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Evie opened the door to the study and said. "Orin the other young men are here." Judge Travis and the Starfleet officers rose and faced the door as the four men entered. Ms. Evie watched them file into the study. Before Ms. Evie left she addressed the back of the room. "Good evening Vin, it’s nice to see you again, but please next time use the door."

The men turned to look at the area of the room she had addressed and there standing next to the open window was the long haired man who had saved Nathan from hanging that afternoon. Vin Tanner just slyly smiled at her as he closed the window.

Chris kept himself from doing a double take. He hadn’t heard the Texan come in through the window. It was almost as if the man had transported into the room. He and Buck had read the report Judge Travis had given them on Tanner and Chris had recognized him as the man who helped him with this afternoon’s altercation. Jackson and Tanner were the other two men the Judge and Professor Sanchez wanted on their team along with Dunne. Chris and Buck had read the reports on them as well.

From the information in the report Chris figured that the fact that Tanner was still alive spoke volumes for his adaptability and survival skills. Both would be useful for the job ahead on this untamed planet. But he looked like a strong wind could blow him away. Add that to the fact that Tanner like Dunne didn’t look his age. Hell it was beginning to look like Chris was raiding a schoolhouse to get his people. Just then Vin raised his head and locked eyes with Chris. As if reading Chris’ thoughts he said.

"I’m older then I look."

"Sit down." Chris told the troop in an attempt to give himself time to get his thoughts together.

Vin walked over to the fireplace and sat on the floor by the hearth. Josiah and Nathan took the sofa with Ezra in the chair closest to the door. Buck was in a chair on the other side of the Judge’s desk with JD next to him. That left a chair in the middle for Chris and the one next to it.

Chris was about to tell Vin to take one of the chairs but thought better of it. He realized that Vin was comfortable sitting on the floor and he should leave the man be. Vin shot him a smile and a nod, as if agreeing with Chris’ reasoning. Chris took the center seat. As he did so he looked over at Buck and caught the smirk on his face. Buck knew what was going on in Chris’ head. But then Buck Wilmington had known him for years. This silent communication with Tanner would take some getting use to. Why did he feel so damn connected with Tanner, a man that he had just met? He felt he could trust Tanner to watch his back and Buck’s. Chris turned his attention to the Judge, who was starting to talk.

"Gentleman I’m glad you could make it here tonight. As you known O’tam is now on the outer boundaries of Federation space. At the rate the Federation is growing we won’t be for long. The council believes in a hundred years we’ll be deep in Federation space and I agree with them. At that time we’ll want to be considered a full member of the Federation of Planets, not still a colony world that needs to be taken care of."

"That’s why we have given credence to the idea of a Federal Marshal program. It’s in keeping within the outlines that the O’tams laid out when they offered this world to us. The Marshals will help us to get rid of some of the trouble plaguing our planet as well as set up a system to handle whatever problems that might come up in the future.

"The old west had Federal Marshals and with Sheriff Tate’s departure the town of Four Corners needs law officers. The Marshal program will be centered here in Four Corners, not only for this town but for all the territory between the cities as well. That’s a large area, gentlemen, the middle of the continent. But it still isn’t the whole planet. Marshals won’t be needed in the cities as they have their own police departments; they’re small but in place. Officially the Marshals will have no authority in the cities unless they are asked for by the locals or if they are following a criminal’s trail that takes them there. They will inform the local law and let them assist in the capture of said criminal. No one wants to allow the Federation and Starfleet free rein to come in and just take over. It’s a fear many on the council have as well as the citizens of this world, some of whom are not human."

Chris wanted to say something at this point but the Judge forestalled him. "In a moment Commander, let me finish with these gentlemen first. The council wants at least half of Federal Marshal’s team to be made up of O’tam citizens. If not the full time members at least some of the deputies. The council also sees this as a chance to get teachers to teach the next generation how to be better peacekeepers. You will be part of it all and will be expected to pass on what you have learned."

The Judge turned to JD, "What about it son, you want to be a lawman? Are you willing to take on an apprenticeship?"

"Yes sir!" it was all JD could do not to bounce in his seat with excitement.

"Nathan, I understand that you have responsibility here in town and to your patients on the ranches and farms in the surrounding area. But I also know there are interns wanting a more rural experience that have asked for a chance to work with you in Four Corners. You’ll always be head Healer here, but a Healer riding with the Marshals could see if the medical needs of our people are being met and report back if you find they are not. As for being able to make care of your self, I got in touch with your former gym teacher in college. I inquired about your training in self-defense and he said you did quite well in it. He also said that along with the mandatory self-defense courses you took fencing and knife throwing as well."

