Rufus Quince is a retired bounty hunter trying to build a home in the outskirts of Tranquility, right near the edge of the bio-dome where there's still a decent view of the Earth. But Quince keeps getting sucked into doing "one" more job for the Lunar Collective Government. After he finally refuses to come back out of retirement, a group of ruthless speculators led by a phantom from Quince's past try to force him off his land to steal what lies beneath.
They just messed with the wrong man.
As the interplanetary investigation and unabashed butt-kicking take Quince across the System, he finds himself fighting the black market slave trade and a genius bent on controlling the population via a super-computer. Along his journey, Quince picks up an unlikely ally and enlists the help of an old acquaintance, while struggling with demons from his past and a last ditch effort to save the two girls whose lives he once changed forever as a young D.A.
Rufus Quince: Bounty Hunter — Dreams of a Fool takes the reader on a non-stop, twisting ride, battling the lowest scum in the solar system where the stakes just keep getting bigger, and where our hero just keeps getting deeper into that "one last job."
"Imaginative, fun, and compelling read. Found myself not wanting to put it down. Characters were interesting. Can't wait for the next installment of Rufus' journey!"– June Smith, Smashwords reviewer
"Loved Rufus Quince. This is probably my favorite novel by Britton, and I want to see more of this character."– Dan Scarbrough, Amazon reviewer
PART ONE: WALKING ON THE MOON
It wasn't much, but it was mine.
After twenty years of chasing down the roughest, toughest, ugliest scum in the solar system, I was ready to just kick back and relax in peace.
And this was where I intended to do it: forty-seven hectares of terraform on the westernmost outskirts of the Tranquility Range – right near the edge of the biodome where there's still a decent view of Earth.
Mature woods chock full of pine and madrone, rolling fields of wildflowers, even a decent sized stream zig-zagging through the property, ending in a secluded little pond I planned on stocking with trout.
I'd earned this retirement, and I was ready for it.
For real this time.
I can't count the number of times I got sucked into doing "just one more job" for the Lunar Collective Government.
My contact at the LCG, Dominicus Black, always managed to convince me to come back – to put off retirement – to track down one more piece of slime the LCG couldn't manage to keep incarcerated.
In fact, Black had called me three times on my way here today.
I ignored all three calls.
I was not going to let him, the LCG, or anyone else spoil this day – the day I finally set foot on my own quiet little corner of the solar system.
The idea was to just hike around the property, getting a good feel for the place, find the ideal spot to build my home. The holovisuals at the Mercator Tract Vending Agency gave me a nice preview of the place, but there's nothing like slipping on a pair of boots and getting the lay of the land – the views, the sounds, the smells.
I took a deep breath and stepped out of my truck. The air was chilly, and I buttoned up my jacket. I took my earbud out and left it on the seat – I didn't want to receive another call from Black. Even ignoring the call, it would disturb my perfect moment.
I stretched my tired limbs and walked up to the plasteel entry gate and punched in my keycode, making a mental note that I wanted to replace this gate with something more rustic.
I'd also replace this antiquated security system with a biometric scanner.
Form and function.
As I pushed the gate open to step in, I spotted a handwritten note on the ground, held in place by a gray baseball-sized rock.
Rufus Quince – you may have paid for this land, but you will never possess it. Find another place to go and die. Or die here a lot sooner than you'd planned.
It was unsigned.
And I was unimpressed.
I'd made a lot of enemies in my career as a bounty hunter – I'd been shot, threatened, even tortured by a few mean pieces of work. Crap like this was dime-a-dozen fare in my line of work. Always someone trying to get an angle, get my goat, or get even.
I stepped inside the gate, and an explosion at my feet threw me into the air. I landed roughly on the hood of my truck, my back slamming into the sheet metal with a bone-crunching thud that knocked the wind out of me.
A shower of dirt clods and pebbles rained down around me, bouncing off the truck.
My head pounded and my ears rang as I sat up and brushed myself off.
A lifter mine.
Designed not to be lethal, but to toss its victim like a ragdoll and send a clear message: keep out.
Keep out of my own home?
I think not.
Whoever these creeps were – they were messing with the wrong man.
I was born planetside – little town called Plain City, Utah – about the time everyone was rushing to get offworld.
