The Lonely Parent

tl;dr – I miss my son.

My son is twenty-one in February next year and that’s given me time to reflect on the last couple of years of parenting. The short version is that since he turned eighteen, it’s been the hardest years of my life as a mother. Because it’s all about the letting go. And that’s exceptionally difficult when you love someone as much as your child. Is it too over-dramatic to say that what I’m going through is a kind of grief process?

I don’t think it is. It’s what it feels like.

From the start, he was more than just my son. He was a fascinating, funny and sweet person in his own right from day one. We are friends as much as relatives. All these years, and we have never had any problem relating to one another, or talking to one another, or showing affection, or saying ‘I love you’. I am proud of the relationship we developed over the years. I am proud of the young man he’s become. I am proud of the messages I get from people complimenting him and saying what a nice person he is.

I love him every bit as much now as I did the day he showed up two months early and threw my world into chaos – and extremely sharp relief. I had never had anything to do with babies. I wasn’t remotely maternal. But here was this little life, hanging by a thread the day he was born, only to turn around, stick two metaphorical fingers up at the universe and make an exceptional recovery.

I remember looking at him, this little bundle in an incubator, made extremely pink by the additional oxygen he was getting, and with a covering of downy fuzz like he was a little peach. I remember looking at him – and bear in mind that I didn’t actually see him until a good 12 hours after he was born – and thinking ‘what do I actually do with this person now he’s here?’

I remember, when he was about six months old, failing to remember my life without him in it.

I remember, when he started secondary school, that he was moving further outside my circle of influence and I remember how I was scared of that.

My life has been irrevocably altered by his presence in it. How can it not be? I put my life on hold for eighteen years and the focus of everything became him. From those early, long-forgotten sleepless nights where I watched more news programmes than before or since through to the tears the day I left him at university, everything has been about him. And now I feel like part of me has been cut away, leaving this groping, seeking tendril that has nothing to hold onto.

How do you do it? How do you let go? How do you perform the act of separation and make it clean and painless, or is it always going to hurt? When he doesn’t get in touch for several days and you try to ignore it, or when he’s feeling poorly, or has an injury that might require surgery, how do you take that step back and acknowledge that he’s a grown-up? That he has to deal with life on his own terms? How do you weigh independence against thoughtlessness? Should you even try?

Me and his dad, plus his step-parents on both sides, have done a great job of equipping him to live in the real world and that’s a good thing. But the price you pay for raising a successful individual to adulthood, without them having exploded or caught fire in the interim is a high one.

Perhaps it gets easier, but right now, I find that every day is hard. Every day I miss him. Even writing this, the ache of separation is making me tear up.

One day, he was there. The next day, he wasn’t. But there’s an echo of him everywhere.

We have children because we want continuation, a perpetuation of our species and perhaps even of ourselves. I see in him a lot of my own traits (not all of which are good!) and I have felt honoured to share in the shaping of him as a person. But you don’t think about it at the time. You don’t think about the fact that one day, they don’t actually need you any more. Oh, they don’t stop loving you, of that I’m sure, but they survive from day to day without you always there.

These last three years have been immensely stressful. Between him going off to university, my husband’s complicated surgical situation and even losing a beloved pet, I’ve been shouldering a lot. Everyone tells me that I should now take a step back and concentrate on myself. Trust me, that’s easier said than done.

Because I’ve forgotten who that person is.

There is so much guidance and advice available to people when they have children. There should be more guidance available to parents who have to let go.

Being a parent is the most wonderful of things. It’s also one of the toughest.


I have a nark. This is my blog, so I’m going to vent it here.

Games, games, games.

When I was at school, (which was a very long time ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the land), one of my classmates threw a proper hissy fit because he didn’t win at a game of rounders. My then-teacher, the erstwhile Mr. Hodgkinson, told him to go back indoors and to look up the definition of the work ‘game’ in a dictionary. Let’s do that now, from the comfort of our own chairs, shall we?

Game [geym]


An amusement or pastime.

Key word there: ‘amusement’. A game is supposed to be fun.Boy-at-school was embarrassed by being called out and indulged a little more in the team spirit going forward. But, as I say, that was a long time ago, back in the days when ‘game’ was clearly more easily understood. Now, we seem to have entered a time where this definition has lost its meaning.

So, context. I like and enjoy video games, but I’m not a die-hard. I enjoy MMORPGs, I enjoy problem-solving. I like puzzles and strategies and what-not. I’m a mediocre video gamer at best, although I am more than competent in most cases. Games that have more than two sub-menus frustrate me and fail to hold my attention span for very long. (This is not a reflection on the quality of the game, just a commentary on my short attention span).

Anything that requires mechanical skill is a challenge. On PC, I’m OK with games like WoW or SW:TOR, where I just push buttons and don’t really have to coordinate. If I am in a situation where I have to move and shoot at the same time using keyboard and mouse, I literally fall over myself. On a scale of repeatedly falling off a cliff to balancing on the narrow side of the primary school balance beams, I’m a 2.

On console, I walk the average line. I can coordinate a lot better, though. (Although there was still that time when playing Destiny when I was in a PvP game, was startled by another player and flailed at the controller before I turned around, punching him off the edge of Venus).

But here’s the point. I have fun doing it. But there are a few things that have been conspiring for a while to make me have a lot less fun.