Nathan had been doing some thinking and asked the Judge. "If I come across any person making poison rot-gut whiskey or the like I can throw him in jail?"


"Then I’m in."

"Vin, you are part of Ms. Nettie’s family and won’t want to leave her without help. There’s no reason for you to be on call every day. Commander Larabee and Lt. Commander Wilmington can call on your skills as needed. I have spoken with Ms. Nettie and she agrees."

"You and Nathan would be deputies on call under the program and JD an apprentice full time, if you are agreeable, gentleman." The three men were. The Judge turned his attention to Ezra. Professor Standish as the leading expert on the Old West, you came with the Starfleet officers to observe and advise on the authenticity of the Marshal program."

"Yes, Ah did." Ezra answered him wondering at Josiah’s smug expression and decided to keep his poker face on till he learned more.

"Then I believe that making you one of Commander Larabee’s deputies would work in the best interest of that endeavor. Professor Sanchez has assured me you are more than capable of taking care of your self in a fight. Oh yes there is the matter of the saloon. Congratulations on winning it. There are forms for you to fill out and licenses to purchase before you can open back up. You can take care of that first thing in the morning"

"Sir, Ah see no need to officially become one of Mr. Larabee’s deputies. Ah may not be staying on O’tam that long."

"But I do Deputy Standish, as you will be riding with them," replied the Judge.

"Yes sir." Ezra knew when to back down and now was such a time. He needed to stay on Judge Travis’ good side. At least, that is until he got all the licenses needed to reopen the saloon, then he could quit. The Judge had already turned his attention to Josiah.

"Josiah, you are an anthropologist and a psychologist, I’m sure Commander Larabee will find you useful for his team. As you have filed for citizenship here on O’tam, you fulfill the council’s need for half the team to be citizens of O’tam."

Ezra raised an eyebrow at the announcement. Josiah hadn’t said a word about staying here on O’tam. He and Josiah were overdue for a long talk without interruptions.

"And with that I believe I’ve run roughshod over the meeting long enough. Commander Larabee I know I didn’t cover all I said here tonight with you earlier but those are the facts and they needed to be acknowledged with everyone present. I hate to keep repeating myself. You can now have the floor and vent as much as you want," said Judge Travis.

Chris got to his feet, the Judge had covered most of what he was going to say. Travis had taken control out of his hands when he offered the jobs of deputies to these men. He had wanted to pick out his own team. He and Buck were the ones who would be trusting these men to watch their backs. But Chris was an officer in Starfleet and was therefore use to superior officers going over his head and doing asinine things to his plans. Not happy about it, but used to it happening.

"All right gentlemen, I go along with most of what the Judge told you. The Federal Marshals program will work out of Four Corners. You’ll be responsible to me and I report to Judge Travis. I expect you to drop everything at a moment’s notice and go wherever we are needed. With the exception of Healer Jackson, if someones life is at stake he’ll stay. Otherwise you go wherever I tell you to go and do whatever I tell you to do. Understand?" Chris didn’t give them a chance to reply as he added, "Good."

Buck had been watching Chris and knew that he was irritated. Chris hadn’t given the boys time to answer him and he went on as if he were in a meeting with other Starfleet personnel, not a group of civilians. Buck could see problems with that attitude in the future. These were private citizens; ones that could and would get up walk out any time they wanted. He was going to have to have a talk with Chris about that. Chris was still giving orders.

"The raiders are going to be our first target. We will use the planet’s communications systems to get the sheriffs of the towns between the cities to pass on any news of the raider’s activities and keep track of them. If possible I’d like to get the outlying ranches and the homesteads in on this. They see a lot of what’s going on out there in their areas and that could be useful to us. Hopefully they have their own commutations systems. Try and think of ways we can help them if they don’t. With work we’ll be able to track down the raiders and bring them to stand trial. Wilmington and I will be getting with each of you tomorrow and discussing your roles in the Marshal program, as well as setting up a training program for us to get use to us working as a team. That’s all for tonight. If you need to speak to Wilmington or me, we will be at the jail first thing in the morning setting up. Goodnight gentlemen."

Chris dismissed the men in the room as if he expected them to file out and disappear without asking any questions. "Oh yeah", Buck thought to himself I’ve got to talk to Chris soon; he’s been giving orders way too long. JD and Nathan left, Josiah waited, wanting to see what Ezra would do about Commander Larabee’s attitude.

Ezra and Vin exchanged looks, they had only just met, but yet they shared one thought. There was no way they were going to take this kind of behavior lying down. Neither man would take orders blindly from anyone. Ezra started it off.