My folks were no different – before I was two years old they'd sold off the family's land and hopped a shuttle to the old Cheeseball. (That's what Dad always called Earth's moon.) We settled in Buzzville, back when it was a lot smaller than it is now.
Back then, we still had white powder streets and most of the structures were formed from old cargo freighters.
A lot's changed since those days.
Buzzville went through the standard cycle: it boomed, it decayed, it was purchased by Big Name Money and renewed, and it boomed again.
At its heart lies the "Old Town" – a few "historic buildings" nestled in a district populated mostly by criminals and scavengers. Around that is the former seat of government for Dome One, now the residence of some low-budget start-up businesses and a couple of private prison firms. Beyond that you've got the rows and rows of pack-dwellings.
Then there's the New Business District with its three-hundred story dome-scrapers, and then, in the radial arms that reach out into the wilds of the dome, you've got the more affluent homes with their views and their private ports.
Twelve million people staring down at the Earth, living the cliché that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Dominicus Black had advised me to invest in property in Dome Two or Dome Three. Dome Two was sixty years old mostly undeveloped. Dome Three was thirty years old and mostly suburban, with a handful of big industries contrasted by some Natural Scenic Designated Areas. But neither dome had as good a view of Earth - and besides, I'd already staked my claim a long time ago.
This is where I was going to spend my best years – a few hundred kilometers from where I'd spent my worst.
Not that being a bounty hunter was that bad of a job.
Although based in Buzzville, I got to see plenty of the System, from Asimoon - the giant space station in orbit of Venus – to all of the Outer Planets. A good chase could take me as far out as Neptune, or as deep in as Mercury's Spa City.
Whoever thought of putting a vacation spot right on the terminator of Mercury, between freezing cold and scorching hot – was a genius.
I was half-tempted to spend my last days and the last of my wealth in that little tribute to decadence, but there were just too many people.
Nope, for me, it was the wide open spaces and lack of any humans whatsoever that drew me to my pastoral piece of Dome One.
And nobody was going to drive me from it.
I staggered back to the gate and picked up the handwritten note.
My back ached.
I was getting too old for this crap.
I looked around in all directions, slowly surveying the sparsely wooded landscape. Usually, the kind of whacko who did this stuff would want to hang out somewhere close to observe their handiwork in action.
I reached into my pocket and grabbed my sweeper, flipped it on and set it to search to the horizon in all directions.
If anyone was watching, they were doing so remotely.
I decided against taking my stroll for now. Locked the gate, got back in the truck, and popped my earbud back in.
"Autolink Black," I said. After a few moments, the comm system connected us. Dominicus answered. "Yeah, Black, I need a favor. No, I don't want you to help me dig the foundations. I have a piece of vellym I need analyzed."
"What, you can't answer my three calls, but when you need something from me, you -"
"Yeah, I come running. Someone hit me with a lifter mine, right inside my own property. And they left a note."
"You should've listened to me. I told you, there's a bunch of nice ground in Dome Two and Dome Three. Plenty of rugged property to settle down on for your golden years. But no, you had to -"
"Thanks. I'll be there in a couple hours."
I terminated the call and veered off the back road that led to my place and got back onto the main highway, setting the autodrive for Buzzville.
I pulled out the note and read it a couple more times. It was short, but it still contained clues. Whoever wrote it knew that I had bought that land. They knew I planned to retire there. And they knew I'd be there to get the message today. They knew how to get past the security panel at the gate. And they also had some reason for wanting to run me off. On top of all that, they seemed pretty sure of themselves.
Which meant they really wanted something on my land.
But they didn't know who they were dealing with, since a stupid note and a lifter mine were just enough to annoy me, not make me run away scared like some Shepherd City bureaucrat.
Whatever they wanted had to be worth something, so I'd have to look into that.
Somehow, I knew this was just the beginning of a bad week.
As I neared Buzzville, the snaking arms of the upper-class habitat rows seemed to grab my truck and pull me into the city along the high-speed highway, like a hungry octopus at a Martian buffet. I was soon enveloped by dark, glassy buildings so tall they left only a tiny speck of sky visible in the distance overhead.
