Roids jammed his hov’s throttle full open and caught Chipped Tooth Moffa square in the face as the suit-slashing outlaw brought his gun up. Moffa let out a brief scream, followed by a hideous gurgling. Already badly injured by the impact, he was now crushed and burned by the overheated antigravity field of the Red Marshal’s powerful Dustdevil Model 5 hov bike.

Knowing he was now top target, Roids pressed on toward the Martian rock building nestled up against the northwest edge of the Alba Patera, leaving Moffa’s corpse to tumble and twist behind him. Gunfire, both slug and energy, started snapping up dust and chipping rock as Moffa’s outlaw companions turned on Roids. His bike, Shitfer, was stupid by hov bike standards but had sufficient shields to protect the blond-haired, blue-eyed Marshal for a few more seconds.

That few seconds was far more than enough for the tall, lean Ranger. He izedhis second Doombringer Colt to his hip then jerked his rifle from its scabbard and laid it over his lap. Now less than fifty meters from the building’s doorway, Roids abruptly stopped the bike and vaulted over Shitfer’s reins. In Martian gravity it was an easy task to shift into a dive and hit the ground less than five meters from the door. He must have been expected and welcome, for the door’s energy plane snapped off a second before he would have hit it. He tumbled through the air shield and came quickly to his feet.

“Hi, honey, I’m home!” he quipped, cocking the slug rifle. Outside, Shitfer had taken off to find a safe place until called.

Marshal Dixie Gomez gave him a nasty look as she turned the door back on. She was bleeding, of course. The tough, wiry Marshal with long black hair and fiery brown eyes always seemed to be bleeding from one wound or another. This time, it was from her upper left leg and right hand.

“About time, Roids,” Dixie said as she fired two more shots out the energy planed windows, letting them know she was still paying attention. “I figured I’d have to haul all the dead bodies back to headquarters by myself.” Her quick, grateful smile belied her sour tone.

Roids chuckled and took position at the other forward-facing window. There was a brief flash of surface suit between two boulders a hundred meters out and Roids put a shot there. Both movement and shot were too quick; it was a clean miss.

“So what’s our dance card look like, Dixie?”

“It’s full, no doubt,” she replied, settling her back against the wall and reloading her rifle. “I count twelve. There’s the Anderson twins, Chipped Tooth Moffa, Wildfire Jenkins, Hyena Gaffey, Cradle Pradel, Frankenstein and all five of the Lewis Gang.” She cocked the rifle and rolled over and up to a kneeling position, sweeping the field of fire quickly. Nothing.

Roids looked at her thoughtfully. “You do pick the fights, don’t you, Di?”

“Them, not me. My bike picked up trace power surges and I came up here for a look-see.” There was a hollow boom as a slug smacked against the energy shield of the window. Dixie calmly held her ground and returned two shots, which Roids matched.

“It was a trap,” she continued. “They laid for me a couple clicks out, and opened fire when I was in the middle. Wrecked my bike and hit me in the hand. Only I slipped out and went for the place where they’d never expect. Here.”

“What’s so good about here?” Roids asked. “They can just blow the place and start another hideout.”

“I bet not,” Dixie laughed. She jerked a thumb toward the rear of the house, where it abutted the crater’s wall. Instead of solid rock, though, there was a cave opening. “They hid their bikes here so I wouldn’t spot them. Not one of them can make it to Enla without a bike.”

“So a stand off, huh?” Roids said. “Well, twelve to two isn’t too bad.”

“Eleven,” Dixie corrected. “Duke Lewis is out of it already. He was with the bikes when I came in. Got me in the leg and I got him in the head. He’s still with the bikes.”

“Well, it’s ten. Gave something for Chipped Tooth to chew on and it didn’t agree.”

“Any more coming?” she asked.

“Of us? Nope. They put a reflective screen on the whole patera. That made it easy to pick up your bike’s distress call, but cuts off outside communications.

“But there’s more of them. I was on Killjoy Kramer’s trail when you hollered. He’s here with all four of his boys.” Roids paused a split second. “And Quicksilver Mills is with them.”

Dixie took a deep breath and let it out slowly, nodding her head. Mills had dry-gulched Dixie two years ago, and left the oft-wounded Marshal for dead. “Figured Quick and I would tangle again. I’ll get him this time, though.”

