This is Ben Jonjak’s second story at SpaceWesterns.com and he brings us a new tale featuring his interplanetary scoundrel, Darrent. — ed. N.E. Lilly

Darrent aimed the shotgun and peered through the digital view scope. His target was nearly two-hundred thousand miles away. That was why he was using the shotgun. It emitted a red-hot accelerated ultraviolet pulse about the diameter of a baseball which, even at a distance of two-hundred thousand miles, was capable of burning a hole three inches deep into the body of its target.

Most sniper rifles had a much smaller projectile, some were no larger than a few microns in width, just big enough to silently burst an artery and send a political candidate or mafia kingpin slumping over in an apparently natural state of exhaustion. Death would quickly ensue. Nice and neat. None the wiser.

The shotgun left no questions. There was no better calling card than a big steaming hole, and unless the target slipped or spun when he/she was taken out, it was always easy to tell where the shot had come from.

Still, two-hundred thousand miles was a good head start on anybody.

Darrent sighed and caressed the stock of his weapon.

“Let’s see if you can hold still for a moment you twerp.”

The man in the view screen bobbled back and forth wildly. He was giving a presentation. The people in the crowd were watching it with dazed expressions, like they knew they were being fed a line of garbage but that they had no other choice but to sit and take it. Darrent had seen that look before. Factory workers waiting it out, coaxed along by the thoughts of their pension, and their need for it.

“Just keep talking you slick bastard, this won’t hurt a bit.”

Darrent had gotten the contract at Murphy’s as always. They always knew they could find him there, it was no secret. Sometimes he wondered why nobody’d ever come to try and stop him. Maybe the feds were scared to go into Murphy’s, or maybe they liked having somebody around who’d do the kind of work he did. Darrent wasn’t any kind of expert, he just went through the motions long enough so that he could buy his drinks.

He laughed to himself.

If he could ever figure out a way to steal drinks, the whole universe would become a lot safer. But somehow, it seemed the only way to get drinks was to buy them. That was one of nature’s incontrovertible laws.

The target whirled and gesticulated, sometimes he even dropped to his knees and then stood with his arms extended.

“Damn frisky aren’t you?” Darrent growled disgustedly.

The problem with the shotgun was that, at two-hundred thousand miles, the projectile wouldn’t arrive until a little over a second after the trigger was pulled. To make things worse, the image Darrent was looking at was also over a second old. By the time it was all said and done, Darrent would be shooting at an image that had stopped being current more than two seconds before.

A lot could happen in two seconds.

Not to mention the chance of space debris or even passing ships that could interrupt the path of his shot.

Two-hundred thousand miles was a long damn distance. Darrent had seen shots that had only reached their targets as crescent moons, or cubes, or even pixilated spots reminiscent of a primitive earth shot-gun.

It was not a scalpel. Things could get ugly. And Darrent could see the audience which meant there would probably be collateral damage unless the whole damn shot hit the target.

Not likely.

Darrent twisted a dial on the shotgun. The barrel did not perceptibly move, but the image in the view screen jumped wildly. At his shooting range, it didn’t take much of an adjustment to make his cross-hairs bounce. If he wasn’t careful, a slight twist could have him looking at another continent. Darrent cursed and calmly adjusted the trajectory back to its previous setting.

The speaker was still there. Still dancing in front of the podium.

The podium!

How thick did it look? Big enough to stop the blast? Probably not, but hell, he should get some Karma points for even considering it.

A couple more minor adjustments.

Hopefully this guy would cross the blast path at the appointed moment. It was all guesswork anyway.

Darrent’s brow began to bead. He needed a drink. That was the underground perpetuator of this whole damn thing. His liquid mistress. Mentally, he blew her a kiss.

He squeezed the trigger.

The shotgun didn’t even make a noise, there was just a change in the digital display screen by his thumb. It clicked over from four to three.

Three more shots.

He waited.

One second for the shot to get there.

Another for the image to come back.

Darrent watched. The image on the screen was the same as always. The speaker, the bored crowd. Then suddenly there was a steaming hole in the podium. The target was two feet to the right. Nobody in the crowd seemed to have been injured.

“Damn,” Darrent exclaimed as the events continued to unfurl.

The speaker was regarding the hole. His head leaned over to the side like a confused dog’s.

“You aren’t that bright are you?” Darrent whispered to himself.

The hazy image on the view screen took a few shaky steps forward, he reached up and touched the hole and then looked back upwards.

“Oh, don’t tell me,” Darrent said, a tremor of hope entering his voice. There’d be only one chance at this. Suddenly he remembered the time delay and pulled the trigger instantly.

The dial clicked from three to two.

The two second old image of the target continued to caress the edge of the podium. It was as if he were studying the fuming crater. He leaned forward.

A little more...

A little more...

A little more...

Until his head blocked the hole in the podium from Darrent’s view.

The bead of sweat rolled down Darrent’s temple.

Would he stay there long enough?

The target began to turn. He turned his face with an open mouth back in the direction the shot had apparently come from. He turned and waited and stared deeply into space, and remained frozen like that until a large black, frothing mass replaced his features and he slumped lifeless to the ground.

Darrent sat back startled. He rubbed a calloused hand through his thinning hair.

“Clockwork,” he cracked to himself.

He experienced a momentary shiver and then sprung into action. With one hand he fired up his asteroid skiff, with the other he typed a brief message.

“Objective eliminated, payment necessary.”

He held his credit card before his eyes, but it was only a matter of seconds before the large glowing red zeros were replaced with the agreed upon number of credits.

Darrent dropped the card to his lap and smiled. He typed in the coordinates for Murphy’s and leaned back, relaxed.

Murphy’s would be open, it was always open.

The night was about to begin.

As he piloted his vessel across the short distance, he reflected upon how much easier it was back in the days when you were only required to stab a person in the back.

He sighed to himself.

Technology had never made anything any easier.

Ben Jonjak Ben Jonjak After getting a degree in Literature from the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, Ben split the country and went to live in Lima, Peru. He currently resides there and keeps in touch with the writing community through the internet on sites such as www.editred.com. His writing has appeared in various print and electronic media.

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