Western Writing Prompt Submissions Continue

This next story is by our very own Virginia Carraway Stark, entitled Scientific Method:

Scientific Method

Virginia Carraway Stark

“I’m not saying that I don’t like her, I’m saying that she’s not scientific.”

“Well, it sounds really like the same thing when you say it. I think it’s your tone.”

I whipped my head around but Nevin was looking at me with bland sympathy and helpfulness. I decided to let him live and continued my rant. “She gets a theory in her head and then she just runs with it, I keep trying to explain to her the difference between a theory and proof. What kind of scientist needs to have what a proof is explained to her.”

Nevin smiled as blandly as possible and handed me the tongs so I could pull the beaker out of the auto-burn. I knew that my rant was unpleasant for him. He was one of the few Detach Detachment’s real peacemakers and he especially seemed to dislike it when the fight was between two women. I didn’t really care though because I had a bee in my bonnet and it was a case of letting it out or keep on feeling stung.

I’m not really what you would call your ‘long suffering’ type.

“And another thing- every time she comes down with some new theory, she runs off and leaves her mess for everyone else to clean up.”

I picked up a rag that was sitting on the metal counter with the tongs and lifted it up for Nev to see. It was eaten through with holes and was steaming slightly.

Whatever Jamie had left on the rag, the exposure to the air was definitely speeding up the process. A bit of the rag separated and dropped to the floor.

“Could you be a love and open the disposal chute for me, Nev? This could go very badly for us very suddenly.”

Nevin edged around me and opened the chute. He stepped out of the way, looked nervously at his exposed wrists and hands and the now hissing rag and then found a metal reacher bar to hold the chute open. I dropped the rag into the chute. The vapors it left in its slipstream bit and chewed at my eyes and throat and I gagged a bit at the acrid metallic taste. Nevin released the reacher and the chute slammed shut. I went back to find a dust pan and took the reacher bar with me to get rid of the rag fragments. One of them had burst into small, sullen blue flames.

I was relieved that whatever she had put on the rag wasn’t reacting to either the metal of the dustpan or the reacher bar. Nevin opened the chute again. I made a mental note to thank Captain Wrought for spending the extra credit on lab safe metals that were coated with non-reactive coatings and that I also had to tell him to make the safety disposal chutes voice activated.

“This room stinks.”

wrinkled my nose. Nevin nodded his agreement as he switched on the fan without comment.

“What have you two been doing in here? I thought you were just going to finish my samples? It shouldn’t smell like this in here.”

“I am not taking the blame for this one, even for a minute. If you think for a second that I’m even capable of this sort of incompetence after having you train me, Christopher, I will kick you in the nuts.”

Christopher Buxbie blinked and then narrowed his eyes. “It was the new one, Tanning, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, she left something caustic on a rag on the counter and bugged out to go and test some new theory or other.”

Nevin went to the fridge and reached around some bio hazard samples to grab us each a Rockyn’ Cola soda. Buxbie examined the singe marks on the counter.

“What was she doing?”

“We don’t know. You know how she is.”

“I don’t really. I try to ignore her at every possible opportunity.”

Jamie took that moment to walk in. Her face was flushed in patchy red splotches with excitement and the chill of the asteroid winter air. My blood chilled when I saw the empty beaker in hand.

“Who do you ignore at every possible opportunity, Buxbie?”

Christopher looked down his nose at the podgy older woman.


He turned and left the lab, his back rigid with his disdain. Jamie looked crestfallen. Her red splotches changed to pallor and I had a moment when I felt badly for her but then it was gone. She was not only a bad scientist but her lack of discipline extended to her entire capacity in Detach Detachment. She was sloppy with her weaponry, she refused to take care of herself physically and was out of shape and she was nearly always clueless to the cues and needs of everyone except herself. In the bad old days of Detach Detachment before Verily Wrought came to town, someone would have found a way to make sure that she had already found a ‘merciful’ end. These days those sorts of incidents were examined and sent through proper channels and it wasn’t that easy to make a dangerously annoying person disappear. I briefly wondered if Captain Wrought was going to be away on business anytime soon and then attempted to put the thought out of my head. It was really hard to be good sometimes.

I decided to get drunk.

The dirt streets of Deadwood weren’t exactly charming, nor were the wooden sidewalks designed to keep skirts and cuffs of pants from getting covered in filth and mud. The asteroid of Deadwood was a mining community that sought out gold and rare earth metals. It was a lucrative place to make a quick buck if you had skills and a lot of luck, but it was a dangerous place as well. It was named after the town of Deadwood, North Dakota, a place where the law had been slow to come to and the gun was king.