“I won’t bet against you.”

There was a sudden hail of gunfire as the outlaws made a quick rush. The room echoed with the hollow booming of the door and window shields. The shields stopped most of the slugs, but one occasionally made it through. Knowing he couldn’t be seen, Roids stayed up and risked getting hit by a lucky shot for the chance to make a good one.

The gunfire continued, causing the shield to warp and shimmer, making it difficult to aim out. They chose that moment to rush. Four blurs jumped out from the distant boulders and broke for the house. Roids picked one blur, gauged the refraction of the rippling shields, and squeezed the trigger. The blur stumbled and fell and Roids began firing quickly, hoping to tag another blur before they made cover. One staggered, but made it to cover. The firing stopped and the shields calmed. Roids peered at the man he’d hit, then nodded.

“Looks like an Anderson twin. They always favored the Phase Six Harting suits. Can’t tell whether it’s Jekyll or Hyde, though.”

“Doesn’t much matter,” Dixie replied, “’cause I got the other one.”

“So four down and a mess to go.”

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Three hours later, it was still a mess to go, but at least it had been cut by another three. King and Prince Lewis tried another rush, along with two of the Kramer gang. From an outlaw viewpoint, the results were less than impressive, though now at least Killjoy only had to split ill gotten gains four ways. Only Prince made it back to the rocks.

“We kill any more out front, Roids,” Dixie commented dryly, and they’ll be able to duck behind the bodies.”

“I reckon,” Roids agreed. He checked his rifle load. “Six rounds, Dixie, then I gotta switch to pistols.”

“Here,” she said, tossing over a cartridge box that rattled with an ominous hollow sound. “There’s about a dozen left. I’ve got twenty. An’ only one gun.” She pulled out her Remington and inspected it carefully. “Full thirty clip, with two more.” She placed it on the ground beside her.

Roids nodded, then looked at the cave thoughtfully.

“Now do you suppose they’d have their spare ammo back there? I think I’ll take a look. Here.” He tossed Dixie his rifle. “Make ‘em count.”

Roids stood and brushed himself off. There was a lull in the gunfire, so he hurried to the safety of the cave.

It was rough cut and had no sealant. Obviously, this was a little used hideout. Not that Duke Lewis looked worried. He leaned against his bike, his gun tossed to one side, and had about him the air of relaxation only the dead could assume.

The bikes were a mishmash of parts and pieces, but each was in top notch condition. An outlaw’s life depended on a clean getaway, and they poured their hearts into their hovs. The Outlaw’s Code was pure myth; they lived for themselves. But if there was one rule that came close to a code, it was that you didn’t mess with an outlaw’s bike.

Not that Roids felt bound to the rule. He was a Red Marshal, and respected only the lives and peace of the innocent. Anyone who threatened to disturb that was in for a hard time from the now legendary Ranger.

The bikes didn’t reveal a great deal in weapons and ammunition, but they did have something else in great supply. Explosives. Roids thought it over a moment, then came upon an idea. Snatching the reins of the closest bike he tugged it to the dead man. It cheerfully tagged along. He threw Duke Lewis’ body over the saddle and took him and the bike to the cabin.

“You leaving already, Roids?” Dixie asked when she saw the hov. She tossed him his rifle. “I knew you were lazy, but never thought you a coward.” She fired a quick three shots through the window. Roids knew Dixie thought nothing of the kind. They were comrades bound by justice and red iron badges. He’d gladly die to save her, as she would die for him.

“Nah,” he said indifferently. “I’m stickin’ around. I’m kinda curious to see where you’ll get shot next.” He sat Lewis up in the saddle and tied him in place. “It’s Duke here who’s all anxious to get going.” He set the controls on the bike and pushed it toward the door. “Be a good hostess, Dixie, and see our guest out.”

Dixie grinned and shut off the ghost door. The protective shields dropped, though the air shields stayed in place. Roids opened the throttle and shoved. The bike came clear of the doorway and quickly accelerated. Dixie snapped the power back on and they watched to see how the outlaws would react.

While colorfully named, outlaws as a general case weren’t the brightest bulbs on the comm panel. Assuming the man on the bike was a Marshal, all gunfire shifted to it.

