The newest Robot Pulp short story is going to release next Monday, March 15, but I have a special sneak preview right here and right now!
The story is based off of Ed Bickford's cover, I Am the Law. Ed is clearly riffing on the famous Judge Dredd quote and I tried to incorporate a bit of that motif into the story, as well.
My story is about Rhett Stetson, a rakish rogue who finds himself trapped between a planet full of bounty hunters trying to kill him and an uncompromising robotic Marshal trying to escort him back to his home planet to stand trial for murder. It's a lot lighter in tone than the previous Robot Pulp story, Dancing in the Rain, and is much more of a fast paced space western with a killer robot set on a lawless planet. Oh, and there are giant, man eating spiders, too. Here are the first six pages for you to enjoy!
I AM THE LAW
By Aaron Walther
Based off an idea by Ed Bickford
Edited by Jason Green
Find more robot art and stories at www.robotpulp.com
Sweat clung to the tip of Rhett Stetson’s pointed nose. He cast a shifty eye to his left and caught the bored gaze of the scantily clad woman sitting next to him. He had been holding his breath for nearly a minute. Hundreds of eyes were watching him with great intensity.
“Quit stalling, Stetson,” said Steely Bill, “make your play.”
Steely Bill sat directly across from Rhett at a small table. He held a set of six playing cards in his hands. On either side of him, two large men stood in a manner to appear casual but also to imply that they had fingers on hidden triggers. Behind them stood a growing crowd of interested onlookers. Behind the growing crowd of onlookers, a sea of people milled about from table to table. Behind the sea of people stood two guards armed with laser rifles. Behind the guards was the only door in or out of the dingy tavern that housed such a wide array of patrons.
“I’m not stallin’,” Rhett gasped before inhaling deeply. He tried to lean backward in his chair and was reminded that his back was literally to the wall.
Steely Bill smiled.
“You will not worm your way out of this.”
Rhett looked down at his own cards, crumpled in his clammy hands. It was a losing hand.
“I’m thinkin’, okay! Ain’t no law against thinkin’ on this planet, is there?”
There was no law against thinking on Planet Kraveck. In fact, there were no laws at all. Not in any official sense, at least. Kraveck was a sparsely populated planet on the outskirts of explored systems in the Milky Way Galaxy. There were several effective city-states that had popped up, but no official central government. One such city-state was Basit, which had the largest spaceport on the planet and therefore attracted the most business. It was said that any and every thing you could ever want was found in Basit...for a certain price.
“I thought you said you knew how to play?” said the woman who sat next to Rhett. She was a Charm Girl, employed by the tavern to make sure the customers had a good time. They were also advertised as bringing good luck to any table they sat at, and at the moment Rhett needed as much luck as she could conjure up.
Rhett just wanted to play a simple game of Kraveckian Poker. More specifically, he wanted to win a simple game of Kraveckian Poker. Unfortunately for him, there was nothing simple about it. Kraveckian Poker bore little resemblance to its Ancient Earth namesake. The rules were complex and seemingly contradictory to a casual player. Granted, Rhett wasn’t exactly considered a casual player. It was actually his first time playing.
“Relax, honey pot,” Rhett nervously chuckled, “I think I got it figured out.”
A series of bad decisions and honest mistakes brought Rhett to this high-stakes game against Steely Bill, the best Kraveckian Poker player in all the known galaxy. His reputation for Kraveckian Poker was second only to his reputation as a heartless Adjudicator.
When two Kraveckian persons had a dispute and did not want to settle it personally, the prosecuting party would write up a contract and hire a freelance Adjudicator to preside over the case. Once a ruling was made, it would be enforced by a freelance soldier company, paid for by the Adjudicator. Many Adjudicators ultimately decide to cut out the middle man and enforce their own rulings. This is Kraveckian Justice.
“We both know that thinking is NOT your strong suit,” Steely Bill said coldly. “You must accept your fate. You are out of moves. This game will finish as soon as you play your cards and you will face the consequences of your own making.”
Rhett knew Steely Bill was correct. He’d known it ten minutes ago.
“Make. Your. Play,” Steely Bill repeated.
“I know what I gotta do,” Rhett grumbled, “just gotta make sure I got all the angles covered first.”
“If you are waiting for a response from the Stellar Transmission you sent out ten minutes ago, I’m afraid you won’t receive one,” said Steely Bill.
Rhett cautiously looked up from his cards.
“You, uh, know about the transmission?” he gulped.
“Of course,” Steely Bill scoffed, “I have eyes and ears inside of every communication system this side of Orion. Your pathetic plea to Raven won’t do you any good.”
Rhett stared blankly at the table, unable to meet Steely Bill’s gaze, and asked, “You blocked the transmission?”
Steely Bill gave a mirthless chuckle and said, “No. I allowed it through. It should make it to the Astiat system in about 8 hours. Unfortunately for you, the laws of physics are not as malleable as the human spirit. By the time Raven receives your message, our game will be long over and you will be long gone. It was a touching message. Asking for forgiveness and help from your old partner and whatnot. A fitting epitaph.”
Rhett breathed out long and slow, closed his eyes, and laid his cards on the table.
The crowd of onlookers erupted in a mix of cheers and lamentations. Money was exchanged. Drinks were shared. The Charm Girl took her luck to another table. The crowd began to dissipate and go about their normal tavern related activities. Nobody even noticed when Steely Bill’s entourage wrestled Rhett Stetson to the ground, tied his hands behind his back, and marched him out the front door and into a waiting transport vehicle.
