp was climbing out the window.  Dumbasses, he thought.  Opened up way too soon.  Should have waited until I was coming down the stairs.

Gomp ducked back in the window.  Reaching in his field jacket’s capacious right-hand pocket, he extracted a small, flat black globe.  He pressed a contact on the globe, which started to whine.  Gomp counted to three and dropped it down into the alley.  He turned away from the window, closed his eyes and covered them with his hands.

A moment later, a blinding flash of brilliant white light from the photon grenade lit up the outside of the apartment building.  Gomp saw it, even through his closed eyes and palms, as a flash of reddish light.  He spun around, climbed out the window and dropped down the steel ladder to the street.

Two figures, big men with the distinct look of thugs, were lying in the alley moaning, their hands clamped over their eyes.  Gomp grabbed the nearer one by his collar and shook him.

“You!  Listen up.  You work for Taliaferro?”

“Jus’ his money.  Big reward for you.”

“Yeah.  I heard.”  The thug had a pistol in his hand, seemingly forgotten.  Gomp grabbed it and flung it into a nearby trash bin.  He found the other thug semi-conscious a few feet away and disarmed him as well.

“So, who the hell are you guys?”

“Fuck you,” the first thug said.

I got no time for this. Better get gone.

Gomp toyed with the idea of shooting the thugs with the needle gun but decided against it.  They’re just punks, he reminded himself.  Looking for a score.  He walked quickly down the alley, away from the end that opened onto the street the apartment building’s entrance was on.  He had an old patrol cap in one pocket; when he got to the next street, he pulled it on, pulling the bill down low over his eyes.  He tossed his rucksack on his back and took a right onto the street, then a left, then another right.  It was an old dance, breaking the trail, but Gomp knew the steps well.

What now?  He wondered.  Nobody from the ship is in Mountain View any more, far as I know.  The captain is here somewhere, but I can’t really go to her with this shit.  Wonder if I can make it to the Skyhook, sign on with another crew, get off-planet?

He kept walking.  It was past midnight; the streets were beginning to empty out.  Better find a place to lay up.  Got to think of what to do  next.

A lesson from the Confederate Marines came to him unbidden:  Go for the head shot.

It seemed simple enough on the surface:  Take out this Bolivar Taliaferro, whoever he was, and Gomp’s problem would be solved.

Like any city, even the capital of the Confederated Free Planets had its dark corners.  Gomp looked around:  A small alleyway beckoned.  He walked into the darkened space and sat down in a small alcove that contained a doorway and a couple of trash cans.  He had slept in plenty of worse places.  Extracting his small datapad from a jacket pocket, he dimmed the screen to the point it was barely visible and started a search.

A few minutes later, Gomp realized the flaw in his plan:  Bolivar Taliaferro didn’t seem to exist.  Gotta be a fake name, he thought, realizing that he was belaboring the obvious.  Thanks to Kaelee Adams, the computer tech on the Shade Tree, Gomp’s pad had access to some back doors into Tarbosian and even Confederate databases, but the man just didn’t seem to exist.

Well, he decided, if I can’t go to him, just have to think of a way to get him to come to me.  Asshole obviously thinks he has to prove something by getting me alive, even if the street punks I’ve been dealing with would rather do it the easy way.  I just have to get past them and into his own people; they’ll have something to prove, too, that they’re loyal to the boss, and the best way they can do that is to bring me in alive.  That gets me face to face with the asshole.  But it gets me in disarmed and probably beat to hell.  I need to get in on my own terms.  A disguise?  Some kind of trick?  Man, this was all a lot easier when I had the Shade Tree’s Security team behind me.

Gomp remembered a quote by some old Earth scrawler named Kipling that his father had been fond of quoting:  Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, he travels fastest who travels alone.

And that’s it, Gomp realized.  That’s how I draw him out. 

With that decided, he pulled a flat plastic disk out of his shirt pocket and slapped it on the wall above him; it would alert him through his implanted temporal ‘com-link if anything larger than a cat entered the alley.  With that done, he pulled his cap lower over his eyes and settled down for a nap.


This place ain’t doing me any good

I’m in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood

Just for a second there I thought I saw something move

Gonna take dancing lessons, do the jitterbug rag

Ain’t no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag

Only a fool in here would think he’s got anything to prove

Lot of water under the bridge; lot of other stuff, too

Don’t get up, gentlemen, I’m only passing through


People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed

People are crazy and times are strange

I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range

I used to care, but things have changed