On a small hill overlooking a bandit camp nestled in a dry gully, a person was watching the camp carefully hidden in a patch of scrub brush. She had counted a total of twenty three bandits. As she observed the bandits, she noted that most seemed to be normal bandit types but two appeared different. One looked like a full conversion cyborg and the other looked like some type of spell caster by the robes he was wearing. The old man in the village had told her about them but she wanted to check for herself. Those two would need to be her first targets. Well, at least there was no power armors and the bandits did not seem particularly well organized. The bandits had four standing guards with two watching out into the perimeter and two had neural maces to keep their prisoners in place. Some of the bandits had taken off their body armor and were discussing what they would do with the women from the village tonight. Stacy noted that the bandits had retained much of the villages livestock along with the people. Funny though that they seemed to have no powered means of propulsion but it had allowed her to catch up with them quickly.
The figure was a beautiful young women dressed all in grey. On close inspection, the cloths she was wearing appeared quite unusual. The cloths were straight from history vids and were as close as she could come to the uniform of a person in the Confederate Cavalry. Her brown hair was tied up in an intricate style that had been popular with Southern Belles around the same time. Many people in the New West would recognize the person by the cloths and hair style. The women is Stacy Hendrickson, an up and coming gunfighter that is known to travel extensively on her cyborg horse named Beauregard. She is very nervous about her position and had all of her senses keyed up to their maximum. While she knows she is an incredible fighter and had in the past actually taken down a juicer, she knows that there are two dozen bandits down below and until her brother arrives the situation is simply too dangerous for her to go it alone. She has learned her lesson about being careful with a bionics lower left arm and hand to remind her about the dangers involved in fighting a battle alone. She is concerned that she is not concealed well enough and she knows she is only a slightly better than average scout. The problem was that the bandits has captured all of the young women and children in a local village and she needed to save them before the bandits harmed them anymore. The bandits had attacked the village of Logan's Well and had killed most of the villages, and had taken all surviving children and all women that still looked young and attractive.
Stacy's Day had started normally enough. She often traveled where once was the old American Empire States of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Along with being an excellent shot with most weapons, she is an expert at repairing most weapons. She often stopped in a town for several days and worked on fixing whatever weapons she can. She has managed some huge hauls and has enough money to carry her through for many years. The war up north between the Coalition and the City of Tolkeen was getting more deadly every day and she had no interest in getting involved in that conflict.
While she had not seen any smoke, she could smell it in the distance along with another smell. She knew the other smell. It was the smell of death. The smell of a body when it is rotting in the sun. While she had a toxic filter in her lungs, she knows that it would not protect her from the smell itself. She turned up the gain of her cybernetic hearing but couldn't hear anything out of the ordinary.
She continues riding and she begins to be able to pick out the sounds of scavenger birds. The smells intensified as she gets closer to where she knows village had been that she had traveled through before. She is forced to put a scarf over her mouth.
Upon reaching the top of a small rise, she can see the village. There are definitely bodies and they appeared to be bloated from cooking in the sun. There also appears to be fewer bodies then she expected if the whole village was slaughtered so maybe there is hope after all. There are a few animals but it appeared that most had been taken. There are marks everywhere from energy weapons fire including plasma weapons. All but the stone buildings had been burnt to the ground and most of the stone buildings were wrecked as well.
She rides threw the rest of the town hoping to discover what had happened. At least her presence scared most of the scavengers away. She sees that even the well that the village was named for had been destroyed. There had been a Pre-Rifts artesian well in the center of the village.
Stacy hears some movement from the ruins of a stone house. Unlike most of the buildings, the house was mostly intact. She looks in that direction and see the head of an old man of Mexican decent with white hair. She motions for him to come to where she is at and dismounted from her horse. She is hoping that he can tell what has happen.
He walks slowly to her location. She opens her mouth to ask him what has happened but he speaks before she could, "Senorita, bandits come from the east and attacked two day ago at noon. They shoot anyone who look like they would fight. They then took all the women and children. They shoot everyone else."
At this point in time, he breaks down and starts crying. His voice is also very gravelly and she thinks that his throat is dry from lack of water and hands him her waterskin. It is magical and would produce far more water than she needs anyway. Her drinks deeply and slowly and calms down after a while and seemed able to continue. He hands Stacy back the waterskin.
