Excerpt from TERMINAL CORE

Twenty-three

AS SURPRISED AS POPS WAS, he didn’t show it. He had seen transfers before, but this was the first one that had almost dropped on his head.

Quincy,” Pops repeated. “Can’t say as I recollect anybody named Quincy.”

“He’s the marshal in these parts,” the stranger said.

Pops saw the man slide a small blue object into his pants pocket.

“Now I remember. I met the marshal once; didn’t know his name was Quincy though. Anyway, you’re about thirty miles off target.”He paused, waiting for the newcomer to react; when he didn’t, Pops continued to speak. “Like I said, you’re about thirty miles off. He’s north of here in a town called Baine.”

“North you say?”

“Yep.” Pops took a moment to evaluate the stranger. “Gotta name, friend?”

“Lynch,” was all he said.

“Don’t talk much, do you?”

“Ain’t got much to say, leastwise not to you.”

“Friendly too, I see.”

“I’ll be leaving now, wouldn’t have an ellack I could borrow, would ya?”

“Afraid not, only got the one.” It’s against my better judgment, he thought, but being as I’ve never been accused of using judgment good or otherwise. “Why don’t you stick around, have some coffee and I’ll take a look at that chin of yours.”

“I guess I can do that, a cup of joe would hit the spot.”

Pops and Jake’s quarters were modest. Two bunks, a small kitchenette and work stations to monitor inflow and output. The kitchenette boasted a small table with four chairs.

Lynch took a seat while Pops blew the dust out of two cups, put the coffee on to perk and located the first aid kit.

Lynch didn’t budge as Pops cleaned the wound with alcohol wipes. Once he had worked his way through the blood and hair, he found the gash in the gaunt man’s chin. He looked through the first aid kit and found what he was looking for. Unscrewing the top from the small tube, he squeezed the two ends of the wound together, and ran a line of adhesive down the length of the laceration.

Lynch moved his mouth to speak.

“No,” Pops ordered. “No talking till this sets up.”He held the wound together and counted to sixty, then released his fingers. “You’re good to go. That glue will last long enough for your wound to heal and is stronger than your own skin.”

“Much obliged,” Lynch said, rubbing at the newly closed gash. The coffee pot signaled its doneness by bubbling up into the glass knob on top.

Pops poured two cups. “I take mine black, how about you?”

“Black’s fine.” Lynch accepted the cup.

The men sat enjoying their beverage.

Lynch spoke first.

“Sorry ’bout my gruff attitude earlier.”

“Nothing to worry about. A new place will do that to you, especially when you planned to end up somewhere else.”

Lynch couldn’t tell his benefactor he was in fact exactly where he wanted to be. This one fact weighed heavy on his mind, but no matter—when you have a job to do, you can’t afford thoughts like these to get in the way.

“So,” Pops said, “what brings you to these parts?”

Lynch took a sip of his coffee and pursed his lips.

Pops’ eyes grew wide, the laser blade having split him from groin to sternum.

Lynch stood and retracted the four foot long beam of light. He shoved the handle into his front pocket and then placed a hand on the older man’s shoulder.

Pops continued to stare in disbelief. “Why?”

“Nothing personal, just business.” He held Pops’ shoulder and eased him down until his cheek lay touching the table.

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