The Ranger finished telling Sr. Nemesis, Dr. Cyril; Caleb Anderson, the prospector; and Edgar, the Walking Stick, what he remembered about how he, Fr. Francis, and the New Texas Rangers had been ambushed at Kuala Laredo a year ago. When he ended his tale, he found his heart pounding madly and his lungs furiously gasping for breath until he had to slump forward and prop up his heaving torso with his outstretched arms planted on his knees. Finally, after a long, ragged, breath escaped his lips, he stood upright again. 

“I can’t tell you what happened after that,” the Ranger said apologetically, “my memory’s spotty around then.” He took a deep, cleansing breath then continued. “Eventually, I remember seeing a black, starry night sky through twisted scrub brush. I remember pain. I remember not being able to speak, but still crying for help in my mind. And after an eternity or two, I remember a Walking Stick—I suppose that was you, Edgar—reaching down to help me before I passed out again.” 

The Ranger shook his head. “I was dead wrong,” he confessed. “I said I wanted justice for the victims of the ambush, but in my heart of hearts, I just wanted revenge against whoever hurt us. But I only remembered bits and pieces of the attack, and what I remembered made me want vengeance. But now… now… now I not only remember it, I remember how it felt watching my brothers and sisters die all around me. I was wrong, I was wrong. Vengeance won’t do a thing to ease that pain. We were New Texas Rangers pledged to uphold some sort of order in the wild, wild colonies. What I can do—all I can do—is remember my comrades for who they were and what they believed in, and then find justice on their behalf.” The Ranger’s head bowed and he breathed a long sigh of relief. 

Dr. Cyril was surprised but happy that he could no longer hear the Ranger subconsciously screaming for vengeance on the Walking Stick private network. Then Dr. Cyril stood on the Ranger’s left side, Sr. Nemesis stood on his right, and together they led their entou­rage out of the dark cave and into the daylight.

Edgar the Walking Stick pointed down the hill and said to the Ranger, “I found you in that arroyo down there, the narrow one on the left, hidden under a thicket of mock mesquite. I don’t know how you managed to drag yourself to safety in that arroyo. Humans aren’t built to survive such terrible injuries.” Edgar seemed genuinely sympathetic, although the humans could no more read emotion on his nonhuman face than they could tell which way Caleb Anderson’s lopsided gaze was turned.

Mary Margaret’s brows were knitted with concern, but she didn’t speak her feelings. Perhaps it was because she didn’t want to reveal the tender heart she hid beneath her soldierly stolidness. “You told us you didn’t recognize the gunship’s configuration,” she said to the Ranger, “but did you see any identifying insignia or markings on its wings or fuselage?”

“No,” the Ranger said, reiterating his testimony with downcast, masked eyes. Sr. Nemesis wasn’t surprised by his answer; she had only hoped he might recall a useful clue. But then she was surprised when his eyes became full moons and he shouted, “No!”

“I’m sorry,” Sr. Nemesis began, “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wondered if now you remember…”

“No!” the Ranger shouted again, his voice bursting with horror and disbelief. “I must be seeing things!” Then he pointed over Sr. Mary Margaret’s shoulder and said, “The gunship looked like… that!”

Everyone turned around abruptly and saw in the distance a spaceplane with bent wings like an attacking bird of prey. It appeared out of nowhere in sharp relief against the sky, with its nose cone and weapons pods bristling with cannons. Then the craft screamed like an eagle and dived down on them.

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