The Rifle; is the key.
That's what Dalton had suggested. He shifts his position in the sand where I'd left him sitting. His hands are still restrained by the overlarge tie-wrap.
I walk over to the rifle. I pick it up and use the edge of my blouse to wipe the grit off of it. Turning it slowly in my hands. It sure looks like dads. I choke back a breath. I observe, "This could easily be it, but I've no idea how many of these there might be around here." I look up at Dalton as if he might be able to confirm something and turn away before he can respond.
My eyes stop and rest on Ted who is still in his alcoholic stupor watching this drama unfold. Ted doesn't appear to be focused on anything. I slowly look back at our prisoner.
Dalton moves once more. He winces as though in pain and looks over his shoulders then at me. He says, "It's a one of a kind here. Possibly the only one outside of earth itself. That's an exceptionally old piece." It almost seemed to me he'd left off saying, Belongs in a museum. That makes sense. Dad made his own shells.
I grip it a more tightly. The significance begins to grow. My eyes tear away from it and rest again on Dalton. I've no idea if he can fathom how much this means to me. I look again at the rifle. I pull back the bolt. The trigger moves and the used cartridge is exposed. Obviously Jason doesn't know how these work or he forgot in a hurry during the excitement. It's a wonder he had it loaded and ready. If he's not familiar, someone else must have set this up before giving it to him. The question then is why. Jason might have even fired it by accident. The second time he tried to fire wasn't an accident, but it was very stupid. I flip the spent cartridge to the ground. I pull down the magazine, it has only two bullets left. I dig those out and stuff them in my pocket then replace the magazine and leave the bolt and trigger in locked position. I hook the rifle on my arm pointed at the ground.
As if thinking the same thing I am. Dalton says, "Interesting."
I let out a slow breath and manage to croak out, "So you found my parents dead and someone took this and you traced it to Jase."
Dalton shakes his head and says, "Not quite. I wasn't able to get near the compound and I was following a different trail."
I correct him and say, "It's a house or estate, that's what we call them here." I open my eyes wider and stand straight while considering what he's just said.
Dalton shrugs,"Yeah. I know. I'm sure they call them that where my primary came from. I didn't know about the rifle until I saw your friend coming over a hill waving it around dangerously. I knew it existed. Until I saw him with it I wouldn't have known where it was. I assumed he was headed this way. He had the rifle and I figured that he was the one I was looking for."
Breathing more normally I grasp onto what he's said and ask, "You couldn't get near the house? Were the local police there and you are unofficial or something so you couldn't get involved with them?"
Shaking his head he say, "Na. They took me there so I could see that they really had the problem they said they had. They thought I could solve it for them. I couldn't and that's when they got upset and we parted ways."
Coming over next to him and pulling out my knife I say, "So, what kind of problem did they have?"
He gives me a dubious look until he's certain I'm not going to slash him. I use the knife to saw away the plastic tie from his wrists. While he rubs at the marks he says, "The um, Estate guardian."
Preforming my best dumb look I say, "Estate what?"
He repeats, "Guardian." Then he looks at me for a hint that I might have a clue. He says, "It's some older tech from the clone home worlds. Some of the tribes use them to guard the property of important tribe members. The guardian stays dormant while monitoring life signs of the owner. If he dies or appears to, they activate and protect the property of the owner. In most cases it amounts to protecting the body. Trouble with them is that they can activate if the owner is too far away from them and forgotten to disarm them. I need to confirm that your parents really are dead, but can't do that until the guardian is deactivated."
Shaking my head, I say, "I didn't know they had one of those. So, they sent you here without the code to deactivate it. I hope you didn't come here to me for the code."
Dalton looks annoyed but says, "I had the code. And it's a bit tricky and dangerous approaching one of those. It can be deadly if you don't deactivate it right away. It seems your father changed the code somehow. It was quite a feat to get away from that thing before it squashed me."
I nod and say, "And that's about the time the locals abandoned you?"
Dalton runs his hand through his hair and says, "That about sums it up."
I narrow my eyes to slits again. I say, "Can't the locals just hit it with something hard. Maybe knock it over and disable it."
He shrugs and says, "Maybe something from their military. I think they're hoping your parents are just absent. The hardware to bring it down is expensive and so is the guardian."
Ted distracts us with a movement. The branches on the ground crack as he tries to back into the edge of the trees. I turn around to look in the direction that Jason had run off. I first see Misha then Jason. He must have brought her for an extra witness for when I strangle him.
