The More Things Change …

Characters: Peter Carlacci

Finally alone after the shuttle trip back from Abbai, Peter Carlacci allowed himself to limp a little as he took the long way from the docking bays to his quarters. The shortest path led directly past Medlab One, and he didn’t want to bother Mira if she was still there.

Or risk having her drug me senseless again, he thought wryly. It had annoyed him — there was so much to do — but he had to admit, the very fact she’d gone to those lengths to protect him said a lot about the kind of person she was. Never met a Centauri anything like her before.

The corridors of the Ranger ship were quiet. Almost eerily so, Carlacci thought, before reminding himself that although it was only a few hours past nightfall on the planet below, it was well into third shift aboard the Phoenix — the middle of the night.

He slipped into his quarters and quickly exchanged the multiple layers of his Ranger garb for a simple caftan. He’d taken a fancy to them during training; they were favored resting and sleeping wear for many of his Minbari colleagues.

He sat on his small couch, stretching out slippered feet and taking a long pull on a glass of ice water. A shot of bourbon wouldn’t be bad about now. Or some Centauri brevari. Wonder if Mira’s got some squirreled away. Wonder if I have the guts to ask.

Leaning back, he told the computer to light up his wall painting. It was one of his most treasured possessions, carried from posting to posting ever since he left Earth — a floor to ceiling reproduction of a map of Texas, originally drawn over 400 years before.

Looking at it, he allowed his thoughts to drift, transcending light-years and centuries in an instant, imagining himself in a far away place and time …

“Mister Carlacci?”

Peter’s head turned, eyes snapping wide open, to see the man who stood just inside his door. With a start, he realized that this was not one of the Anla’shok, but a Ranger nonetheless. The badge on the lapel of his grey linen jacket was almost identical to the one Peter still wore, a memory of the first Ranger service he had belonged to — the Texas Rangers.

Wordlessly, Peter’s eyes went from the man to another picture on the wall. This one — a photograph portrait of a man on a horse — had been damaged years ago, but was intact enough to confirm the identity of his visitor.

“Captain Gonzaullas?” he asked.

“The very same,” the man answered, pulling his white Stetson from his head. “Mind if I come in?”

“N–no, not at all.” Peter gestured to the chair facing him. “Pardon my not getting up, my leg’s still in pretty bad shape.”

“That’s all right,” the visitor said, gently adjusting his suit as he dropped into the chair.

“Unless I got one of those black pebbles, I’m guessing you’re here because of this Day of the Dead thing?”

“Guess so. When I was alive, the only space aliens we knew about were in the pulps — or on TV. But I’m supposed to come see you, so –”

“I read about you when I was a kid. About a lot of the Rangers. You were the one who transformed the service.”

“Don’t think I deserve that much credit. I had a job to do, I just did it the best way I could.”

“But you got a reputation — I mean, me, over 200 years later, I still remember. That must count for something.”

Gonzaullas laughed. “Well, I suppose it helped now and then. I remember, there was one night back in ’32 –” he paused a moment, looking thoughtfully at Carlacci. “That’d be 1932, right? I was in Tyler, trying to get some sleep in a hotel room, and some fellas downstairs started raising a racket. I stuck my head out the window and asked ’em to pipe down. They took offense, and decided to come up to talk to me personally. When they got there, one of ’em said, ‘Hey, that’s the Lone Wolf! Let’s scram!’ And they did.”

“I think I know what that’s like,” Carlacci said through laughter, “though I guess it’s not me … just being one of the Anla’shok is what seems to do it for these people.” He picked up the Isil’zah from the side table and looked at it, his expression slowly becoming sober. “So many people, they put their faith in us, but there’s so much up against us. It never seems to end.”

He looked up, to see Gonzaullas nodding sympathetically. “Wherever you got a chance for fast money, the crime and vice follows,” he said. “When they found oil, all these little towns popped up overnight. And right behind the drillers, came the bootleggers and the gamblers and the prostitutes.”

“How did you deal with it? How did you stop it?”

Gonzaullas shrugged. “I always made sure of my facts. Took my time investigating before I pulled a raid — that way, I’d be sure to get the still, or the tables, as well as the people running ’em. They’d end up in jail, or getting run out of town, and the ones that were left, knew they wouldn’t have an easy time any more. So that was one thing.”

“What else?”

“I always tried to get the local folks — both the law and the citizens — on my side. Especially the citizens, because once they decide they’re not going to put up with it, the criminals lose their shelter — and their income.”

Carlacci nodded. “I think the people here on Abbai have just been so beaten down, first by the Shadows then by all the crime itself, they haven’t realized they can stand up for themselves.”

“That’s what you’ve gotta do, then. Show them they can.”

“But how?”

“I once had to work in a place called Borger — oil boom town. Wouldn’t stay cleaned up, way too much money to be made. After a while most of the local lawmen and government was controlling the crime, getting their cut. Called it ‘the line.’ One fella, a DA, tried to stop it, and they had him murdered.”

Carlacci leaned forward in his chair, feeling again the complete fascination of childhood as he listened to Gonzaullas’ story.

“The killing woke everyone up. The governor declared martial law in the county and sent us in. We started by arresting all the local lawmen — all of ’em part of ‘the line’ — and hitched ’em up to a big pole in the middle of the jail. Then we let all the local citizens in for a look. They laughed and laughed, and they knew that ‘the line’ had come to the end of the line.”

Carlacci grinned as he sat back again. “So you took out the top of the organization, and the rest followed.”

“It took a lot of time, but it did, yeah. You have to have faith — and persevere.”

A warmth came over Carlacci. He never imagined he’d be able to feel such complete kinship with a man dead nearly three hundred years. It took a moment for him to speak. When he did, the tone was humble.

“Thank you, sir. I’ll remember.”

Gonzaullas grinned. “Then I’ve done my job here.”

“Do you have to go, then?”

“Maybe not right away….”

“I was wondering then,” Carlacci said. The schoolboy eagerness had taken hold of him again. “Those unsolved murders in Texarcana …”

Copyright (c) 2001 Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.


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