By the time I was born, my folk’s already had two girls: Lucy and Estelle. My mother’d been convinced I was gonna be the third; she an’ my Pa never thought much for names beyond ‘Violet’. So, when I came into this world – distinctly not-female, y’hear – they sorta panicked. Can’t call a boy ‘Violet’. Can call him ‘Indigo’, though. Which they did. I was born into the family Black, givin’ me one darkly colourful name.
My Pa owned a hardware store in a backwater town called Elizabeth. Folks flocked from all over to mine the hills behind the town, an’ Pa ripped every single one of them off. We lived well. By the time I could talk, I had a brother. Him, they named Eli. We was inseparable. It wasn’t long ‘fore folks knew not to cross the Black boys. Growin’ up was good, I ain’t gonna say it weren’t.
Time came that Estelle outgrew Elisabeth. She had dreams of goin’ Core-ward and becoming some kind of doctor or lawyer or other highflyin’, rich type. She promised she’d send us a Wave every week; promised that she wasn’t gonna be gone forever. I didn’t see her comin’ home any time soon. Lucy took to tendin’ to my folks as they got older. Eli was torn ‘tween wantin’ to run the shop and wantin’ to run what he called ‘capers’ an’ I called ‘crime’. As for me, I took to hangin’ ‘bout the sheriff’s office when Eli was abroad. I told myself it was to keep an eye out in case Sheriff Fairweather and his idiot deputies dragged Eli and his harriers back to town – if I was there, I could step in an’ help. Eventually though, I cottoned on to the idea of keepin’ the peace. It seemed as good a way as any to make some coin, and get a bit of respectability.
Life went on. I started courtin’ the daughter of one of them prospector fools. Jia-Li Clayton became Jia-Li Black after several months of being stuck in Elisabeth. We lived in our own place, not grand or nothin’, but good enough for us. When our girl was born, we gave her the name my parents wanted for me; Violet.
Fairweather retired, an’ not trustin’ any of the other deputies he’d known longer than me, gave me his badge. I became the law of Elisabeth. I was so pleased with myself, I never gave a single thought to how that must’ve stung for those four sons of bitches that got passed up. Life’s a wheel, though. Bear that in mind.
War broke out, ‘tween a bunch of farmers lookin’ to run themselves and those that lived in ‘civilisation’. Given my position, in theory, I sided with the Alliance. Truth be told, I couldn’t give a kěhèn de yīkuài fǔchòu mǎ fèn for either side. ‘S long as no blood got shed in my town, they could fight their little war.
But that war had a way of findin’ folk, even ones that wanted nothin’ to do with it. Alliance soldiers landed in Martin’s Folly, the main port. The rebels took to livin’ in the mines, kickin’ the prospectors out. There was some altercations; Jia-Li’s Pa didn’t walk away. I took my posse and rode up to that mine. I told them Browncoats that there needed to be justice for the man’s killin’. One of them drew a weapon on me. ‘Twas the last thing that little shitbird ever did. I came to an arrangement with the fool in charge of the rabble; we agreed that a life for a life was payment enough. I told them to stay out of town, and they agreed. We parted company.
But trouble like that don’t take a tellin’. Eli came to me one evenin’, preachin’ at me as how I was betrayin’ the Rim by wearin’ that badge, that maybe Jia-Li’s Pa needed puttin’ down. I looked at that man, seein’ nothin’ of the boy I grew up with. He was filled with hate and rage and all other ugly things that make a man say and do nasty business. I waited until his storm blew itself out ‘fore I socked him in the jaw. He left, the fire in his eyes brunin’ brighter than the pits of Hell itself.
The rumours started then. Jia-Li’s Pa had been an Alliance spy, the gossip-merchants told. He’d been playin’ the long game, looking to bring Elisabeth down from the inside. And look how he got his slut to befuddle the new sheriff so’s he couldn’t see what was happenin’. It didn’t matter to these people that it didn’t make sense. It didn’t matter that Eli was the rat-bastard sellin’ information to the Browncoats up the hill. It didn’t matter that Jia-Li had lived in Elisabeth longer than anywhere else her whole life. The mood of the town turned.