He then continues "When they attack, I hid under an old tarp behind some cracked and empty barrels in the village storehouse. They took everything from the storeroom that looked useful but did not find me."
Stacy gives him a few minutes to recover but knows she has questions that she needs to ask. She know that in the past, the village had hired about a half dozen mercenaries so it seemed a place to start "I have travel through your village before. I remember that you had a few Mercs to protect the village, what happened to them?" While there were a few exceptions, most bandits would not attack a village if it was reasonable well protected. There were better pickings out there and few bandits would risk their lives without huge gains. Either the bandit group was huge or something had happened to the village's defenders.
The Old Man replies in a completely flat tone of voice "We could not pay much more than room and board and repairs. They thought that they could make more money by joining the war brewing up North."
She knows that he means the war between the city of Tolkeen and the Coalition. No matter who wins, the impact will be felt far outside the area of the conflict. Many soldiers based out of Lone Star had been transferred to the Tolkeen front and patrols had been reduce to compensate for the reduced personnel. As well, like the mercenaries in the village, many mercenaries had gone up north to join the fight and pick up the spoils of war. Finally, many Cyberknights have been drawn to the conflict either fighting for Tolkeen or to protect as many innocent bystanders as they can. As a result of the reduced presence of protectors in the area, the number of bandits had multiplied several fold. Stacy has met several highway bandits herself and while she dispatched them very quickly enough, the more numerous presence had been making her nervous. Stacy had no solution for what is going on but she does not blame anyone else but the bandits themselves. Well, to be honest with herself, she did blame the Coalition leaders for starting this whole dispute in the first place. While she knew the leaders of Tolkeen were not innocent either, she had worked for the city in the past. Several of her magic items had been commissioned from an Alchemist that resided in the city. As a result, she had trouble blame the leaders of the city. She knew that she could not stand by and not attempt to save the captured villagers.
In the meantime, Stacy had many more questions that needed to be asked. "Sir, I need to know how many bandits there were?" was the first question she asked. She kept her voice completely calm hope to not frighten the man any more.
He replied "I don't know if I see them all from where I was hiding but there were a lot. I would say about two dozen." It looked like he was concentrating and started counting on his hand which he held out in front of his face. "Si, about two dozen."
Time to see what she actually faced beyond just numbers. She asked "How were the bandits equipped and was there anything abnormal, say some mages or monster or cyborg?"
"Si, there were two like that. One was some kind of sorcerer, he wore black robes with mystical symbols over what looked like normal body armor. One moment, it was a normal day like any other. Each of us were working on our chores. I was trying to see if the cracked barrels were fixable or if I needed to make some new ones. Next, a cold wind blows in and most of the people outside were knocked off their feet. Suddenly, the bandits appeared from seaming nowhere and began attacking. In the back of the bandits, the figure in black robes strode into town. I figure it must have been the sorcerer who brought in the evil wind and hid the other bandits. The was nothing we could have done anyway, maybe they though we had weapons and armor in the houses.." The old man repeated "He was near the back. He just pointed at someone and they would screaming and fall to the ground shaking all over. While he did that, he just laughed. The other was...." and the old man just stopped.
Stacy could see that he was trying to hold back tears. She gives him a full minute to compose himself. A few minutes one way or the other would. When she saw the he was not going to continue, she asked as gently as she could "You mention another?"
"He killed Domi," and stops for a moment or two but is able to continue this time "He was what you call a cyborg. He was all dull black and crashed through homes making huge amounts of noise. He just ripped her apart." He broke down crying again.
Stacy did not know who he was referring too. She assumed it was either his wife or his daughter but it was not worth asking. She was not trying to hurt him deliberately but knows she need to ask him about what happen if she is to rescue any survivors. She has several more questions she needs to ask so she waits until he calms down. She then asked "I need to know how the bandits were equipped? I also need to know what vehicles they had?"