"Judge Travis, may Ah trouble you for your help in filling out that paper work tomorrow. Ah appear to have the whole day free, with nothing important wanting ma time. At least Ah can get the licenses to get the saloon up and running. Would around eleven o’clock be alright with you sir?"

"Eight would be better for me. Be here then and we’ll get the paper work out of the way in no time." Judge Travis told him. Ezra hated to get up before noon but he could if he had to. Ezra said good night to all but Chris ignored him completely and left with Josiah.

Vin stood up in one smooth movement. He stretched his lean frame and spoke to the Judge.

"I am going on out to Ms. Nettie’s, you known where to reach me if ya need me." Vin headed for the door but stopped when he got there and turned back to Chris and told him.

"Hey cowboy, ya better get rid of that wild hair growing up your ass or you aren’t going to have anyone working with you."

Chris had looked pissed at Standish’s behavior and when Tanner had his say and called him a cowboy he lost it. As he yelled at the retreating back.

"Don’t call me cowboy Tanner...Tanner…Tanner come back here." But by that time the longhaired Texan was gone.

Buck broke down and started laughing.

+ + + + + + +

High over head behind the second moon of O’tam the Starship Enterprise waited. Captain James T. Kirk was studying the findings of his first officer.

"Mr. Spock, we should contact the O’tam’s council and let them know they have squatters on one of their moons." Jim smiled and added. "I think we should offer to take care of this problem for them. Can’t let Chris and Buck have all the fun."

+ + + + + + +

The sun was barely up the next morning when Chris and Buck walked down the boardwalk toward the jail. Unlike most of the other buildings in town this one was build of brick and stone. There were bars on the windows and the door was heavy and reinforced.

"Someone put some thought into this building before they built it." observed Buck.

"Yeah," agreed Chris as he opened the door and walked in. "Or he saw too many movies."

The jail was an open room with an enclosed office in back on one side and two metal cages flanking it. In front sat a pair of desks and the jail’s communications center. Between the Marshal’s office and the jail cells was a staircase going downstairs to the basement that was used mainly for storage.

Over the whole room was a layer of dust and grime. Sheriff Tate must not have been a man who cleaned very often. The office’s computer and communications system was stuffed in a corner and looked as if it had never been used. Both men turned at a knock at the door. It slowly opened and there stood JD on the other side waiting to come in.

"Come on in kid, you belong here remember," kidded Buck as the smile on JD’s face tried to grow bigger. The young man was almost vibrating with energy.

Chris turned his back on the pair, partly to hide his amusement from Buck and because he didn’t want to hurt the kids feelings by laughing at them. Buck may have bitten off more then he could chew with this one. Dunne had obviously gone straight into hero worship over the man he had to thank for getting him his dream job. Of course that would only last till Dunne got to know Buck better. Buck was a good man, but he was still a man with all the faults that went with being human. Chris wouldn’t have him any other way. He turned back around and asked.

"JD, do you think you can get the computer and communications systems back up? I want to know if there’s been any activity in the area by the raiders. Later I’ll give you a statement to send out to all the neighboring towns to let them know that the marshals have come to O’tam." Chris told him.

"Yes sir!" JD went right to work getting the computer out of the hole that Tate had shoved it into.

Buck had been looking around and asked Chris. "Who do we get to clean this place up?"

Chris smiled and picked up a full waste can and shoved it in to Buck’s hands. "Who do you think?" JD started to get up and help. Chris told him to stay put. "What you’re doing is more important. Buck and I can handle the clean up detail. Starfleet trained us to handle all kinds of duties."

+ + + + + + +

It didn’t take long between the two of them to get the building ship shape. They had decided to throw out the old smelly bedding from the cells and replace them. They found a small bathroom and a break room behind the office. The break room had a coffee maker and cooling unit, they cleaned them as well. Chris had determined that the basement could wait. Buck was out getting rid of the trash and Chris was sitting down in his new office. Chris looked around at the workspace that was going to be his for the next several years. This assignment was long term and both he and Buck knew that when they agreed to it.

Chris had wanted a complete change from his old duties, nothing to remind him of his old life and the family he had lost. Buck, good old Buck came along to make sure he didn’t mess up. A knocking on his door interrupted Chris’ brooding as JD stuck his head in and said.

"I’ve got the system up and running. Doesn’t look like Tate kept up with the dispatches from the other towns. There’s a lot of unopened correspondence in there. Do you want me to download them to your system?"

"Yeah," Chris looked around the room and realized he didn’t see his computer. "Do you know where the screen is?"

JD walked in to the office and lifted a stack of papers off the side of the desk and pressed down. Up rose the screen and control panel. After showing Chris how the O’tam system worked he said. "I figured you’d want to setup your own security codes."