1) Hackers.
2) Gamer entitlement.
3) Toxicity.

Let’s start with hackers. The delightful Mr. Stylosa put up a YouTube video yesterday about the problems in Apex: Legends with those people who can’t actually be bothered to play a game for fun and just want to win. Aimbots, wall hacks… just so they can say ‘look at how good I am!’ But they’re not good. They’re cheating. And they think that’s totally OK. 

What a strange world it has become where people are firmly of the opinion that cheating for the soul benefit of ruining other people’s game is totally OK. It annoys me in a way I can’t quite express. It calls back to that long-ago game of rounders and that guy being told to go and look up the word in the dictionary. 

You get nothing tangible for winning in Apex: Legends. There’s not some sort of cash prize or prestige that goes with it. All you get is a player banner with impressive stats that largely make my other half shout things like ‘get a job’ at the TV screen. By not actually playing the game properly and effectively just being a lazy fucker, you impress nobody but yourself. You should maybe see a therapist about that lack of self-confidence.


Apex: Legends is a fun game, but it doesn’t really float my boat in the same way that other games do. I am certain that once more content comes in, and perhaps some sort of skill ranking system, I might engage with it more enthusiastically. I play on console, so the risk of hackers is minimal compared to that on PC. So let’s talk about Overwatch. Which I do a lot, I know, but that’s because I like it.

Overwatch was the first real FPS I played and I didn’t think I’d like it anywhere near as much as I do. I’ve played it pretty much since launch, although never seriously (I only wandered into competitive play in about season six, I think). I’m firmly in mid to high gold level, along with the bulk of players, so am decidedly average. But I have fun playing it. I like that Blizzard provide regular updates. I like that Blizzard provide regular character buffs and nerfs. I like we get the animated shorts, the lore teasers, the new characters, the new maps. I like Overwatch’s art style and the engagement of the developers with the community.

Ah, yes. The community. A word that conjures the concept of a group of like-minded individuals who all work together for the same goal and who ultimately have the interests of one another at mind. The Overwatch community.

A community that turns round every five feet, complaining incessantly that the game isn’t being updated regularly enough. That each change to a character ‘breaks the game’. That the character they prefer to play doesn’t get buffed in the way they want it to be. LOL people still play this game? That they are stuck in the rank they’re in because of everyone else, can’t possibly be them, their other account is Grand Masters don’t you know?

Seriously. Cry me a river, build a bridge and get the fuck over it. Why can you not just play the game and adapt with its changes? At least in that regard it’s certainly not a static game. It’s a very different game now to the way it was when it was released. For some people, that’s a cool thing. It means you have to learn new strategies, try new combinations of characters. But for the vocal set, it means that the characters and strategies they’ve perfected have been unbalanced. They don’t seem to think ‘cool, I get to learn something new’, they just complain.

Then they complain some more.

Then they negatively post on every single one of Overwatch’ssocial media streams.

“Hey, everyone,” says the stream. “Check out Baptiste, our new character!” He’s been designed, says the subtext, to add a new level to the game. His skillset is designed to work with some things, to work against others, but we’ll leave that for you to work out. “Look at the way he fits into the lore, look at the way he fits in with the other characters!”



And so on.

I have my own gripes about certain characters in the game (Bastion, f’rex, can totally get in the sea. But the fact I’m rubbish at countering him is my issue, not the game’s. This, perhaps, is the difference between me and others).

The other issue in Overwatch is that of people who play using the dreaded keyboard and mouse. For them, it provides an advantage similar to the aimbot/wall hacks I previously mentioned in Apex: Legends. For me, it’d just add a whole new level of complexity that would produce comical swear combos. But you can tell. When a Widowmaker or Hanzo get repeated critical hits and you watch back in the Play of the Game feed, and you see that snap to target, you know. And it’s annoying.

Overwatch has come in for a lot of stick lately because it seems to be felt that the changes to the characters have been designed specifically with the pro-level players in mind. But for me, that’s fine. I’m happy re-learning my characters and if they don’t feel to be a good fit any more, I’ll change onto another. 

Which of course brings me to toxicity. I will usually mic up in Overwatch competitive, just to listen for call outs and to make call outs when I’m playing relevant characters. But I’ve given up engaging in any sort of conversation for a variety of reasons, the most fun one of which was the toxic little shit on Lunar Colony.

I took a support character (because nobody else did) and he proceeded to mansplain everything to me. Told me how to play a character I’m perfectly capable with, then threw in the kicker.

“You sound like you’re in your thirties, soooo…” The sentence tailed off and he snickered at me like he was my superior.

As it happens, I’m not in my thirties. I’m older than that. And it fucked me right off. For the love of all that’s good and holy, you little shit, I was killing Space Invaders before I hit double figures. Why wouldn’t someone my age be playing a video game? You don’t threaten me you little toerag. My mortgage scares me more than you do.

And because of that, this was one of the rare occasions where I did have an immediate response and it worked. It shut him up because all his friends laughed at him. He spent the rest of the game being meek and deferential, but it still annoyed me. It extracted the ultimate in cursing from me.

“You sound like you’re in your thirties, soooo…”

“And you sound like a c**t, what’s your point?”