I arrived at the Lunar Collective Government's Criminal Justice Bureau offices under a bright mid-month sky. I parked underground and walked up to ground level, passing under the Great Seal of Luna on my way into the enormous structure. A familiar front desk security guard greeted me with his usual nod and waved me through to the elevators.
I took a car to the one hundred and thirty-third floor, where Dominicus Black maintained his office – the Department of System Investigations.
DSI had jurisdiction over all crimes that had anything to do with more than one spatial body – smuggling from Earth to the Moon, slave trade between Mars and Saturn, illegal weapons imports from Jupiter's moons to the Asteroid Belt. If it ran afoul of System Laws and crossed the boundaries of planets or moons, DSI was on top of it.
Dominicus Black was a twenty-five year veteran of DSI. He'd come aboard at twenty-two years old, fresh off a four year stint in the Earth Force. He quickly worked his way up the chain of command, thanks to his razor sharp instincts and guts of steel. His ambitious nature didn't hurt, either. By the time he was forty, he'd climbed all the way to the top of the DSI.
I'd known him since he was a mid-level operative working covert missions in the Outer Planets. We worked together on a few cases, and I'm probably part of the reason for his quick ascension to chief. Two big busts back in '38 really propelled him to that corner office, and put me in the good graces of the department.
From that point on, they regularly sent work my way, and I sent greaseballs their way. It was a nice arrangement – and it helped me accumulate the nest egg I needed to buy my land – they were quite generous with taxpayer money, paying me far more than I could've earned doing private work.
I was greeted at the DSI main desk by Black's latest chick-du-jour. Black seemed to have a new personal assistant every time I was here – and every one of them looked like she belonged on the cover of System Man magazine.
"I'm here to see Black," I said.
The young blonde looked up at me and said, "Mr. Black isn't seeing anyone today."
"Tell him Rufus Quince is here."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Quince. I didn't know you were, uh, Mr. Quince. Just a moment, please."
She tapped her earbud twice and said, "He's here."
A moment later, a solid plentium door at the back of the reception area slid open to reveal Black standing in the doorway wearing an outfit befitting his name - black slacks and shoes, a black, collarless dress shirt with silver buttons, and an open, knee-length black jacket. "Come on, then, Quince," he said, turning back toward his office and strolling in.
I nodded to the girl at the desk and made my way back into Black's inner sanctum.
The office was about the size of my first apartment in Buzzville – big enough for a meeting of eight or ten division heads, small enough for a private conversation that would actually feel private.
The west and north walls were made entirely of reinforced transparent titanium, affording an incredible floor-to-ceiling view of the bustling Trade District and the distant edge of Dome One to the north. The windows were also strong enough to withstand a meteor (not that one could ever get inside the dome). Although always deeply tinted on the outside, these windows offered a perfectly clear, natural light view of the world outside through the one-way variable-level tint which was currently set to one hundred percent transparent.
Black's desk, a slab of smoky quartz, hung from the ceiling by four thin alloy rods. It was only big enough for his holoscreen interface, a pair of elbows, and a glass of water. He sat down behind it in a soft padded chair and offered me a drink as he touched a button on the chair that raised his desk above our line of sight.
"No thanks," I said, sitting in a similar chair facing Black. "I just want some answers."
He stared back at me with his blue eyes and scratched at the top of his shaved head.
"What you think of Amber? Nice, huh?"
"What, your latest receptionist? Sure. Seemed like a real nice girl. Now, can we get the lab to take a look at this?" I pulled out the note.
"Sure, Quince, sure. I'm already on it. I've got someone from the lab on their way up here right now.
I grabbed at my shoulder and rubbed it, rotating my head and trying to snap a crick out of my neck.
"You really should've answered my calls," said Black. "Maybe could've saved you that backache."
"I got intel that someone had an interest in your land, was trying to warn you."
I sat up a little. "Why would anyone want my land?"
"We've got our suspicions. It's a nice location, but not terribly valuable. Plenty of good tracts in Dome Two and Dome Three for people looking for a piece of the pie."
"Like you're always telling me."
"Hey, I can't help it if I've got some land to sell. I invested a lot in those domes. Just trying to earn back what I put in."
"So you heard somebody wants my land, but you don't know who and you don't know why?"