Jia-Li was worried. Violet was worried. My folks was worried. Lucy tried talkin’ to Eli, who’d set hiself up as some kind of alternate sheriff. Those bastards that deputised under me? They was with him. Despite my being the only sorry bastard in town that had a badge that read “Sheriff”, it seemed like I was no longer the law. Lucy came back, cryin’. She handed me somethin’ that looked awfully like a warrant. Jia-Li had been “found guilty of treason to the cause of liberation” the thing told me. My brother, my own flesh and blood kin, had signed the bottom, like he was judge supreme.
We took a decision, as a family. Not just Jia-Li, Violet and me, but Lucy and our folks. We’d run; there was no way that we could stop Eli and the town coming for Jia-Li; not with the way they was feelin’. We’d run, maybe send Estelle a Wave and hide out in the Core until this whole war passed us by. We packed everythin’ we could and made our move at nightfall.
Sheriff Eli, as he took to callin’ hiself, pre-empted us. Roads was blocked, and the plains were patrolled. We ran for my office, chased by those folks I’d grown up with. Any came to close, I shot – there was exactly no time for niceties. The first was Aiden Hu; he grabbed Jia-Li before she made it inside. I’d known Aiden since he was a babe in arms. I ended him six days ‘fore his fifteenth birthday.
Inside, I sent a Wave for help. I never mentioned the Browncoats in the hills; just broad-beamed to any that was listenin’ that the town meant to turn rebel and kill me and mine. We got a response from those Alliance bastards in Martin’s Folly. They dispatched a bunch of soldiers to come get us. ‘Course, the Browncoats heard that self-same transmission. They took that as their cue to move.
The Browncoat general sent a couple of his lads down into Elisabeth. With Eli standin’ in the square out front of my office, two Browncoat scouts arrived. They told the gathered masses that I’d called down the Alliance and that everyone inside the office was a traitor to the cause. Eli ordered the Sheriff’s office burned to the ground.
I gathered my family. We knew what was gonna happen. Better to die shootin’ than burned like rats in a hole. I hugged my wife. I kissed my baby girl. I embraced my Ma. I shook my Pa’s hand. With my badge in one hand and my law-giver in the other, I opened the front doors.
I shot the first bastard I seen. One of those Browncoat sons of bitches. I kept shootin’, not wastin’ a single gorram shot. Just the way Pa had taught Eli an’ me. Behind me, Jia-Li was pickin’ her own targets. My Ma kept Violet shielded whilst my Pa used his rifle to keep those bastards at bay.
It didn’t matter. We had to reload at some point. As soon as the shock of seein’ us marchin’ out of that office wore off, the town exploded. We was never getting’ out of there. Gun smoke filled the air as the people I’d sworn to look after cut my family down. I lost count of the number of times I got hit. I passed out, thinkin’ the sound of gunfire an’ screamin’ was gonna urge me on to the here-after.
I woke up. Mornin’, though I couldn’t tell you which. An Alliance officer, young fellah, stood o’er me. I was in Ruby’s, the old Firefly-come-bar in town. He asked if I was the one what needed assistance; told him I was. He offered me his condolences and led me outside. I needed a crutch, but I followed.
The town was littered with dead. The young Alliance boy told me his tale, but I guessed it for the most part. The cavalry had arrived, and seein’ a hotbed of rebellious elements, had simply opened fire. In a single night, the population of my town had gone from four hundred, sixty-eight to less than fifty. The boy continued: the Alliance had interrupted some kind of celebration. He led me to the town square.
Three figures hung from poles. I didn’t need to ask who they was. I asked him to cut ‘em down and allow me to bury my dead. That young fellah put his hand on my shoulder and nodded. I don’t think he knew what to tell me. I asked about Violet. There was nobody with that description, he told me. Eli? Nope. The four idiots of the gorram apocalypse? Negative.
That slippery bastard.
The Alliance gave me a lift back to Martin’s Folly. My body healed. The war finished, as all wars do. My town became a rumour, a ghost story travellers told each other. I kept that worthless badge of mine. When the time comes, I intend on pinning it to Eli just before I kill him. I will make him pay for every single corpse in Elisabeth.
I will burn my brother to the very ground. I ain’t a lawman no more. I’m a man on a hunt.