As it goes, I’m lucky that it’s the worst I’ve experienced in Overwatch. I’ve seen screenshots of messages sent by ridiculously vile people, that are far worse and I’m glad I’ve never experienced that in the game (although I have certainly experienced it due to having the wrong chromosomes in a male-dominated fandom where I have written novels). 

As a contrast, I was in a game where I (as Sombra) and the enemy team’s Sombra were quite literally running round and round the payload on Eichenwalde like we were in some sort of cartoon. After the game was over, I got a message from the enemy team player saying how hard they’d laughed and to thank me for cheering up their night. I felt the same and it was nice.

That, right there, is what a community should be. Not whining and moaning, but enjoying the fun of a shared experience.

Am I ranting? I’m ranting. I’ll stop. Let’s summarise with this:-

1) Hackers – stop cheating. It’s bollocks, impresses nobody and just gives you an over-inflated sense of ego. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
2) Gamer entitlement. By repeatedly biting the hand that feeds you, the hand will eventually stop. So stop complaining and embrace change rather than be endlessly whiny about it.
3) Toxicity. Oh-so-simple. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

Vent over. Please go about your business.

The Drifter and the Jawa [Star Wars]


The day had dawned with such promise. When Daro had woken, he’d done so with the sheer luxury of that experience being enjoyed in an actual bed, with sheets and everything. It had been some days since he’d slept anywhere since in the alleyway behind the cantina, that the joy of a scutty little bunk in the docker’s room at the spaceport had filled him with joy.

Being well over six feet in height had meant that his feet hung over the end, but it was still infinitely preferable to sleeping on the floor.

A day spent lugging boxes on and off ships that came and went had yielded little progress in his hunt for a job to get off this bloody planet, but it had put a few credits in his pocket, and given him a bed for the night. So when he had woken up, he had done so feeling refreshed and glad to be alive. Being alive was always a positive start to the day.

He queued for a while to use the shared bathroom, which was a grubby affair, but it was a simple delight to emerge feeling clean and fresh. His clothes were in need of a good wash, which didn’t help with his current odour situation, but these things would come. It was easy enough to locate cheap used clothes that were serviceable enough. Not for Daro Keers the luxury of opening a wardrobe and choosing his outfit. No, his options were definitely more limited. It was more a case of buying a new shirt when the current one literally fell off him.

He glanced down. That day was imminent.

He studied his reflection in the cracked distorted mirror, then elected to look away again. he was most certainly not at his best: too many days of poor sleep and a Distinct Lack of Razor had left him looking like the worst kind of space bum imaginable.

He returned to the bunk room and gathered his pathetically small pack of belongings together. He cheered up by repeating the mantra he’d been living by over and over in his head.

Travel light, travel fast, travel far.

If that was true, suggested his mutinous inner self, you’d be the other side of the galaxy by now.

He hated that guy.

Shouldering his pack, Daro headed out of the digs and back to the space port offices. He’d offer up his services for a second day, although they rarely gave casual work out for more than a day at a time. He joined the queue of hopefuls and just like the several dozen people and aliens ahead of him, was turned away without work. No work, no money, no food and back to sleeping in the alleyway.

For a long moment, he sank out of his usual optimism hitting a quagmire of self-pity and misery. But Daro’s nature was not the sort to allow him to wallow there for long and with a mental slurp, he extracted himself from the swamp of depression.

“Today,” he said aloud, “my luck is going to change.” He was right, he knew it.

And yes… he was right in that regard, but whether that change in luck could be considered good or bad was subjective. Because that day turned out to be the day that Daro Keers, space drifter, met Glix the jawa.

The day had worn on, as these things are wont to do, and Daro had moved with increasing despondence throughout. He amused himself for a little while with a stint of people-watching in the space port and even contemplated the feasibility of stowing away on board a cargo ship. Once he realised that said ship was populated with Rodians who sounded collectively pissed at the cosmos, he changed his mind. It was too much like hard work having to deal with angry people.

He headed out into the heat of the afternoon and decided to trek a little further afield than the space port. He made sure he took water – which was expensive and ate into his credits without so much as a by-your-leave – and, tugging his hood up over his head, made his way out into Tatooine proper.

He considered the sights of the Jundland Wastes, the lonely expanse of… golden sands and endless, cloudless blue skies punctuated at odd intervals by the desiccated skeletons of creatures long dehydrated. He studied them thoughtfully. Some were recognisable as human, others not so much so. Apparently, an overly-enthusiastic trader back at the space port had told him, if he headed even further out, into what was known locally as the ‘Infinite Desiccation’, he could see the apparent ‘tourist attraction’ of a krayt dragon skeleton. (He’d come to realise that here, on Tatooine, a ‘tourist attraction’ was something that was visited more than once by more than two people. His hopes weren’t high).

Mentally, he weighed up the pros and cons. Then he declined. No thanks

He continued on his way. The guide he’d flicked through back at the space port had promised him that he would encounter splendour unlike anything he’d ever known.

Well, if sand is your thing…

He trudged onward, heading towards the outpost where he would try to get a room as cheaply as possible for the night. Failing that, he’d find himself a comfortable few feet of space behind a building, dig in and stay there. The temperature always dropped to killer cold levels at night, but he’d mastered the art of imbibing just enough spirits to keep the chill from his bones, and trapping as much heat as possible in a small space.