"Your little note there might help us get a handle on the who."
"Well, once we have the who, the why won't be far behind. I'll make sure of that."
A tall technician entered through the sliding door. She wore a white overcoat, like lab assistants have done for centuries. Her black hair was up in a bun. "Sir, you have a specimen?"
I handed her the vellym. "I want to know the source of the vellym, everywhere it's been since it was made, and anything you can tell me about the handwriting."
She took the sheet, looked up at Black as if seeking permission, and when he nodded at her, she turned and walked out with the note.
"So, do you actually hire anyone who isn't a former MoonGirl model?" I asked, watching her rear as she left.
"I try not to," Black smirked.
The sliding door slid shut and I stood up, strolled to the window and stared out toward my land, which was somewhere beyond the curving western horizon. I turned and asked, "How long"?
Black's eyebrows twitched upward and he shrugged. "Tessa's usually pretty quick with this stuff. She'll have something for you in the next twenty-four hours."
"Thanks." I turned back to the window. "So, tell me about your tip – what prompted you to call me today?"
"You remember a slug named Franklin?"
"Yeah. You helped put him away, what, three times?"
"Well, the Franklin family has good lawyers. Anyway, we've been looking into a deal of his – movement of quadricetum off-moon, destined for the Outers."
"Quadricetum? Why would anyone in the Outer Planets want that? There's no hi-tech industry out there."
"That may just be an initial destination, with final buyers based somewhere closer. We don't know yet. But we do know that the people who want to move it lost their shipment."
"Lost it? Where?"
"It's sitting in our evidence lockers, fifteen stories underground in this very building. And now the sellers, who have no merchandise, are getting desperate."
"What quantity are we talking?" I asked, sitting back down opposite Black and leaning my elbows on my knees.
"We confiscated just over a thousand kilos. Whether that was the whole deal, we don't know. But Franklin's people will be looking to replace at least that much – and we know they have a deadline. Their buyers are not the kind to tolerate delays."
I scratched at the stubble on my neck. "So you've got someone inside on the buying end?"
"Yeah. I can't tell you who right now. But we're looking at a window of about ten days before the sellers are going to need to launch the payload."
"So you think this is connected to me – how?"
"You know that kamacite is used to produce quadricetum?"
"Of course, it's the primary ingredient."
"Well, we ran some scans of the terrain around Dome One. There's a vein of kamacite that runs almost congruent with the dome's boundary, all the way around. Most of it has been extracted and used, but there are three large untapped deposits remaining. One is found under land occupied by the LCG Primary Detainment Facility. No crook in his right mind is going to go digging around under a Secure Level One prison, unless he wants to wind up there permanently. Another is under our DSI training complex north of here outside Shepherd City. Once again, a non-starter for criminals."
"Let me guess, the other deposit lies beneath my property."
"Mostly, yes. Your land borders the dome, and some of that kamacite is on the outside, a few hundred meters down. That deposit is on a slant, and most of the mineral is found just below the surface, somewhere in your back forty."
"Nice. Looks like I got a good deal on that tract after all, huh?"
"Yeah, well – trouble is, I think someone else may want a better deal – free."
"Over my dead body."
"That may be the plan, Rufus."
Twenty years ago, I might have felt a little differently.
Okay, twenty five years ago.
At that time, I was fresh out of Mars University, a law degree in my hand and a childish belief that people were basically good.
Maybe that was once true – but I doubt it now.
Despite my bright-eyed optimism, I wasn't entirely naïve – so I became a prosecuting attorney. That way, I figured, I could try to protect the people who were basically good from the minority that were basically bad. I thought if I could keep the trash off the streets, maybe there was hope for the System.
I returned to Buzzville and took a job in the Dome Attorney's Office. The DA was a decent enough lady, but I got the feeling she was tired and just waiting for retirement. Dome Attorneys didn't last too long on the moon – too much work, not enough pay. Most moved back to Earth within a year of taking the job.
I took up a lot of the slack, and before long, she did head for the hills, and I headed into her corner office as the new DA.
It wasn't long after that my parents and sister were murdered by bandits along the Discovery Highway, between Armstrong City and Buzzville.
And that nearly killed me.
Truth is, I was never the same again.