Jase has his hands in his pockets and is looking down. Hesitantly his voice explains, "I didn't know it was loaded."
I fix him with a stare and say, "Well, that's the first rule with these things. Always treat them as though they're loaded. What I really need to know though is how you ended up with it. I also thought by now you'd be half way back to the big city. And, before you tell me anything I should explain something to you. This was very important to my father. He kept it locked up. I tried to get it out a couple of times just because I was sick and tired of his obsessiveness with it and a few other things. He always caught me in the middle of the act. The last time he told me if anything ever happened to him he'd be sure that I got this since I found it so fascinating."
Jason looks away then edges into the camp in careful steps. Misha is holding back where she is. I can see she's pretty uneasy about what might transpire. I've no idea what Jase may have told her. He says,"Yeah, well. Your dad told me I should give that to you. That's all there is to it."
My body almost sags involuntarily. I say, "Ha! Now I'm not sure what bothers me most. That you appeared as though you were going to keep this or that you were actually talking to my father. What is that all about?"
Jason looks from Misha to Ted then to me and says, "I don't think I was the only one he offered to pay to come talk to him. He just wanted to talk about you. How you've been doing." Jase's eyes dart to the side to watch Dalton, his hands are making fists.
I'm still glaring at him without uttering a word. A while later when his eyes come back to me he says, "I, think he was going to offer me some credits to bring you back home. He wanted you home whatever way he could get it done. It was a lot of credit. But, I wasn't gonna take it for anything."
I look at his co-conspirators and say, "I'm sure it was a lot of credits. So what really happened? Why did he change his mind?" For the next question I have to bite my tongue a bit. "Is that why you killed him and took this?" It takes every once of energy to keep my voice steady.
Jase shakes his head and says, "I swear he was fine when I left. You heard the man here. He didn't check cause of that guardian thing. Maybe they're still alive. All I know is he already had the weapon out. He seemed spooked about something and gave me extra chits and told me to make sure you stay where you are."
I look at Dalton who is also shaking his head. He say, "It's possible they could be alive but not likely. I'm not sure anyone would be able to tweak the guardian to activate when the owner is still alive and nearby. And, it could have even been keyed to only trigger if both of them were dead. I suppose if they both packed up and ran off somewhere far enough away the guardian might have triggered. I'll know that once I can get past it. But, by design it's primary function is to locate the body and protect it. Based on it's constant position I'd guess it's protecting something."
I'm wondering now why he even bothered to come out here. Dalton must be able to read my body language because he says, "I'm hoping that it might be keyed to you also. You are out of range right now. As soon as we get you closer it might response to your presence."
I say, "So, what's the key look like? Cause I don't wear jewelry and crap." Dalton approaches me. I step back and the rifle bobs on my arm. He looks at it and stops. I stare and say, "What do you have in mind."
Dalton says, "It's a tag. Sometimes in the earlobe. Maybe. It will feel like a lump."
I put my hand up to my left lob then the right. I shake my head.
He says, "Sometimes they insert them in other places."
To that I give him a steady stare. I say, "Well, I don't know you well enough to have you groping all over my body in search of something that probably doesn't exist. In fact,now that I think of it, was that the plan last night?"
He slowly shakes his head while backing away with his hands half way up.
There's a long quiet into which I do a lot of pondering. I finally break it, slapping my hands together. I say, "Well, maybe we should go check this out and see if there's a way to get in there." Dalton doesn't move or speak and that might be a good sign. Still I have doubts. Almost hopefully I say, "Unless my dad paid you to concoct this god awful story?"
Dalton shakes his head again. His voice is almost soft as he says, "I wish it were that simple."
Jason says, "Hey, we could go along. Make sure he keeps his hands to himself. Make sure you can come back here after you straighten things out. Oh, hey. Your father wanted you to stay out here. Maybe you should do that. Maybe he sent the gun to you for protection."
I think Jason is telling the truth. There still is room for doubt though. I walk over to him and say, "It's okay. You should stay here. If Mr. Greymare here had it wrong, the authority in town might have things just as muddled. You probably don't want to deal with them."
Walking into his space I say, "You can hold on to this while I'm gone. And even though I took the live rounds from it, don't point it at anyone."
I grab the stock twist it around still pointing it at the ground. And I place the rifle into his shaking hands.
Copyright 2012 J.L. Dobias