About twenty minutes further in, he was distracted by a noise nearby. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he suspected the noise sounded like a jawa in distress. He didn’t have that many frames of reference for the infernal squawking coming from a short distance to the east, but the occasional utini! was a bit of a giveaway.

He hesitated. Thus far, his encounters with jawas hadn’t been entirely peaceable, but that definitely sounded like someone who needed help.

Daro considered his options. It was a short list.

Go investigate. Help if possible. If I can: win. If I can’t, at least I tried.

Ignore the noise. Ignore the sounds of a creature in terrible distress. Keep walking. Go. Go. Go!

Like that was ever going to happen.

He adjusted course, heading for the noise, all the while regretting his own inability to avoid helping those in need.

For Glix the jawa, today was not a good day.

He was young, as jawas measured these things, and he was curious. That by itself was no cause for alarm: many young jawas were curious and many young jawas ventured out by themselves into the Jundland Wastes to see what fortunes they could find. Tales abounded of a hero in jawa history, known to all in the words of legend as the Great Utini. The Great Utini, it was said, had been able to find salvage anywhere on Tattooine. The Youth of Today aspired to be like the Great Utini.

Glix was not like the Great Utini. He was realising this. Glix, Glix realised, was a fool. Glix had been curious enough to wriggle in through a small hole in a rock face, his small mind filled with dreams of glory. There could be anything behind that hole. There could be salvage. There could be credits. There could even be food, one of those things that young jawas cherished above all other things.

(It should be noted at this point that traditionally, jawas did not have long, deep, philosophical thoughts. Glix was no exception to the rule, although his peers considered him far too deep and thoughtful).

So, his mind filled with thrilling thoughts of salvage, credits and/or food, Glix wriggled deeper into the hole.

What Glix found was a womp-rat nest, with a nesting mother protecting a litter of about twenty ratlings.

What the womp-rat mother found was a curious little jawa dropping several feet on top of her nest and squashing a large proportion of her ratling family. Glix, a little stunned by the unexpected fall, got to his feet and staggered slightly, rubbing his head and muttering to himself about his dire misfortune. It transpired that it was a dire misfortune that was made somewhat worse when the womp-rat mother, distraught at the squashing of a handful of her offspring decided she would turn Glix into lunch.

She attacked.

Glix screamed.

And somewhere, not so very far away, Daro Keers heard the commotion and was coming along to see what could be done.

Nothing could go wrong.


Daro had encountered womp-rats before. He’d come to understand a number of important things about them. One was that ‘omnivorous’ meant that the little bastards would attack anything with a face. The second was that around two metres in size was surprisingly huge when you came directly into contact with it.

An old-timer in the cantina back at the space port had wheezed a tale one night, after application of a good quantity of alcoholic lubrication, about how a pack of womp-rats could bring down a bantha if they worked together and Daro didn’t doubt the veracity of the claim. His own encounters with the rodents had been kept to a sort of ‘who will back away first’ face-off style of meeting. He’d blasted one out of his way a few nights ago and that was when he’d made his third discovery about womp-rats.

They tasted like shavit.

So it came as no surprise as he approached the noise that had caught his attention, that the screeching sound of the jawa was being underpinned by the vocal chittering of an angry womp-rat. The noise, Daro determined, was coming from the other side of a low wall.

(It is important to maintain perspective here. Daro, our illustrious hero, is six feet four inches in height. At full stretch, Glix the jawa barely reaches his kneecap. A low wall to Daro was a rock face to little Glix).

Daro peered over the top and took in the scene before him. An angry womp-rat was savaging the bottom of a jawa’s robe, whilst said jawa was attempting to prod the womp-rat in the face with a shock-stick. The stand-off would have been funny if it hadn’t been for the infernal racket.

The altercation continued in this way for a while as Daro assessed the practical options. Eventually, he realised, there was only one. He unholstered his blaster and levelled it at the womp-rat, which backed off a little on spying the newcomer. It transpired that this small shuffle of the back paws would be the tiny motion that saved the womp-rat’s life, because as it moved, one of the previously squashed ratlings moved slightly and let out a sad little ‘mew’.


Pitiful, plaintive, tragic.


The noise would have softened the hardest of hearts. The mother womp-rat turned her attention instantly to the bedraggled baby and let go of the jawa’s robe. Leaning over the wall and going to full stretch, Daro caught the jawa by the hood and yanked it free of the nest, back over the wall and dumped it unceremoniously on the sand, where it lay, stunned for a few moments, before scrambling to its feet.

What occurred at this point can now only be be relayed through the medium of the written word. It is important to note the following two facts, however.

1) Daro Keers speaks no Jawa-ese.
2) Glix the Jawa speaks only Jawa-ese.

Sitting comfortably?


In order to best convey the discussion that took place, one has to make an assumption as to the style of the jawa spoken language, as heard by one another. Just as, for example, the humble Ugnaught’s grunts and squeaks translate into a flowing, archaic language, so does that of the jawa.

“So,” said Daro, studying the little creature in front of him. There were many things he could say. He could ask the jawa if it was alright. He could ask what it had been up to, but he knew that it would be pointless. All he’d get back would be ‘utini’.

“Utini!” said Glix. “Glix!”

Those two words conveyed the following.