"I will later, for now we can leave it open. We’ll just not put in any sensitive information in for now. We can save it for the new computer systems that will be coming on the next supply wagons." At JD’s interested look he added. "Starfleet is sending us new equipment, everything we’ll need to solve crimes and run down the bad guys," Chris said with a smile. He decided to ask JD something he hadn’t taken time to learn about on his earlier visit to the planet. "How does the information network on O’tam work?"

"Can’t really say for sure Marshal, I don’t think anyone can. It’s part O’tam technology, part Federation, part any good idea that came along and got added in." JD waved his hands as he talked. Chris idly wondered if the kid could talk if he wasn’t moving some part of his body. JD was still trying to explain what he knew of the network.

"Each city has it’s own system and there are relays both above and below ground that connect it with everyone else’s, with backups and redundant systems to insure that the network and power supplies stay up. By law each home has a computer and commutation system tied into the network. You don’t have to use them but they’re there if ya need or want to. Everything from general information to education material and entertainment programs can be found on the net."

"Sounds good, is there personal information there as well?" asked Chris wanting to know how much an adversary could find out and use against them.

"Nope, only a directory of who has settled on the planet and even there it’s just name, species and where you’re settling. Any thing else you’ve got to add yourself and you can add anything." JD smiled as he thought of something. "Some people get carried away and write long accounts about themselves, some of them get pretty funny. No one bothers to check to see if they’re true."

Buck put his head in to let Chris know he was back and saw JD there. "Kid, there are a few things I need to go over with you."

"Like what Buck? You know I do have a name and it’s not kid?" asked JD.

Buck ignored JD’s last question as he said. "Like what…. like who’s your next of kin, how much schooling you got, where did you get the guns you’re wearing. Can you shoot, can you ride, do you own a horse, and can ya follow orders? How experienced are you on the trail? Where are you staying and are you willing to fill out long reports so I don’t have to? Do you understand there’s a lot of paperwork that goes along with this job and what does the JD stand for?"

Chris looked over at Buck and understood he was talking about employment records that needed to be filled out. So he told the pair.

"GO, go do all that out there," pointing to the desks outside of his office. "I’ve got a lot of reading to do so try to keep it down." Both men turned to look at him. "Now gentleman." They left.

+ + + + + + +

An hour went by and Buck had all the information he needed for JD’s employment papers and a general understanding of JD himself. The kid had a lot going for him even if he was as green as a newborn colt. But time would take care of that and he would mature under Buck’s watchful eye.

Chris came out of his office with a printout in his hands. "JD how far is Watsonville from here?"

"A day and a half ride if you stick to the roads, less then a day if you cut cross country. Why?"

"The last dispatch from there tells of a rancher named Clang, along with some of his ranch hands, finding the remains of a freight train out of Denver. It was ambushed, the wagoneers were killed and their shipment taken. He found bodies two days ago; there might still be a trail we can follow. JD, I want you to get the details from the sheriff in Watsonville, along with the exact location of the attack. Then meet us at the livery, be prepared to spend a few nights on the trail. Buck you go round up the others, I want a word with the Judge before we go."

+ + + + + + +

The Judge and Ezra had just finished all the paperwork for Ezra to reopen the saloon when Chris showed up. After filling the Judge in, he explained that he and his deputies would be gone for a few days. He took Ezra by the arm and hauled him along to the livery. They met up with the others already there, it was here that Ezra started his protest.

"Mr. Larabee Ah do not see the necessity in ma accompanying you on this endeavor. Ah do not have either a steed or provisions."

"Yes ya do Ezra, I picked the horse out my self," Josiah told him leading out a dark brown horse. The beast looked as if he didn’t want to go traipsing round the countryside either. "And I packed enough supplies for us both." He added as he handed the reins to the reluctant man.

"Mount up Standish, your file says you speak Klingonese. The rancher who found the dead wagoneers is a Klingon. If we meet him on the trail we’ll need to explain who we are and what we’re doing on his land. A Klingon thinks in his own language first and basic later."

As they waited for the others to mount Buck asked Chris. "What’s a Klingon doing here?"

"According to the Judge, he’s pissing off the Klingon High Council. Clang was a member of one of the oldest houses in Klingon society, but he backed the wrong group in the last political coup. He lost his sons in a skirmish with the old ruling party. So he took himself a young wife and made plans to start over here on O’tam. He fancies himself a cattle baron. By simulating the life of the old west, he is thumbing his nose at the Klingon high council by implying that the Klingon ways aren’t worth keeping."

"Lordy, ever since the Organian Peace Treaty, Klingons have been popping up every where. Can this planet get any stranger?"