It had started off life as Asteroid 212b Orba. It was an asteroid in orbit around a ‘wandering star’. The star was not fixed in the galaxy but bumped around, sometimes wandering into other solar systems and causing chaos and picking up new satellite followers. When 212b Orba was discovered, it had an atmosphere and water on it. It was an easy job to terraform until they discovered that the wandering star of Orba also put out a regular and massive show of solar flares. The first terraforming equipment had been wiped out before it even had a chance to get buried for use and the ships that had brought in the first teams of settlers had been wiped out as well.

It had been twenty years before the first ship had come to check on the tiny asteroid and ask them what had happened to their communication. By that time the asteroid already had a distinctly ‘wild west’ atmosphere. Only one of the hundred man team sent in to terraform had had any weaponry outside of the usual rays and laser GAGA issue. By an enormous roll of the roulette wheel of fate, it was only Jim Hyssop’s antique pistol that still worked. He had maintained a semblance of law and order until someone had snuck up behind him while he was playing solitaire and hit him on the head with a chair.

That someone had stolen Jim Hyssop’s pistol and set himself up as the new law. In twenty years before help was sent they had gone through twenty six different ‘sheriffs’ and the population was down to fifty four men. All in all it was a remarkable story and all of the fifty four men and women said that they just felt happy to be alive. A dozen of the survivors fled with the first ship that came but the rest said that they were happy with the way things had turned out and wanted to stay.

Kimbo Jumheel was currently the law when the first GAGA ship landed and he had enough rare earth metals and gold to pay for his own charter into the GAGA. He registered the asteroid as ‘Deadwood’ and established as its motto, ‘Ain’t no one gonna tell us what’s what’.

So far all the shielding methods that had been used to protect GAGA technology from the sporadic flares had failed to protect from Orba’s unique electromagnetic spectrum. Nothing worked that was any more advanced that something from 19th century earth for very long. The GAGA and the GAF did regular runs by Deadwood to pick up gold and other goodies and to make sure that everyone was still okay. There really wasn’t any way to keep in normal, rational galactic communication with them.

The swinging bat’s wing doors swished around me and the sound of the player piano was like a playful melody of tickling fingers in my brain. I walked up to the bar and ordered the house specialty, a sarsaparilla cider that was advertised as guaranteed to knock you garters loose. I chugged the first one and told the lady behind the bar to keep ’em coming and then I did my best Elainian impersonation of a human saunter over to a chair by the piano.

I was on my third sarsaparilla cider and was pleasantly feeling out of my mind when a pleasant tenor spoke to me.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

I looked up to see Captain Wrought standing with two sarsaparilla ciders. He gestured with one of them.

“I’ve brought a bribe.”

I smiled at him and pushed out the chair opposite to me with my feet. He was wearing a black cowboy hat with a GAF logo. The wide brim cast a shadow on his freckled features. He was packing two pistols and had an ammo belt added to his leather belt. It was at first glance cute that he had decided to ‘go native’, but the silver star on his hat underscored his GAF credentials. The spotless guns were polished with an attention to detail that wouldn’t fool anyone with half a brain that Captain Wrought was wearing them for their camp value. He was wearing them for business.

“Rough day?” he asked.

I closed my eyes and put my head down on the table. “You have no idea.”

“How’s the shielding research coming? We’ll have to take off soon, it looks like Orba is starting to spark up again.”

“It’s going like crap. It’s crap. Nothing is happening. Nothing is being shielded and I’m sorry, Captain, to have to tell you this, but it’s all your fault.”

“My fault?”

“Yes. You and your ‘order’ and your ‘rules’ and your ‘investigations into possible homicides.’ ”

He raised an eyebrow that I could barely see under his hat. I took that as tacit permission to launch into a drunken rant.

“It’s all your fault you and your ideas about giving people chances and thinking that there is good in people who clearly can’t do science and cannot do math. If you weren’t here, we would have found a way to deal with Jamie about two weeks ago when she got Milfred killed because she was too busy ‘wondering what was happening’ to get a move on. Milfred went back for her and now we are short one person that I liked, (and you know I don’t like many people!) and we have the addition of a useless twit who is so busy thinking about what a scientist she is that she can’t even be bothered to put her chemicals away in the lab and we have to decontaminate god knows what from god knows where on a regular basis.”

He drank his sarsaparilla and pushed the glass he had brought to the table over to me. I drank it, watching him over the brown rim of liquid to see if he was going to start lecturing me or worse. He finished the last of his own cider and then pushed back from the table and unholstered one of his guns.

He laid it on the table and smiled at me.

“What happens in Deadwood, stays in Deadwood.”

He turned and walked away. I picked up the revolver and watched the bat’s wing doors swing shut behind his lanky form. It was heavy in my hand. I hoped he meant what he was saying.

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