“My giant friend! You have saved me from the accursed terrors of the womp-rat’s teeth! I am a young jawa, but handsome, and had it mauled me, my looks would have been stolen from me and my parents, poor, alas, would have been unable to marry me off. We would have all ended up in squalor and horror. But you have saved me! I pledge to serve you in order to repay this life debt. My name is Glix!”

As he said the last, the jawa pointed to himself. Daro understood that bit at least.

“Oh, Glix? Right. Daro. Daro Keers.”


“Daro Daro Keers, you are a beacon of hope in a dark world. Let us travel together now to the outpost, where you can buy me a drink to help me recover from my ordeal… ah! You are walking away! Let me follow you!”

And so on.

* * *

A day had passed since Daro and Glix had become inseparable companions and heroic adventuring buddies. Well, that’s how Glix saw it. How Daro viewed the situation was slightly different.

“Is he still there?” The whispered voice belonged to Daro Keers and the girl to whom he whispered it had been his companion the previous night. It had taken everything in his power to firmly deposit Glix outside the girl’s door. Had the jawa had his own way, he’d have sat on the end of the bed and jabbered endlessly throughout the entire…


…and even Daro Keers had limits. He’d tolerated the jawa’s cheerful presence for a full day, realising quite quickly that the little creature had bonded itself to him – presumably as an act of gratitude for rescuing him from the Great Womp-Rat Massacre of the year. He’d been amused, then annoyed, then irritated and finally resigned to the fact that until he found some way to communicate with Glix, the little alien would be his shadow indefinitely.

“I don’t know. Look out the door.”

“No. You do it.”

“And if he’s there?” The girl, whose name was Mari, propped herself up on one elbow and tipped her head quizzically at her bed partner. “Then what?”

“I don’t know!” A slight hint of panic crept into Daro’s voice and the volume raised involuntarily. “Tell him I left out the back door or something!”

Mari laughed, leaning over to kiss the end of Daro’s nose fondly. He’d not expected to find a girl like her here. She, like him, was from Corellia, and was a few years older. She’d known his family. She’d known his older brother. The vague connection had drawn them together over a bottle of wine, and for a while, he’d enjoyed the warm sense of recollection and memory.

They’d slept together, but sleeping hadn’t really been much of a thing. Now that morning had arrived, though, the anxiety about the presence of the jawa flooded back into his system, metaphorically elbowing the sense of well-being out of the way.

“Fine,” Mari said eventually, wrinkling her nose at him. “But only because you’re cute when you’re anxious.”

“I’m not anxious,” Daro protested. Anxiously.

Mari got out of the bed without any hint of self-consciousness and for a few moments, Daro forgot his troubles, admiring her naked curves as she crossed the room to the door. She tapped the lock and it slid open. She stood there, in her entirely naked glory, everything on display for the entirety of the outpost to view should they so choose.

But the corridor outside was empty.

The door closed again with a quiet swish and she turned back to him. “No jawa,” she announced and Daro heaved a sigh of relief that started somewhere at his toes and spread the warmth of joy through his veins. Mari smiled at him, then bent down to pick up their clothes, discarded where he’d left them.

Except they weren’t there.

An entertaining panic ensued as the pair, naked as the day they’d been born scrabbled around the room attempting to find their clothing. Eventually, they ran out of places to look.

There was a scraping sound outside in the corridor, and then a clattering. Then, the buzzer went. Mari blushed furiously, her easy exposure of a few moments ago completely gone, and snatched the only sheet from Daro’s body to wrap around herself. She opened the door.

There, standing, on a chair, with folded, neatly pressed clothes on the floor next to him was Glix.


Ah, Daro Daro Keers and female companion! I trust you had a most excellent night’s sleep? Although I’m sure you did more than sleep, am I right? Hahaha, of course I am. Anyway, I took the liberty of your being busy to sneak in whilst you did sleep and collect your clothing. It’s all been laundered. I do hope you don’t mind my method of folding, the jawa elders are always so particular about how well seams should be creased…

An awkward silence ensued and Glix scrambled down off the chair he’d used to reach the buzzer, lifting up the pile of clothes and offering them up to Mari. She stared at him, then looked at Daro.

“What the hell did he just say?”

Utini, thought Daro, in despair. What did it even sound like?

“I think he did our laundry,” he managed weakly.

“You mean he broke into my room, stole our clothes and then… washed them?”

“…yes?” The word rose in a rising, tremulous tone.

“That,” she said, taking the neatly pressed clothes from the jawa and throwing Daro’s at him, “is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Daro could only smile weakly and get dressed.

* * *

Three days.

For three days, Daro had found himself accompanied everywhere by the eager jawa. And by ‘everywhere’, he meant everywhere. He’d even found the jawa standing beside him as he’d stood in the back room of the cantina emptying his bladder. That had been unnerving and it was at about that time that Daro realised a couple of important things.

Firstly, he needed to draw lines in the sand. Not that there was any other kind of ground to draw lines in around here, but still. The analogy served. Boundaries, he had come to realise, were important. But this meant, of course, somehow getting through to the jawa. He could hire the services of one of the translator droids that served the space port, but their owners generally charged an arm and a leg. He’d sat, earnestly attempting to communicate with Glix, but they never got beyond ‘utini’.

