Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Parsee's hand trembled and she let the revolver fall to the dusty ground with a dull thump. The two men out in the field turned and ran, seeing their final comrade fall dead. Dave and Quaz sent a last salvo of blasts at them. Parsee leaned against the doorframe and slid down it, hugging her knees to her chest when she hit the floor. Ed looked at her for a moment, then got up and put his hand on her shoulder.
"You okay?" he asked. She took a nervous breath and shook her head. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "You will be."
"Will I?" she asked.
"Hmm?" responded Ed, intelligently and suavely.
"Will I be okay? I've jus' killed somebody for a man ah don't even know, who, from the looks of it, has most definitely killed before." she said, staring straight forward.
"You will turn out fine. The universe is a harsh place, people kill all the time. Your dad did. And I was right along there with him. In a manner of speaking."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?"
"Yes. It's not working, but maybe you'll laugh at my ineptitude." She chuckled a little. Ed gave her the minutest of hugs and got up. "'Course if something like this happens again and you don't want to kill anyone, you could always take up martial arts." She got up as well.
"Really? Ya think ah could handle it?" she asked, eagerly.
"Sure. You're athletic, bit on the smaller side, got steel-toed boots. Perfect for you."
"Ya really think ah could do somethin' like...this?" And in a flash, she dropped to the ground, swept her leg underneath Ed and sent him sprawling on his back in the dirt. The wind was forced out of him and he rolled around, clutching a spot on his back that had hit a rock. "Somethin' like that?" she asked again, innocent as a new-born baby. Ed tried to draw breath, sounding like a destroyed blender in the process.
"yea, maybe somethin' like at'" He breathed in again, this time only sounding like a blender in need of extensive repair. Parsee helped to his feet, laughing all the time, and helped him catch his breath. "Where the hell did you learn that?" She laughed and folded her arms.
"The universe is a harsh place. People beat people all the tahme. The Koth learned to defend themselves long ago." Ed grinned and shook his head.
"You alright now?" he asked her, still holding his back.
"Ah think so. Now that ah think about it, ah don't much care for him." And with that, she walked over to check on Dave and Quaz. Ed smiled to himself. Koth were naturally callous, coming from a planet like Hellhole. Ones that got hung up on grief didn't tend to live into a normally attained acceptance phase. Of course, when they formed attachments, grief hit them extremely hard. Ed recalled one time when...
"Hey! Ed!" Dave's shout broke Ed out of his musings. He looked around before seeing Dave standing next to the dead leader's body. He motioned for Ed to join him. He started towards Dave when he had a thought. Dave waas constantly cracking jokes and annoying people. It was time to have a little fun of his own. Whenhe got there, Dave pointed to the man.
"Look at this," he said.
"The dead guy?"
"Yeah, the dead guy." Dave said, a little annoyance in his voice.
"Dead guy on the ground?"
"Of course the dead guy on the ground! How many other dead guys do you see?" asked Dave.
"There are five other dead guys over there" said Ed, gesturing in the direction of the house.
"Just focus on this dead guy," said Dave, the annoyance growing. Ed grinned and peered at the corpse.
"Well, yeah he's dead, he's a dead guy."
"Why are you showing me a dead guy? I got another dead guy over there." said Ed, pointing a thumb back at the house.
"The dead guy's not important. It's what he's wearing." said Dave. Ed thought for a moment.
"Dead guy's fancy coat?"
"No, not the coat!" yelled Dave.
"I actually quite like that coat."
"Great! Take it! But look at him closer." Ed put on the man's brown, knee-length leather coat and spun around.
"How do I look?" he asked.
"Damn near phenomenal! Now pay attention to the dead guy!" shrieked Dave.
"Why are we so insistent on this one dead guy?" asked Ed.
"Why are you so insistent on the fact that he's dead?"
"Well...'cause he's dead. Dead guy's defining characteristic is that he's dead."
"Ignore the fact that he's dead and..."
"Kinda hard to ignore." interrupted Ed.
"Would you shut up?! Look at the insignia on his lapel!" Ed's barely managed to keep a straight face as he peered down at the man's lapel. The outline of a skeletal Wreito cave dragon greeted him. All the humor drained from his face and mind as he recognized the symbol. He straightened up and said one word in a voice full of hatred, pain, and fury. "Ranforth."
After looting and burying the corpses, the four of them went back inside the house to calm down after the battle. Or in Ed's case, attempt to forestall the massive, rage-induced, heart attack that was almost certainly coming his way. His hand shook on the cold cup of coffee he had returned to. Parsee opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again, uncertain of whether or not she should ask a question. She came to a conclusion and bit the bullet.
"Who exactly is the Ranforth person?" she asked. Ed responded in the best way he knew how.
Parsee and Dave flinched at the exclamation. Quaz got up from his chair and motioned for Dave and Parsee to follow him. He took them to a small room with just a bookshelf, a chair, and a lamp in it. He pulled one of the books off the shelf and flipped through the pages, coming to rest on a large picture of a man. He had a confident smile on his face, but it didn't reach his eyes. Even though it was a picture, Dave and Parsee both felt shivers go down their spines at the man's cold expression. One got the impression of a jackal or snake, something cold and calculating. Dave leaned forward and read part of the man's entry.
"Major Joseph R. Ranforth, Commanding Officer of the 122nd Federation Heavy Trooper Battalion. Enlisted in the Federation Military at the age of eighteen as a private in the Grunts." Parsee perked up at this.
"What're th' Grunts?" she asked.
"Cannon fodder th' Federation throws a' th' enemy. Meant to soften em' up," responded Quaz, quickly. He motioned Dave to keep reading. Dave nodded and turned his attention back to the book.
"He rose in rank rapidly, due to his tendency to accuse his comrades of being rebel traitors and get promoted for his so called 'services to the Federation.' After becoming a Lieutenant Senior Grade and commanding a platoon of Heavy Troopers at the Battle of Fallen Star he was promoted to the rank of Major. While his resounding defeat of the rebel forces at Fallen Star certainly helped, he was primarily promoted for his capture of the F.P.U. Commanding Target Sniper Edward Bu-" Dave froze mid-sentence. He swallowed, hard. "Edward Buck (a Target Sniper with over six hundred confirmed kills, a number surpassing any previously set record). Ranforth was famed among the F.P.U. for being the most brutal enemy officer to be captured by. There are even rumors of him 'reeducating' captured troops and using them in his battalion for his own purposes." Dave looked up from the book, shock on his face for the first time in his life.
Dave, Quaz, and Parsee were huddled together in a room far from Ed, although that did little to muffle his screams of profanity and abuse. Dave leaned in to whisper something to Quaz and Parsee.
"I always knew he hated Ranforth, but I just assumed it was because he was a high ranking Fed," he said. Quaz glanced in the direction of Ed before responding.
"Seems t'me he has a r'lationship tha's a bi' more pers'nal. Yoo thin' this Ranforth person forced Ed ta fight for 'im?" he asked.
"I have to assume he did. Not many people disliked Ed back on Decken and almost everyone there was either pro-Fed, Fed-employed or being groomed to be Fed-employed. Ed was treated right so far as I know. If the ordinary people knew he was former F.P.U. he wouldn't have survived the ship there," answered Dave. As soon as Dave answered Quaz, the group heard a loud shout of "DAMMIT!" from Ed's direction. Louder than usual, as if he were drawing nearer. With much clattering, he appeared in the doorway, a dark look in his eyes.
"I've decided to kill Major Joseph R. Ranforth." he said.