"Sure it can, Clang thinks he’s the reincarnation of John Wayne."

+ + + + + + +

The six men rode up to the homestead. It showed the hard work of being kept well. The barn and corral were in good repair and the barn looked freshly painted. The garden next to the house was well tended as were the bright colored flowers growing around the house. On the porch stood a gray haired woman with a rifle cradled in her arms. The rifle swung up to be pointed at the riders as they rode their horses to her porch.

"Stop right there," demanded the woman. "Who are you and what do you want here?"

"Lady, there’s no need to get carried away, we can explain ourselves," said Buck as he started to swing down from his horse only to freeze in mid movement as his hat was shot off his head. Nathan who had been riding in back with Josiah and Ezra pushed his mount to the front of the pack.

"Ms. Nettie it’s me, Nathan, don’t shoot."

"Nathan Jackson what are you doing with these gunmen?"

"They’re not gunmen Ms. Nettie," replied Nathan "They’re the new Federal Marshals and we’re their deputies. Didn’t Vin tell you?"

"Yes he told me about it and I’ve talked to Orin as well. Orin told me you were coming this way. But this is no way to approach a homestead these days. Not with the troubles going around." Looking straight at Buck she added. "You better remember that Mister Gunslinger or the next time it won’t be a hat that’s being shot off. Vin is in the barn; you can stable your horses in there. I have lunch on the table. Go on now, you’ve got to eat and there’s no way I will allow Vin to go off on an empty stomach." With that Ms. Nettie turned and vanished into her house.

Chris sat on his horse and glared at the door that the old woman disappeared behind. It was Buck who brought it back into perspective.

"Come on pard, we’ve got to eat and eating a hot meal will go along way. Besides it’s quicker to eat what she’s got already fixed than it would be for us to start from scratch."

Chris hated to agree but he did so as he dismounted. Taking Buck’s reins he offered to stable his horse if Buck would go in and sweet-talk the owner of the ranch. That would give Chris time to cool down before having to be pleasant to the local rancher and thank her for her hospitality. More and more Chris wondered if there was a class in diplomacy that he had missed taking at the academy. Without realizing it he had taken Ezra’s reins as well as Buck’s. He walked the three horses to the barn. Josiah trailed behind with his, Nathan’s and JD’s horses.

It was cool in the well build barn. It was full of shadows and light, with it’s high ceiling. There were windows for the animals to look out of and there was a good size hayloft as well. Overhead, hanging from the ceiling, was something Chris hadn’t seen in any barn he been in while growing up.

"Brother Vin is something of a glider enthusiast." Josiah told Chris as they took in the bright blue hang glider hanging from the ceiling. "He makes the kites himself and then rides up into the mountains and glides home on them. He trained that horse of his to find it’s own way back," answering Chris’s next question before he asked it.

"I’ll be damned." muttered Chris as he took in the wing span.

"Most likely cowboy." Said Vin as he came out of a stall where he had been saddling a large black horse. "Tie them up over there," Vin pointed to the stalls on other side of the barn. "Peso isn’t real friendly with critters he don’t know."

"And a lot he does know. That’s one ornery horse you got there Vin," Josiah told him as he sidestepped to keep out of the big black’s reach. Peso had put his head out his stall and was trying to nip anyone who got close. Vin just smiled at him and pushed Peso’s head back away from Josiah.

Chris reached into a pocket, pulled out a palm size device and tossed it to Vin. "The location of where the remains of a wagon train out of Denver were found are on that. Think you can find that place?"

Vin didn’t look at the information. He just slipped it into his shirt pocket and said. "Yeah, I can find it," ignoring Chris’ raised eyebrow. "I’ve mapped a hundred mile radius around this ranch. I can feed the coordinates into our computer and my program will tell me where it’s at."

Josiah grinned at the two young men staring at each other said "Lets finish with the horses, I for one don’t want to miss one of Ms. Nettie’s fine meals."

+ + + + + + +

"Thanks for the meal ma’am." Chris Larabee told Ms. Nettie later as he climbed aboard his horse. They had made peace over the home cooked meal. Chris was feeling mellower than he had before eating. The pair had come to an understanding.

"You’re welcome Mr. Larabee, you can come back any time." Ms. Nettie told him as she stepped closer to his horse. She grabbed its reins before Chris could ride off. "You take care of my boy, Mister Larabee, he and Casey are all I got and I want him back in one piece, do we understand each other?"

"Yes ma’am we do and I’ll try to keep all my people in one piece." He tugged the brim of his hat in a silence salutation and rode off with the others.