Glix had attached himself to Daro Keers like a little brown-clad shadow with disconcerting yellow eyes. Everywhere Daro went, Glix went as well. As a result, Mari had informed him that morning that she no longer appreciated Daro’s company in her bed, because nobody – and she meant nobody needed the horror of opening their closet to dress in the morning and having a jawa fall out from its hiding place and land on top of them.

Still, it was probably for the best. He had been spending too much time with Mari. For Daro Keers, three nights of unashamed passion was steering dangerously close to the ‘this is long term’ and it was time to extract himself. This had been a little different, of course, because he’d actually liked Mari.

Easy going to a fault, Daro shrugged off this latest romantic rejection with ease and considered what he needed to do in order to get through to the little creature who was even now trotting along happily by his new friend’s side.

And then it came to him in a flash of inspiration. Alright, perhaps not a flash; Daro’s brain cells didn’t exactly fire that fast, but it was certainly a much brighter thought than usual. He needed someone who could help him crack the programming of a translator droid and get it to work for free.


His younger brother, although only fifteen years of age, had demonstrated a startling and uncanny ability to work with droids. He could understand the ‘gonks’ of the family’s power droid with apparent ease and had seemed very surprised that nobody else in the family did. He had built several small droids from scratch and their uses ranged from automating certain chores that the boy hated – such as washing the dishes – right through to half a dozen spy-bot droids that were so tiny they could skitter up and down walls like little electronic spiders. The uses for those were endless, and if the Empire ever got their hand son such technology, the stars above knew what could ensue. But Gileas – being a fifteen year old boy, and a Keers boy to boot – mostly used it for spying on the girl he rather liked in the apartment down the hallway.

Daro found himself a shaded corner of the outpost, beneath an arching canopy that protected him from the worst of the sun and pulled out his personal communicator. He didn’t have enough credits to send a holoproject message, but he put together a message to his brother that would arrive in text format.

He hated doing those. He felt so self-conscious talking to himself as the device recorded his words and converted them into the written word.

Hey, kid, hope you and the aged P’s are doing OK. I’m on Tattooine. It’s a dump, kid, seriously. Don’t let anybody ever tell you adventuring around the universe is glamorous, because it’s not. Listen, I need your advice. There’s this jawa. His name is Glix and well, I can’t get rid of him. And I can’t ask him what he wants, or needs, because all he ever says is ‘utini’. I wonder if you can help me get some sort of sense out of him? There’s translator droids here, but they’re programmed to work for credits and… yeah, you know that one. Situation normal. Look, I know it’s a long shot, Gil, but if you’ve got any ideas on how I can tap into the translation subroutines… I’d appreciate any lines you could throw my way.

He hesitated, his finger over the ‘send’ button.

No. This needs to be done.


He glanced down at the jawa, who was sitting on the floor not too far from him, its brown robe like a mucky puddle around its form. “Well, Glix,” he said, “hopefully that’ll get us some way of at least establishing boundaries.”


Ah, Daro Daro Keers, your mood seems oddly melancholy on this, the third chikda of the solar cycle. Would that you could only understand my language, I could offer you words of comfort or advice. It saddens my jawa heart to see you so unhappy. Perhaps it is a gentle pat on the arm that you need from me… ah, no, I can tell by the way you snatched your lanky limb away that perhaps the hands-on approach isn’t best. How about I simply sit here? Yes? Yes, that seems to please you. Perhaps you can find a way to communicate with me, because frankly, your lack of ability to speak jawa is making me a little sad. I want us to be friends. I owe you a life debt, remember? And I will not leave your side until you tell me that debt is repaid. But it would be good to be friends, no?


Daro sighed. “Yes,” he said. “Utini.”

Gileas’s reply came sooner than Daro had expected and it warmed his soul to receive the notification that his younger brother had sent him a holo-message. He had been in the spaceport at the time that the alert had beeped quietly in his pocket, lugging boxes – which seemed to be his mainstay these days. He wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, but he kept working. He’d learned very quickly that casual labourers were given the boot pretty fast if they kept taking breaks. Whatever Gil had to tell him could wait a little longer.

Glix trotted back and forth beside Daro, occasionally chattering away in his odd language and from time to time, Daro nodded in an understanding kind of way, because it was what he felt was expected of him. It seemed enough to keep the jawa content and everything was just fine.

The dockers at Mos Eisley worked damned hard and Daro, for all his tendency to become distracted, was no exception to the rule. He sweated out the previous night’s alcohol fairly swiftly and by the time that the workers were allowed to take a break, he was exhausted from a combination of back-breaking effort and dehydration. He ran his hand down his jawline, feeling the stubble beneath his fingers and letting his eyes flicker to the cantina. Just one Rodian ale couldn’t hurt, right?

If he told himself that enough, he’d start to believe it.

Then he remembered that he had a message from his kid brother and it became much, much more important to deal with that.

Outside of the spaceport, the hustle and bustle was magnified. An Imperial ship was in dry dock at the moment, and the Empire’s increased presence was felt in a variety of ways, not least of which was the increase in the number of white armour-clad Stormtroopers patrolling the area. Glix pointed to one and tugged at Daro’s coat.


