Gunshots still rang in his ears. Frank Muldoon dragged his body into the house. Blood bubbled from his nostrils, his heart thundered. Digging his fingertips into the floorboards, Frank pulled himself into the shade and security of the homestead.
The attackers had come as they sat for dinner in the garden outside. The sun was high, the sky clear, and his oldest daughter Lily had made the cornbread he loved so much. They talked of the crop, and the imminent arrival of their new Stepmother, a woman he’d met and married on the Beta-Six colony.
Suddenly a thundercrack split the air. A bowl of greens shattered on the table top as it was hit. Frank hurled himself around in time to see five men riding Rattlers onto his property, Nedd Tanner riding lead with his shooter drawn.
Frank yelled for his children to run, find cover. They couldn’t move fast enough. Lily tried to run. Her head burst in front of him, skull and hair splattering everywhere. Little Johnny was literally blown face forward by a hit to his lower back.
“No!” he screamed.
An explosion from his chest as Frank was shot through the back, knocking him into the dirt.
Yet he still lived. And he could hear the spurred boots of his attackers following him into the house. He closed his eyes, drew a deep breath. Pressed on. He could still hear the echoes of his children’s stifled screams as they were gunned down. The thuds of their bodies collapsing to the floor. He felt weak, on the edge of death.
“Can’t believe he’s still alive, boss,” one of them said.
The unmistakable voice of their leader. Smooth. Slick as oil. “Believe it. People out here stronger than they seem.”
More boots as the rest of his men filed into the house to watch the spectacle of a dying man.
Frank continued to drag himself forward. Nedd stepped in front of him, blocked his path. Frank looked up through bleary, fading vision. Nedd leered down at him, a smile on his lips. All sorts of near-death fireworks popped in front of Frank’s eyes, but still he could see that smile. Rage bubbled up inside of him. “You bastard …” he managed to croak.
He blinked. In the fluttering darkness he saw them all fall. Strike the ground, kick up the dust. That stuff got everywhere. In the house, in the gears of the Anti-Grav platforms, in your boots. Now the dust of that harsh world would be their funeral shroud.
Nedd stuck his boot heel on Frank’s head, pushed it down to the floorboards.
“Yeah you’re right. I’m a bastard. Been one my whole life,” Nedd said.
Frank tried to push himself up, but Nedd rammed his boot down hard on Frank’s head.
He heard the unmistakable click of a hammer being cocked on a revolver, then felt the cool bite of the barrel end pressed against his temple.
A Rattler roared outside. Tanner’s men shifted their feet, eager for the coming kill.
“Somebody gonna stop you one day, Tanner. And I’ll be under the ground, waiting for yuh,” Frank managed to spit.
“That’ll be the day …” he said. Then he fired.