+ + + + + + +

With Vin leading them across the open countryside they’d save time by bypassing Watsonville and Clang’s ranch. By riding hard it was early evening when they rode up to the remains of wagons that had been carrying freight from Denver to San Francisco. What clues might have been left had been destroy when the bodies had been buried. There was little left to tell them who had done this or which way they had gone.

Vin didn’t get off his horse as he told the others. "I’m gong to circle around and see if I can pick up their trail." With that he rode off.

Chris and Buck started checking out blast marks on the wagons. They sent JD and Ezra looking around on the ground for anything the attackers might had dropped. It was unlikely but you could never tell when you might get lucky. Josiah went through the remains of the wagons for anything the assailants might have missed. Nathan made recordings of the buried bodies on his tricorder for evidence when they got to trial. Later the bodies would be exhumed and sent back to Denver to their families.

Ezra and JD had came up empty handed, likewise Josiah. The blast marks only showed that they were from energy weapons and that whoever made use of them was skilled in their employment; hitting the wheels and not the bodies of the wagons. Vin came riding back; hopefully he had better luck.

"Found where they waited to ambush the wagons," pointing to a grove of trees in the distance. "They took off toward the northwest afterwards. Must have taken the horses and used them for pack animals to carry the freight. There’s more tracks going out them coming in."

"Mount up, we ride," Chris swung up into his saddle, the rest following his actions.

"Mount up we ride?" queries Ezra once he was back on his horse. "Have you been reading penny dreadfuls Mr. Larabee?" he got no answer as they all took off after Vin.

+ + + + + + +

The seven found themselves heading into the mountains. But they were fast losing the light. Chris decided to stop and rest the horses. It was too easy for trouble to find you in the dark and Chris didn’t want to lose what ground they had gained today. He asked Vin if he had any thoughts on where the outlaws might be holed up.

"Ya, and I hoping I’m wrong." Vin told Chris that he had been thinking about it for a spell when he saw which way the tracks were leading them. "The summer home of the area’s Naturals is in the direction we’re heading. It’s in a small valley between the foothills. The tribe should be making their way back from their winter encampment on the coast this time of the year. They aren’t due back for a while yet. But there are a few who stay year round to keep the place up and to discourage trespassers. They wouldn’t be able to defend themselves from people like these."

"Sounds like a good place to hole up while waiting for transport to take what ever they stole off planet," said Buck

"How much further is their village?" Chris asked him.

"Six or more hours in the dark, three if ya wait for light."

"Then we better make camp for the night," Chris decided.

They stopped, choosing a small clearing in the rocky hillside. Vin took the first watch, perched on a large boulder above them as the others set up camp. The fire was made low to the ground so not to attract the eyes of anyone passing by as darkness fell. Coffee was quickly heated and passed around. The pot was left in the ashes to keep warm for Vin when he came in. Trail rations would have to do tonight for the evening meal. Stretched out on their blankets, the men settled down for the night. Vin listened to their small talk as they ate.

JD asked Ezra what a penny dreadful was.

"It is or was a novel of violence or adventure or even of crime. Sometimes known as a dime novel as well. Usually about the times and adventures of a famous lawman or outlaw; romancing their lives and the period of history they lived in. Full of over used clichés and metaphors. Known as dreadful for the bad writing as well as the bad plots. Thought to be morally lacking as reading material."

The explanation seen to satisfy JD and the group fell into a comfortable silence eating

Nathan had been impressed by Ezra’s knowledge of the trail and said as much. "How did a city boy like you learn to ride so well and set up a camp?"

It was JD who took offense at that remark and answered Nathan before Ezra could reply. "Ain’t nothing wrong with being a city boy."

"Of course not kid," Buck spoke up to reassure the young man giving Nathan a hard look to which Nathan only raised an eyebrow in return.

"Ah traveled extensively in ma youth and had many a diverse teachers in that time. Ma Mother wanted me to be well rounded in life experiences."

Josiah choked on his coffee as he bit back his laughter. Nathan gave him a strange look but let it pass. JD on the other hand was interested.

"How many places have you been to?"

"Planets, not just places. Ah stopped counting after the first hundred. Usually not for long, no longer than a few days if we couldn’t pick up a cargo."

"Uh?" JD didn’t understand and turned to Buck for an explanation. Buck only raised his cup to Ezra to explain. Ezra sighed. He hadn’t meant to disclose any of his life story but there they where with JD’s puppy dog look asking for more. He was sure Nathan and Vin were paying close attention to his narration as well and he did want to get along with these men though he wasn’t sure why it was important to him. He had taken his pack of playing cards out of his pocket, shuffling then in his hands. An old habit, the movement of the cards in his hands helped him think how best to answer.