I say, Daro Daro Keers. Don’t you think that the sudden appearance of all these frightful armoured oiks is pushing on an infringement of our civil liberties? Mos Eisley has its own militia, we don’t need their sort around here. I think it’s quite shocking, personally. They don’t even acknowledge my people as existing. Speaking of which, that’s my Uncle Nyn. I’ll just pop over and have a bit of a chat. Will you be alright on your own? Of course you will, you’re strong and tough. Now don’t be shy about it, I saw you lugging those boxes. I’ll be back shortly.

…and off he trotted.

Daro watched the jawa move away, his attention caught by a strange kind of grim horror, before shaking himself free of the thought. He wove his way through the crowds, brushing shoulders with more than one of the Stormtroopers, all of whom made him feel guilty for the heinous crime of simply existing. So many people meant that the streets were dustier than usual, all of those tramping feet kicking the sand up in a perpetual haze that caught in the back of the throat. His abject dislike of the planet was growing increasingly strong by the day, and as he turned to head down one of the quieter alleyways and the welcome shade of a canopy, he vowed, for the sixteenth hundred time that day alone, that he was going to get the hell off this planet.

He slid down, his back against the rough stone of a domicile, and settled onto the ground before taking his communicator out of his coat pocket and flicking it open. He keyed in the clearance code and a blue haze shimmered up from its surface. It wavered for a moment (his communicator was not exactly top of the range), and then held in the form of a tall, lanky teenage boy smiling at him.

Hey, big brother! I’m glad you’re alright. Well, as alright as ever you are. Thanks for the message. Tattooine doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of place where anything interesting is ever likely to happen. Things here are… well, they’re pretty much the same, really. The parents are fine – they said to say hello and to remind you that you promised to come visit. Six months ago, Daro. You’re useless, you know that?

It was nothing but affection. Daro and Gileas were extraordinarily close. Daro had been a thirteen year old, sullen teenager when his brother had been born and he’d vowed to make the kid’s life a misery. He’d failed to bank on the fact that Gileas was born with the sort of sunny personality that could only end in winning over those close to him. He was smart, he was funny, he was…

…he was going to end up in a whole world of trouble if Daro didn’t address the Issue at some point…

…he was talking again.

I’m sending you a set of files in a separate transmission. If you can offload those onto a slicer stick, you should be able to access any of the core modules of the translator droids. Gileas paused, then grinned – a grin that was startlingly like Daro’s own – that means, save this stuff onto a data stick and you can plug it into a translator droid. It’ll assume you’re its owner and it’ll do whatever you ask of it. I hope it helps. Failing that, I’ve also done a bit of work in trying to translate some jawa-ese for you. There’s a list in another file.

Gileas shook his head and turned to look to the side. Dad’s coming. I have to go. You take care of yourself, alright? And for the love of all that’s good and holy, get in touch with the parents. Bye, Daro.

The holo-image remained steady for a second or two longer and then Gileas faded from existence. Daro closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. He was… so far from his brother. Stuck here, on this planet, without any sort of chance of getting home any time soon…

He let his thoughts linger in the mire of doubt for a while before he sighed again and picked up the other two messages. One was a list of commonly used words and phrases used in the jawa tongue.

By some fortuitous turn of events, Glix reappeared. Daro had no idea how he knew it was Glix and not some other jawa, but he did. It startled him to realise that over the past few days, he’d actually started to develop a certain fondness for his new companion. He flicked down Gileas’s list of words and tentatively tried one.

“Um… Glix utini?”

Greetings, Glix of the jawa. I would like to buy a gallon of chicken soup.

The jawa stared.

* * *

Two more days passed.

Daro’s foray into the world of jawa vernacular had not gone spectacularly well. Every time he attempted one of the phrases off Gileas’s carefully composed list, Glix would shake his little jawa head and gently correct his giant friend. The conversations went a little like this.

Daro would glance down the list, find what he wanted to say and attempt the right inflection. “Utini,” he would say earnestly. “Utini.”

I am a bantha. Look! Look! The composite is pretty in the artefact!

Glix would shake his head. “Utini!”

Ah, poor Daro Daro Keers. Your continued and concerted efforts to learn my language are deeply appreciated. If only you knew just how entertaining it was. Would that I could convey this to you.

“Um… ut… utini?”

In triplicate, the colour orange is frowned upon most dismissively.

Somehow, the two managed to muddle along.

It had taken a couple of days for Daro to find himself the piece of slicer’s kit that he needed in order to transfer protocol droid command codes from Gileas’s message. It hadn’t come cheaply, either, and as he winced at the cost, he wondered if it had all been worth it, just to have a proper conversation with his new friend.

In the event, it transpired that it was worth every penny.

Daro picked his moment carefully. He had been watching the translator droid at work on the docks, passing along messages from one freighter captain to another, bustling back and forth like a shiny errand boy. Eventually, a lull had come and the droid had moved off (politely) in order to remain out of the way until it was needed. Daro approached the automaton cautiously.

“Greetings…” it said as Daro approached. It scanned up and down the man’s scruffy form and seemed to be processing the next word. When it came out, the slight rise in pitch suggested a question rather than a statement. “…human?”

It took all of Daro’s self-control not to trash the thing there and then.

“Good afternoon…” He checked the thing’s tag. “NX-4B. I require use of your services.”

A pause.