"No vehicles. Some of them rode horses, senorita, and some more took our horses." This could be good news. If they did not have jeeps or some trucks stashed a few miles outside of town, they would be on foot and she should be able to catch up with them quickly. It would mean that they would only be fifty, or at most seventy if they went as fast as they could, miles from the town. Even at a cautious pace, she should be able to reach their location on Beauregard within a few hours. The old man paused for a few minutes and appeared to be thinking. He then continued "The bandits each carried a rifle and wore some kind of armor. There was a variety of different types of both, I don't know any of the types. None were like the ones that you carry. A few had vibro-knifes or different types, seen a few carried by wilderness type that have gone through town."
She asked "Have you seen any of the armors or weapons before?"
"Some of the weapons were like the ones that the Mercs wore before they went off to fight in the North. Come to think about it, some of their armors were similar as well." This helped Stacy, she though she remembered that they had carried L-20 Pulse Rifles and wore mostly Bushman body armor. He continued "We have had a c couple of Coalition patrols come through town. We got no d-bees or magic types so they left us alone. A few of the bandits carried rifles like theirs. Some of them also wore the same kind of armor that the Coalition patrol wore although the skull had been paited over or the whole armor had been repainted." Stacy assumed that they had some C-12 rifles and head dead boy armor. She wondered if they were Coalition deserters or if they had gotten the equipment on the black market. The cyborg carried some type of huge rifle that fire came from."
She knew he meant some type of plasma rifle and described the Northern Gun plasma rifle and got an affirmative from him. She described a variety of other weapons and armor and got him to recognize some of them. As far as she could tell, they were equipped with L-20, NG-L7, or C-12 Laser Rifles with a few having vibro-weapons. For armor, some were in Coalition Dead Boy armor but others were in Bushman, Huntsman, and even Plastic Man Armor. It would probably be best to shoot the ones in plastic man first because the armor could probably be penetrated in one hit and she greatly reduce he number of opponents quickly. She thought if there were any other questions she should ask him and none of the questions she could think of were truly important. There was only one other question she thought was worth asking him. She asked "What direction did they go in?"
The old man looked around, hesitantly raised his hand and pointed to what was basically to the East South East. Off in the distance, Stacy could see some scrawny trees that would act as landmarks until she could find the trail. The truth was that she would be able to follow the bandits without him pointing the direction that they traveled. She was not that bad a tracker and she suspected that a half blind saloon girl could follow the trail. The number of tracks would be enormous with their captives stumbling around and would leave quite a trail unless someone was taking steps to go over terrain to hide their tracks. As well, the cyborg likely weighed over a thousand pounds and would leave quite a track himself. She suspected that even an expect tracker could not hide the tracks complete but how well they hid the tracks would let her know if they had any good scouts.
She had waited as long as she could and it was time that she got on the trail of the bandits. She did want to make sure that the old man would be alright before she left. She said "I wish I could stay and help you with the dead but I am more concerned with the living. I need to stop the bandits before they get to some place that I cannot go. I can leave you enough water for several days but I need to know if you need any food as well? It looks like the bandits did their best to strip this place bare."
"Senorita, I thank you for the water. The bandits missed some food we had hidden and I would have lasted a few more days if they had not destroyed the well," the old man responded. He then asked hopefully "Do you thing you can rescue my people from the bandits?"
She thought about how she should answer him. She kept with a simple "Yes" not sure if she believed herself. She had previously noted a jug at her feet that looked intact. She looked it over and while the handle was broken, the vessel looked like it would hold water. She put the jug up to her nose sniffed. Her Molecular Analyzer implant showed no harmful impurities so she uncapped her waterskin and filled the jug. She gently handed the jug to the old villager.
During the entire conversation, Stacy's cyborg horse had waited patiently. She grabbed and swung onto him and rode off in the direction he had pointed at. She gave the old man a final wave as she got to the edge of the town. She heard him say "Good Luck" in Spanish with her cybernetic hearing. She knew that she would need more than luck, she would need help. The only person she knew she could get to help without much persuasion was her brother. She just hoped that he was still within radio range.