"Ah was raised on a space freighter. The bowels of the ships was ma playground and the crew ma teachers and sometimes playmates as there weren’t usually any other children on board." Seeing that they were interested he explained. "Most cargo ships are no longer generational due to advances in technology and improvement in warp speeds. They no longer need large crews, nor are they gone for years at a time. A crew can ship out and be back home in less than a year on most runs."

"What’s the ship’s name?" asked JD

"The Southern Glory," answered Ezra and to his amusement both Starfleet officers looked up at that announcement. "The Southern Glory is the most heavily armed vessel in personal hands, as well as one of the fastest. She can not be taken by force. And a more cunning skipper than Captain Nat Scott Ah’ve never heard of."

Chris looked over at him and asked, "Captain Natalie Scott?"


"What is she famous or something?" asked Nathan. He was getting interested in spite of himself.

"Infamous," Chris told them. He looked over at Ezra and inquired. "It was your Mother that gave her a second chance?"

"Yes, after the unpleasant incident of the Champion she was blackballed and no one would stand up to the owner of that shipping line and hire her. Ma Mother had nothing to lose and she needed someone to captain the Glory."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra didn’t add that Maude didn’t have the money to hire a captain at the time. Natalie Scott had needed the job for herself and the crew who left the Champion to follow her. The two women had come to an understanding. The Captain would get a twenty-five-percent ownership of the Southern Glory; enough so Maude couldn’t get mad and just kick her off the ship. The crew would work for a small percent of the profits. Maude would handle the business end and Captain Scott wouldn’t say a word about where they went or what they hauled. On matters pertaining to the ship, the crew and safety, majority owner or not, Maude would follow her lead. The first few voyages were interesting to say the least. Ezra was sure at that six years of age he didn’t know even half of what went on.

+ + + + + + +

"Well, what’s the rest of the story? What happened to the Champion? Why was Captain Scott blackballed?" asked JD. This was getting exciting, better than ghost stories around the campfire.

It was Buck who picked up the story from there. "Natalie Scott was first officer on a freighter carrying passengers and cargo. The ship was running behind schedule and the Captain did something foolish. He tried to make up time going through an area known to be dangerous. There had been recorded activity of space anomalies there; most ships avoided the area. You have to drop out of warp to navigate it safely, but it can save time. The anomalies make it a save haven, it’s hard to track anyone in that sector of space. The local system that claims the region will give protection to anyone with the money to pay for it, modern day pirates, people on the run and the like. The Champion was too big a prize to let go by unmolested. As a commercial freighter she wasn’t armed to fight, she was supposed to stay at warp speeds to avoid being attacked."

"But attacked she was, the Captain was killed and the ship badly damaged. Scott had two choices, drop the cargo or let her be boarded and try to fight them off, most likely losing the ship as well as her crew and passengers to the buccaneers. She dropped the cargo, then managed to outmaneuver and out run the pirate ships when they stopped to pick up the freight. The owner of the ship was furious at the loss. Blamed her for his loss of the shipment and money he would have made off it. He didn’t seem to care that she brought the ship and the people on board back safely. Blackballed her from any ships he owned and forced the other freight lines to do the same."

"She did the right thing," said Nathan. "People are worth more than money." The others agreed with him.

Chris took up the tale. "The lady Captain is now notorious for doing things her way and for taking care of her crew and ship, as well as getting the job done. She has never missed a deadline that I’ve heard of. The Southern Glory is a ship no one messes with. She’s too heavily armed for one thing and Captain Scott can hold her own in a fight."

Ezra asked, "You seem well informed on Captain Scott, Mr. Larabee. May Ah inquire why?"

"Before talking to you at the university I got what I thought was a full report on your life. We knew of your Mother’s ownership of the Southern Glory. But I didn’t realize you grew up on her. My contacts filled me in on the ship’s history, the rest I got from Starfleet. We try to keep track of ships that are that heavily armed in private hands in Federation Space, Professor."

As Ezra settled in for the night he thought back on his childhood. It hadn’t been all bad of course. He had many happy memories of good times as well as bad; the people he had encountered and the places he had been. In those early days the Southern Glory had been just an old dirty freighter, held together by the determination of two strong women. Between his Mother and Captain Nat it had taken them years to make her the ship she is today. Just before he went to sleep, he wondered if they had ever gotten the plumbing to stay fixed.

+ + + + + + +

The morning dawned clear and bright. Chris and Buck had them up before the sun, much to Ezra’s displeasure.

"Ah never greet the sun unless Ah haven’t been to bed the night before. There is a reason all ma classes are scheduled in the afternoon," grumbled Ezra as he was made to saddle up after a cold breakfast. Josiah just smiled and kept him on his feet, steering him toward his horse. They were on their way before the sun cleared the horizon.

