Heibai and Huckleberry

By Vincent L. Cleaver

Smashwords Edition, Copyright 2012

The world was a near twin of earth. Near enough that people, men and women, and later children, could thrive. They shared it with the native life, plus horses rabbits, cats, dogs, even rats, and all the other things of Man.

The debris field that orbited this world was more than fifty years old. Only the height of its original orbit had kept it from falling years before. Orbital mechanics and the expanded high atmosphere of a solar maximum worked to bring it lower and lower. The great remaining bulk of the starship wreck would persist for a little while yet, but a piece of spinning hull plate, with ‘USAFV Corpus Christi’ in bold white letters, had begun its final orbit. It tumbled lower still and turned to surf the thickening atmosphere as it was finally cast from the heavens.

The hull plate was tough, and held together a long time, skipping twice as it dipped into the thicker layers of atmosphere. Its fiery journey took it halfway around the world, approaching a land mass in the middle latitudes, flashing across the width of it in tens of seconds, as it skipped one last time. It passed over deserts and grasslands, several tired old mountain ranges, and arced towards the ocean again, almost making it. It finally broke apart in an impressive shower of other-worldly sparks, several miles northwest of the major human settlement, known in the most common local language as ‘By-The-Sea.’ Shanghai.

Ma Hei Bai looked up at the light show, as did others at the wedding reception. The guests were taking in a show of daring and gunplay, as the cowboys from the North River Valley and Bei Cheng, North Settlement, demonstrated their skill for the wedding guests. Men from the Clinkenbeard and Wallace outfits were reenacting a deadly little set-piece that had fortunately not lead to yet another range war between the CB and Bar-W brands. The respective Cattle Barons had instead pooled their resources and secured a line of credit with the merchants and factors of the House of Ma. Goods from By-The-Sea had helped to set up a new spread in the snowy foothills of the Tien Shan, Heavenly Mountains, on the northwest bank of the North River, away from the more settled, and contentious, southeast.

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