The trail was actually more obvious than she expected it to be and she found it with no difficulty at all. She considered that it could be an ambush but it was far more likely that they either had no one skilled in counter tracking or they had no interest in covering their tracks. She considered the idea of an ambush to be unlikely because they could never know what they caught. A Coalition Seek and Destroy group would make quick work of the bandits and they should know that. With the sloppy way that they attacked the village, she thought it likely that they had no skilled scouts. A scout would likely have gone for a more subtle approach on the village and the wonton destruction pointed out quite clearly that the bandit group had no subtlety.
Once she was a few miles out of town, she left the bandit trail for a small rise so she could get better range with her radio. She saw no larger rise and figured that the small hill would be the best location around. She extended the long range antenna from a compartment on the top of Beauregard. After getting the radio system set up, she transmitted "Confederate Rose to White Knight. You there brother?" She knew that the name 'Confederate Rose' sounded like the title of some sappy Pre-Rifts romance novel but she had been using the name since she was a kid.
On the frequency Stacy normally used with her brother, she heard two clicks. The chance that anyone else would think that the noise to be anything other than random was remote especially as undisciplined as these bandits had shown themselves to be. Well, the clicks meant that her brother was nearby and that it was time to drop back and greet her brother. She walked back slowly attempting to make as little noise as possible. She had magical boots that made her almost silent but they did not protect her from carelessness on her part. She also kept an eye on the bandit camp while she walked back watching for any unusual movement. It took a full ten minutes before she considered herself to be in the clear and her heart was pounding so hard that she was worried that the cyborg could hear he because of that. She mounted Beauregard and rode off to where here brother was waiting for her.
Leaning against his Mecha-Knight power armor, Stacy's brother was waiting for her. Alan Hendrickson shared brown hair and brown eyes with his sister but was built on a much more massive scale. His natural strength was greater than her bionic arm was. With all the time that he spend in his power armor, he should have by rights turned in a fat tub by now but he never seemed to gain any weight. She had asked him about it once and he had said "Genetics." She did not buy that, they had the same parents after all and she had to carefully watch her weight.
She dismounted from Beauregard and ran up to greet her brother. He was wearing body armor which interfered with giving him a good hug but she made a good try anyway. She said in a jokingly miffed voice "You would take that stuff of to greet your sister!" Well, the truth was that even with the suit, it was good to see him again. Their travels meant that they might not see each other for months at a time.
He responded in a reproaching voice "Well, Lil Sister, the way your transmission sounded, I thought I was going into a war zone. Didn't want to get Kilt." He returned her hug just as fiercely.
There was a lot of family business that they wanted to catch up with, but that would have to wait until the bandits were dealt with and the villagers rescued. Stacy broke the hug and said "Let me tell you what happened" and started telling her brother about the bandits. She was careful and tried to avoid omit anything. He might have some suggestions that would be helpful.
It had taken Stacy almost an hour to tell her brother everything she knew but Alan was finally caught up. Stacy said "I think that the Wizard and the Cyborg need to be taken down as quickly as possible. They are potentially the most dangerous opponents." as she finished telling him what occurred.
Stacy's brother responded "I thing it would be best if I take on the borg. How quick do you think you could kill the wizard?"
She thought about it for a moment. She figured that she could drop him with one sniper shot from her buffalo laser rifle. "I can kill him with one shot." She had just gotten an idea. "Brother, I have an idea for a distraction which could take down a number of them as well. In my scouting I have noticed that at any one time, eight to a dozen all gathered near the fire. I figure if I lay down some missiles in and around the fire, I should be able catch a number of them as well as create a pretty good diversion.
Alan nodded his head in approval "You know, Lil Sis, the explosions could be used to mask the sound of my thrusters." He patted the side of his Mecha-Knight power armor, "My baby is pretty obvious and they would hear her long before I got close enough in range to engage them." He paused for a few moments trying to put the plan together in his head. "How about we do it this way. You drop the wizard first. With a little bit of luck, there will be a few moments of surprise. During this time, you launch the missiles targeted on the fire like you just told me. I will fly in just afterwards. With a little bit of luck, they will not realize that my Mecha-Knight cannot carry any missiles and think the missiles came from me. While the bandits are paying attention to me, you start dropping them. The noise of my jets should cover any approach that you make."