+ + + + + + +

Pausing only to rest their horses, Vin led them to the Natural’s village. Chris and Vin worked themselves to where they were just above the village and hid in the rocks. Chris tried to scan the area with his tricorder but couldn’t get a reading. Vin had been watching him. Chris caught him at it and motioned him back to where the others were waiting. Holding the tricorder up he asked him why it didn’t work.

"This valley was chosen for the minerals in the mountains around it. They won’t allow high tech gadgets to work out here." Vin told the offworlders.

Nathan took up the story from there. "The Naturalist want to go back to nature. No technology, no modern tools, if it wasn’t used before the twentieth century they won’t touch it," he said the last with bitterness.

Josiah laid his hand on the healer’s shoulder and asked softly. "Rain hasn’t changed her mind then, has she?"

"No," answered Nathan as he shook off Josiah’s hand and walked away from the others.

Josiah sighed and said. "Rain is the woman Nathan is in love with. She is a Naturalist and refuses to see any other life style. To marry she wants Nathan to give up his life in town. To stop using any modern instruments as a healer and live the same life she does. So far she’s refused any compromise Nathan has come up with."

"Damn, that’s a hard woman," said Buck "There should always be room for a compromise if you love someone enough."

Chris changed the subject when he asked. "Any idea how many might have stayed in the village?"

"Let me think, maybe six in all. Kojay and Eban stayed; they’re two of the village leaders. They stayed to allow their oldest children a chance to lead the tribe at the winter camp this year in their place," Josiah told them. "They and a few of the older members who didn’t want to make the long walk stayed behind as well."

"They walked to the coast?" asked JD who was having a hard time wrapping his mind around the Natural’s lifestyle.

"Not every one rides JD, or wants to," Nathan answered, amused at the kid’s expression at this revelation.

"Gentlemen," Chris wanted their attention back on the matter at hand. "We have six possible hostages and an unknown number of bandits waiting for us down there. Vin and I will work our way down and do a reconnaissance. I want Buck, Josiah and Nathan to follow and wait half way down. Be ready to join us if we give you the signal." He turned to JD and Ezra, the two members of his group that he was the least sure of when it came to their reactions in a gunfight. "JD, Ezra I want you to wait here and keep watch. If I have the others join us, you’ll wait an hour before joining us. If things go bad I want you to get word back to the Judge."

"But Marshal." protested JD

"No buts JD, do it."

"Yes sir," grumbled JD.

Ezra didn’t say a word as he eyed Chris Larabee. The man didn’t trust him; well Ezra could deal with that. None of this was what he agreed to in the first place. If Josiah wasn’t mixed up in the middle of all it he’d ride away and not look back.

+ + + + + + +

Vin checked around the buildings to the south of the village and met back up with Chris as he made his way back from the north. It didn’t look good. There was no sight of the villagers but a lot of the bandits. Comparing notes they had counted at least fifteen men with guns walking around. Blue skin Andorians were holding court in the center of the village square where tables had been set up for communal eating. The villagers must be in the shelter behind the tables. There was one being used for cooking meals, serving the outlaws.

Chris signaled for Buck and the others to join them. They should be able to take out the men guarding the hostages. Buck, Nathan and Josiah joined them and they quickly made plans. They would split into two groups and work around behind the communal area. One group would take out the guards on the hostages. The others would get the drop on the Andorians who appeared to be in charge, forcing the rest of the men to give up their weapons.

+ + + + + + +

Unknown to them their presence was already known. Burt Tate, the ex-sheriff of Four Corners watched a display screen showing the men as they worked their way into the village. The outlaw’s leader, one of the Andorians had brought a counter-agent to the minerals in the hills surrounding the Natural’s home. Over a short span the Andorian’s sensors could keep watch without problems. They would let the Marshals and the deputies come all the way into the village before taking them prisoner.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin were almost to the shelter housing the kitchen behind the tables when Vin stopped. Something had been eating at him, something wasn’t right. Then it hit him, where were the sentries? With all their sneaking around they should had run into at least one guard keeping watch. But there had been none. Damn.

Chris had stopped when Vin had. What was wrong? Vin turned to Chris, one look into his eyes was all Chris needed. This had been a trap and he had allowed his men to walk right into it. As one they turned to make their way back. Chris cursed under his breath. He was the professional here in security matters. He had forgotten the most basic rule. Never take anything for granted.

Chris was thinking hard on how to warn Buck and the others when he saw JD barreling down the hillside. A man stood up from where he had been hiding behind a bush and decked JD as he passed. The kid went down and didn’t move.


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