The bike staggered, but continued. Duke stayed in the saddle ignoring the dozen slugs hitting him all over. Duke was pretty tough, now that he was dead. The gunfire increased, then suddenly there was a shout as one of the outlaws realized they’d been duped.

Too late. The bike, badly punished from countless slugs and energy bursts, exploded. There came a scream over the universal circuit, then silence. The bike burned briefly as it consumed what fuel it had left, then flashed out in a smoldering heap.

“That was entertaining,” Roids said approvingly. He glanced at Dixie and winked. “I think we should do it again.”

She cracked a grin. “Sounds like a plan. Well, maybe not a plan. But certainly fun.” She scrambled to her feet. “I’ll get the next one.”

She was back in a minute. Roids fired a two shots, then took the door controls.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Always am.”

He shut the door off. Dixie guided the bike to the door and opened the throttle wide.

This time there were no shots. Not wanting to risk another explosion, they waited to see what would happen.

Nothing happened. The bike simply left them behind, leaving only a thin cloud of red dust in its wake.

“I’d wager they’re feeling pretty stupid about now,” Roids said dryly.

“Then what do you think they’ll do with this one?” Dixie asked, the third one in tow.

Again they released the bike. This time, the outlaws had a plan. They rushed the bike, hoping one of them could mount it as it passed. As a result, when Dixie shot the explosives tied to the hov, the explosion took out Cradle Pradle and two more of the Kramer gang.

“Killjoy must be fit to be tied. That’s the last of his gang except Quicksilver.”

“He’ll have an easier time dividing the loot,” Dixie said with a shrug. “Provided he lives.”

Roids grinned and was about to say something when all hell tore loose. Dixie gave a yelp, then both of them were under the windows as every gun opened up on them.

“Damn!” Dixie said, reaching for her med kit.

“They’re trying to drain the shields. Where are you hit?” Roids asked, all humor gone.

“Left leg, down low. Just meat though.”

“Can you walk?”

“No,” she said with a wicked smile. “But I can shoot.”

The gunfire continued, unbroken. Roids calmly waited and checked his rifle. Only three shells left. He set it aside and checked his pistols, a pair of mirror smooth Doombringer Colts. Each held twelve rounds to the clip, and each round could drop a steer at one hundred meters. Or an outlaw at twice that. Roids had two spare clips. More than enough, he thought. By the time he emptied the guns, either he’d be dead or they would. He slipped the guns back into their holsters and glanced at Dixie.

The tough Marshal was tying off her leg, her eyes still and thoughtful, no more concerned than if she was taking out a splinter. She was one to share the dust with. She looked up at him. Her eyes flickered at his discarded rifle and she nodded. Play time was over. She leaned against the wall and sighed. Outside, the gunfire continued to pour in, and the shields were sounding distressed. It wouldn’t be long now.

“Where you from, Roids?” she asked suddenly.

“Orphanage on R Street in Enla,” he replied. He put on his helmet and secured it. When the protective and atmosphere shields went, the air would rush out of here in an instant. “Don’t know before that. Why?”

“I’m from Earth, you know,” At his surprised look, she smiled. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t tell anyone, okay?

“Anyway, my pa brought me here when I was less than a year old, but we went back every year to see my mom’s parents. She died right after I was born.

“Well, grampa lived out in the West and every year we’d go to one of them turkey shoots.”

“What’s a turkey shoot?”

“They line up a bunch of turkeys and let the tinhorns shoot at them. Looked like a firing squad.”

“Kinda sad.”

“I thought so,” she agreed. “Only that turkey shoot seems kinda like now.” She gave a short laugh. “Only this time the turkeys have guns.”

Roids laughed, a rare thing. Above them, the shields were failing.

“You ready, Dixie?”

“Always am.”

They rolled to their feet and took position beside the doors. Dixie put her hand on the emergency power off switch. Roids nodded and Dixie smashed the switch closed.

The shields shut completely off and the atmosphere in the cabin rushed out onto the surface of Mars. With the cloud came two of the most feared Marshals to ever wear red iron.

The gunfire had stopped abruptly. No doubt the outlaws were rushing the cabin confident of the kills. Only they were to find out this turkey shoot had only two hunters.

Roids ran straight ten meters, then veered to his left. Dixie followed, limping badly, then cut to the right.