The moment of truth had arrived. Stacy's conversation with her brother now lay two hours in the past. She had been sitting for about an hour on the same hill that she had hidden in the brush of earlier in the night. She was concealed to the best of her ability considered the lack of significant cover. Her laser rifle was carefully pointed at the sorcerer. It was a JA-12 Juicer Assault Rifle modified to look like an old buffalo express rifle and was a pretty impressive sniper rifle. It was capable of penetrating most body armors with one three round burst. She had already targeted the mini-missiles from her cyborg horse. All she would have to do is transmit the launch command though her radio head jack implant. She had decided for a wider spread of missiles then she had initially planned in the hope of catching more of the bandits within the explosions caused by the missiles. She should be able to catch twelve of the bandits and if she was lucky, she might even be able to catch twelve. The missiles were overkill because only four of the bandits around the campfire were wearing armor but it was the only area effect weapon she had. She wished she had tear gas or knock out gas grenades but you could not prepare for everything. As well, she never liked shooting tied up or sleeping targets. She had previously captured a Altarian Warrior Women Talisman of Armor and she had already activated. As long as the force field lasted, she would have the additional protection equal to a second set of body armor.
Over her head jack radio the command "Go" from her brother. The transmission was in the clear but the time frame involved should prevent anyone from being able to respond to the signal. She checked her target one final time and fired. The three bolt burst caught the Sorcerer in the head and his head cooking inside. The resulting explosion covered the area which he was standing with a red mist. A few of the bandits looked in the direction where the laser blast came from but it did not appear that they could see where she was hiding.
Three bandits that had been standing near the fire ran immediately for where their gear was. Their immediate action left the outside the blast radius of the missile volley coming in. 'So much for catching all twelve of the bandits' thought Stacy and she launched the mini-missiles before any more could get outside of her missile target area. Her cyborg horse was about half a mile back and the missiles had approximately two seconds of flight time. Her missile volley was half armor piercing and half plasma warheads. The armor piercing missiles were slightly faster than the plasma missiles and the faster missiles struck a fraction of a second before the other missiles. The bandits fire went up in an incredibly bright explosion that could be seen for miles. Stacy had covered her eyes before the missiles arrived so she was spared but none of the bandits had known the missiles were coming. Several of the bandits were blinded by the flash although the cyborg's self adjusting optics had protected him. In a moment, he would be engaged by her brother and would not be a immediate concern. She had managed to get eight with the blast directly and one had been only in the fringe of the missiles blast. He was not moving but it was possible that he was still alive.
She locked her F.I.W.S. onto her bionic arm. She had captured the weapon from a Coalition Juicer and it has a vibro-claw and twin particle beams built in and was quite impressive. The weapon was also much easier to handle than her heavy rifle. She drew with her other hand a Wilk's/Remi 137 Pulse Laser Pistol. She thought the fight could turn messy and would rather deal with it at close range instead of rifle range. As she stood up from her hiding place, her brother's Mecha-Knight power armor flew into view and opened fire against the cyborg with his particle beam. All of the bandits turns in the direction of the flying power armor. A few of the bandits shot wildly but none hit the Mecha-Knight. Some of the shots were with pistols and would do little against his force field but several were firing bursts from L-20 and C-12 rifles which could cause a lot of damage.
Taking advantage of her brother being the center of attention, Stacy fired both of her weapons aiming at two bandits in no body armor. They both went down but that left her with ten more targets not counting the cyborg that her brother was fighting. She decided to target those in no body armor first and then target those in light body armor. Those bandits would go down quickly and would reduce the number that could shoot back at her. She was able to take down another two before any of the bandits took note of her. Two bandits turned towards her and fired laser pistols back. She did not bother to dodge, her force field would take the damage.
The bandits had been steadily firing at her brother and while most of the weapons were pistols, the pulse bursts from a couple of L-20 Laser Rifles and a long burst from a C-20 Laser Rifle had taken their toll. His force field was goon but so far the armor itself had only taken minor damage. The cyborg had taken some good hits as well but multiple bandits were shooting at the Mecha-Knight power armor so Alan had taken many more hits. At this rate, he would go down before the cyborg did.