Again, Steely Bill sat across from Rhett, this time in the back of a hover transport which glided smoothly over the rough Kraveckian terrain. The landscape was flat and spotted with patches of dry grass and giant rocks. Rhett stared out of a window and saw a large Scanner Lizard sunning itself on a distant boulder. It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked to weigh nearly two metric tons. Behind the giant lizard, Basit shrunk over the horizon. He looked back at Steely Bill, who kept him under steady watch.
“Where’re we going?” Rhett asked.
Steely Bill, deliberately pronouncing every word as clearly as possible, said, “Trap Door Field.”
“Wh-what?” Rhett stuttered, “Why?”
“Well, I am supposed to kill you, you know,” he said more casually.
“Sure, but why are we going all the way out there? Why not just put a laser in my head and be done with it?”
“Really? A laser? Where’s the sport in that?” Steely Bill asked rhetorically. “No, the plaintiff’s request was fairly straightforward. You are to be killed for repeated offenses against Mr. Colvington and his family. He was very specific that it happen at Trap Door Field.”
“Repeated offenses?! I just went on a couple of dates with his daughter!”
“No, I believe you went on a single date with a couple of his daughters…at the same time. Quite distasteful.”
“Says you! It was their idea! Ol’ Rhett knows you never disappoint a lady...or ladies, as it were in this case.”
“Well, you should also know to never upset the most powerful man in Basit. Mr. Colvington runs a lot of different businesses in the city. Businesses he does not want his daughters participating in.”
“This is ridiculous! Sentencing a man to death for having a good time? There ain’t no laws on Kraveck. I thought anything goes!”
“Indeed, you are free to do whatever you want, but you must be careful of what you do and to whom you do it, or they might be inclined to do whatever they want...to you.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Where I come from it’s called common courtesy,” Rhett scoffed.
“Precisely. A little decency goes a long way,” Steely Bill said condescendingly. “It’s a rather moot point, though. There is also the matter of the unpaid debt to the Maker Brothers.”
“The Maker Brothers?!”” Rhett exclaimed. “Those cheatin’ grub bags! I told them they’ll get their money as soon as another job comes in. There just ain’t been no calls for a pilot of my caliber lately.”
“That may be, but the Maker Brothers work very closely with Mr. Colvington. I’m afraid you’ve simply aggrieved too many people. Need I bring up Lady Effram’s complaint?”
“That lyin’ harlot GAVE me those boots!”
Steely Bill ignored Rhett and continued, “You should be thankful that I was the first to take your case. Other Adjudicators are not as fair as I am.”
“Fair? You’re going to kill me!”
“I sided with the plaintiffs, yes. They made a strong case against you, but I did give you a chance at a plea bargain. If you bested me at Kraveckian Poker, I would have paid your debts to the aggrieved parties. That’s the sense of style I bring to adjudicating. Unfortunately for you, you lost, so I must honor my end of the contract or it will be made available to the next Adjudicator who wants it. Even worse, my spotless reputation will be tarnished.”
“Yeah, I feel real bad for you,” Rhett snarled.
“Chin up. We’ve arrived at Trap Door Field.”
Trap Door Field was named so because it is inhabited by a particular brand of Kraveckian Arachnid, commonly referred to as Trappers. These particular arachnids were very similar to their Ancient Earth namesake, with the exception of their size. Trappers could grow up to two meters in body size. Their leg span made them appear even larger. They dug shallow burrows in the hard Kraveckian ground and waited for unsuspecting prey to walk by, at which point they would burst out of the ground and incapacitate their victim with a venomous bite. After the prey is paralyzed, the Trapper drags them back into the burrow to be slowly eaten alive. Trappers usually prefer a hearty Scanner Lizard or Dart Wolf, but they will settle for a human. It is largely considered to be the most unpleasant form of death on all of Kraveck.
Rhett was shoved out of the hover transport and fell to the ground. Three men kept their laser rifles pointed at Rhett while a fourth stood him up on his feet. A vast, never ending field spread out before them. Boulders littered the ground here and there. A few carrion birds drifted in the big empty sky.
“Any last words?” Steely Bill asked.
“Thanks for lettin’ that transmission through.”
“Happy to oblige. Now march.”
Rhett took a shaky step forward. Nothing happened. He felt the barrel of a laser rifle prod his lower back so he took another step. Behind him, Steely Bill and his men took bets on how long Rhett would last in Trap Door Field. After a dozen steps, Rhett thought he saw something moving a few meters in front of him. He hoped it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
Before he could take another step, a laser beam flashed across the landscape, silently cutting a line into the rocky ground in front of him. A cloud of dirt flew up and blinded Rhett. A dozen meters to his right, a patch of ground rattled. A trapper’s den was disturbed.
Steely Bill and his men all turned their attention to the origin of the laser flash. Approaching fast over the plain was a solitary hover bike. The bike slowed to a stop at a respectable distance from Steely Bill’s entourage but still within laser fire range. Steely Bill’s men took their laser rifle sights off of Rhett and affixed them to the new stranger.
A large robot disembarked from the bike. It was humanoid in shape and stood well over two meters in height. Its left hand was balled into a giant fist. Laser lights glowed on each knuckle. Its right arm had no hand at all, but instead ended with a large, four-chambered military grade weapon that fired explosive projectiles like the weapons of Ancient Earth. Glowing golden studs accented the robot’s black and blue steel chassis. A golden star was affixed to its chest, signifying its rank as an officer of The Law.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN JUST FOUR SHORT DAYS!
As always, thanks for your support and I hope you enjoy the stories,