Blurs appeared, then forms, then men. Roids’ hands flashed and his Doombringers leapt to action. Prince, Knight and Baron Lewis were bringing their guns up, caught completely off guard by the Marshal. The Doombringers bucked in his hands, and the Lewis brothers were consigned to the world of past tense.

Cursing came over the proximity circuit.

“They’re out here!” It was Kramer, the acknowledged leader. “Those damn Marshals are in the dust!”

“Reckon you could give up, Killjoy,” Roids called over the link. Hyena Gaffey ran up, saw Roids at the last second, and made his play. It was a deadman’s hand. Hyena danced the Doombringer Dance, then crumpled to the ground, his riddled suit collapsing into a heap.

“Hyena!” Kramer shouted. “You’re with me! Move in on Cavanaugh! Quicksilver and the rest, take Gomez!”

“Gaffey’s not coming, Killjoy,” Roids answered. “Just you and me now.”

“You gonna ask me to surrender now, Marshal?” Killjoy asked sarcastically.

“Nope.”

“Good.”

A gunshot sounded and Roids whipped around. Behind him! Another shot, and again Roids jerked suddenly. But this time it was out of his control. Killjoy’s second shot hit Roids in the right side. Warm blood gushed, soaking his clothes and suit. Drops of blood sprayed free into the settling dust. The suit was losing air, and quickly.

But not as quickly as it would if Roids got hit again. Time to share the experience with Killjoy.

Roids dropped one pistol and covered the hole. With the other, he swept the rocks with his gun. One... Two... Three!

Killjoy was in the rocks. He hadn’t rushed with the others, instead sending them to do the dirty work while he led from the rear.

Roids ripped off four shots as quickly as possible. Killjoy dove back into cover. There wasn’t time for this, the flashing blue indicators on his helmet display screamed, You have seconds left!

Knowing it was insane, Roids ran at the rocks, firing his Colt over and over. At five meters distant, he vaulted into the air, directly at Killjoy’s position. He was gambling the outlaw hadn’t moved.

It paid off. Killjoy jumped up, gun leveled. Both triggered their guns twice at the same instant. Only one bullet from Roids, though; his gun was empty.

One bullet was enough. The round took Killjoy straight in the heart and exited out his back. It ricocheted against the rock directly behind the outlaw and reentered his body, severing his spine. Where Killjoy’s shots went, Roids didn’t know. Not into him, fortunately.

Roids rolled along the ground, then ran back to where he’d been. He ignored the dead outlaw. It was the last living outlaw that mattered. Dixie was facing Quicksilver Mills; the fastest, most ruthless gun on the planet.

He reached his discarded gun and scooped it up. His suit was working overtime to keep itself pressurized. He toggled off the warning displays; all the lights blocked his view. Bringing the Doombringer up, he raced to where Dixie last was. He passed Frankenstein, Wildfire Jenkins, and two more dead men on the way. Dixe had been busy.

Dixie still was busy. She was down on one knee, coolly firing into Quicksilver, who was down on one arm. He brought the gun up for a finishing shot, but Dixie pumped two more rounds into him. Too late, Quicksilver had learned the most ruthless gun could never best the coldest gun and the coolest head. Dixie had been shot so many times as a Marshal, she had no fear of the gun.

One more shot from Dixie, and Quicksilver was down and not getting up. Ever.

Roids walked up to Dixie and looked down at her. Blood spattered the air from yet another wound, this one to her left thigh. She was already reaching for her patch kit. Roids knelt quickly and saw to her suit repairs.

“You gonna die on me, Dixie?”

“Nope. Funny thing is, Quick had my number. He just didn’t have enough sand to face someone who didn’t scare.”

Roids glanced at the deadly and now dead outlaw.

“Looks like he doesn’t have any sand, now. It all run out.” He helped Dixie to her feet.

“Guess this is what happens to a turkey shoot when the turkeys shoot back.” He glance along the patera rim and saw a flash of sunset off his hov bike. “Shitfer should be here in a few minutes. Think you’ll be ready?”

She smiled at him, the emergency lights on her helmet display reflecting colorfully in her clear, brown eyes.

“Always am.”

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The Alba Patera Turkey Shoot

Copyright ©2000 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.