Realizing that this situation could not afford to go on, Stacy targeted on the cyborg the remainder of the missiles carried on Beauregard and as soon as she acquired targeting fired the missiles. Like the missiles targeted on the camp fire, the missiles had about a two second flight time. The cyborg was fully engages with the flying power armor and could not reaction in time for the missiles. Ten missiles struck the cyborg. Like the first volley, the missiles were half armor piercing warheads and half plasma. The missiles did not destroy the cyborg outright but virtually all of the armor was ripped of in the explosion. She figured that her brother could take the cyborg down with just a few more hits.
It was time to turn back to protecting her own skin. The two bandits had continued to fire at her and her magical force field had been considerably reduced by the change in the shimmer. She estimated about a twenty five to thirty percent reduction. Both of the bandits were in plastic man body armor and she fired both of her weapons into the closer of the two bandits. The weapons easily burned through his armor and she turned to the other bandit that was firing at her. She fired at him and he went down as well. This left her and her bother with six opponents total. One of the bandits was using a villager as hostage and held the women with a knife to her throat. The bandits had previous been having his way with the women and not had time to get another weapon. The women was naked and Stacy thought she was sixteen, maybe seventeen. He was not wearing any cloths let alone body armor and seemed to be at the moment of minimal threat to Stacy or her brother. He could wait a few moments.
As Stacy was about to engage the remaining Bandits, one of the two that armed with Coalition C-12 Rifles turned and fired in her direction. She hastily ducked and jumped to the left. The burst missed her but she knew she had to be careful. He was well armor in Coalition Heavy armor and would probably take more than one shot to be brought down. She fired both her arm weapon and her laser pistol at his chest and fired. His armor was scorched but she did not penetrate. He fired at her, forcing her to dodge again. This time, she dropped to the ground. He emptied the weapon and he grabbed for another E-Clip. She had been more efficient about her shots and had over a dozen shots with each of her weapons. She returned fire with both weapons and hit him again in the chest. This time, she burned through. His entire chest exploded into superheated water vapor.
Just as the bandit died, Alan finished the Cyborg and the remaining bandits lost heart. Alan's Mecha-Knight armor had taken several more hits but was moderately damaged at worst. Both Stacy and her brother saw the remaining soldier with a C-12 Laser Rifle as the most dangerous opponent with the weapon's long burst capability. Stacy and Alan fired at virtually the same time. The remaining solider armor was unable to withstand the energy unleashed with both weapons and he died with his torso virtually burned in half. Three of the bandits threw down their rifles and put their hands ups.
The bandit that had a hostage kept the women to use as a shield and had not dropped his weapon like the other three bandits. What he expected to do was unknown but Stacy had no intention to let him leave. Her brothers rifle was not really a precision weapon and neither was her forearm particle beam weapon. She also knew she was more accurate with her real arm. She clicked the pistol to single shot and lightning fast brought up the weapon and fired. The pistol was aimed at his eye as he peeked around his hostage. The laser hit him within his pupil and exploded his head to gore. The women was showered in blood and brain tissue but at least she was alive.
Stacy yelled to the villagers "You are Free!" Most of the villagers looked at her in disbelief but a few had hope in their eyes.
It had been about a week. Stacy watched the villager as they were putting it to rights. They had already started rebuilding the houses. The three surviving bandits were being put to work with restoring the village. Stacy used some of the chains that they used to bind the villagers to bind them. She had welded them shut so that there was no way that they could get free without a laser torch or similar cutting tool. In a way, the Cyborg had been put to work at the village as well. Stacy managed to salvage some of the Cyborg's servo-motors and had adapted them to operate a pump for the villages well. It was powered by some scavenged solar cells and should operate for years before needing to be replaced.
Stacy and her brother were planning to stay for a few more days to protect the town but they were working on a more permanent solution as well. The remaining weapons and armor had been given to the villagers so that they could defend themselves. Stacy and Alan were taking turns teaching the villagers how to use the new weapons. One of the girls was turning into an excellent shot and Stacy could see her becoming a gunfighter when she grew older.
[ Rifts® is a registered trademark owned by Kevin Siembieda and Palladium Books Inc.]
By Kitsune (E-Mail Kitsune).
Story proofread by Lady Lynx (email@example.com).
Copyright © 2001, Kitsune. All rights reserved.