“Certainly. My fees are sixty credits for half an hour and… what is that? I do hope, sir, that you aren’t planning to use that in order to hack my systems… oh! My!” The damn thing sounded so distressed that Daro almost changed his mind. Then he cast a sideways look at Glix, who was looking… expressionless. Like he usually was. With grim determination, Daro plugged the slicer stick into the port on the droid’s shoulder. The lights behind its eyes dimmed momentarily, then flickered back into life.

“Good afternoon. NX-4B online and requesting instruction. Please state nature of language translation required.”

“Universal to jawa, jawa to universal.”

“Parameters accepted. Please proceed.”

“So… uh, Glix. Hope this thing actually helps. Look, little buddy, I’m just gonna come right out and say this straight. What is it that you want from me? Because I’m not entirely sure I’ve got anything you could possibly want. I’m broke, pal. Out of readies. So far down on my luck that I’ve hit rock bottom and started digging.” Daro ran his fingers through his messy hair and sighed. “I’m a nobody, Glix.”

There was a long pause, then the droid repeated his words to the jawa who tipped his head on one side and let out a long stream of syllables (periodically punctuated with the obligatory ‘utini’) back at the droid.

“Daro Daro Keers… I want nothing more from you than to simply be your friend and companion. You saved my life. I owe you. And a jawa never breaks a life debt. It is a poor jawa indeed who would abandon a friend.”

Daro stared. Then he determined that it must be particularly dusty that day, because there was a tear in the back of his eye and a lump in his throat. Since he’d packed his bags and left Corellia, he’d never encountered anybody who simply wanted to be his ‘friend’. There had always been ulterior motives.

For the first time in his life, Daro Keers was completely speechless.

“Awaiting response, master.”

“Yeah, yeah. Uh… OK, Glix, here’s the deal. I don’t know what’s going to happen, little buddy. But… if you want to tag along…” Did he mean this next bit? Yes, he realised, yes he did. “You’re welcome.”

The droid burbled his reply. Glix patted Daro’s arm in a friendly sort of way and chattered a response.

“Most excellent news, Daro Daro Keers. Let us be friends. Let us explore new worlds together. Perhaps you can find whatever it is that you need to be happy and perhaps I can be remembered as Glix the Great. For now, my friend, our paths run parallel. Where you go, I will be there….” Daro raised a hand to interrupt the flow of translation.

“About that, Glix. Let’s discuss the matter of… boundaries and personal space…”

The conversation continued for a while in the same vein until they eventually reached something of an agreement. Taking pity on the droid, Daro unplugged the hack chip and it wandered off, looking decidedly confused. Daro gave Glix a grin and putting everything he had into it, convinced he would certainly be right through sheer determination alone, he tried one more time.


In all cases, three Star Destroyers and a womp-rat will converge upon the zenith day. Free! Free the trapped killiks and rejoice forevermore.

Glix just nodded.

it seemed they were now a team.

Their lives slid into something of a rhythm. After the long chat with the aid of the translator droid, Glix began to give Daro a little space every now and again. The jawa was never far away, however, and Daro began to adjust to having Glix’s company. As it appeared he was stuck on Tattooine, at least for the time being, he forced himself to slow down with the drinking and wasting money and to focus on getting as much work as possible to build the credits back up again.

Of course, such resolutions were made to be broken. Daro made it through a day and a half before he was back to his usual habit of working hard and then spending the day’s credits in a single night, usually on booze. Most days he slept outside which was fine by him, and he resumed his illegal practice of breaking and entering in order to take showers.

My life has actually become a cliche, he realised, somewhat morosely.

For his part, Glix seemed happy and content to just scuttle along at Daro’s side, ‘helping’ the man lift the heavy crates that made up the majority of cargo transfer from ship to port and from port to ship. ‘Helping’ in this context largely translated as ‘get under Daro’s feet with startling regularity and nearly trip him up’. But the jawa’s intentions were clearly good ones and the good-natured Daro didn’t have it in him to get irritated or annoyed with his little friend.

His efforts to speak jawa were coming along just fine. He had definitely begun to pick up some of the greater subtleties of what was actually, when you stopped to break it down, was a remarkable complex language. The fact that he still failed to understand what Glix was saying back to him didn’t seem to worry him, though. He had reached the point where he simply chose his own interpretation and it seemed to be working out.

“Keers. Hey, Keers!” The voice belonged to one of the space port supervisors, the man who’d given Daro three days work and had driven his cheap labour so hard that for the first time in months, Daro was genuinely exhausted. “Come here.”


“Ya see anybody else called Keers standing around like a great lump of bantha shavit? Shift your ass over here. Now! I gotta job for you.”

More lifting, no doubt. Perhaps, just to break the monotony, some carrying. Maybe even some lugging as well. Feeling the aches in his bones more than he’d ever done before, Daro headed over to the supervisor a man so monumentally dull that Daro couldn’t even remember his name.

“Yeah, boss?”

“This your jawa?” He pointed to Glix. Daro looked down at the jawa who raised a hooded head upwards.


Daro Daro Keers, you are going to like this news! I have worked hard to convince Albrecht here of your skill and talent and he’s prepared to give you a try! Oh, this is so very exciting!

Glix clapped his hands in childish delight.

“Um… well, he’s kind of his own jawa, but yeah, we’re sort of… travelling together.”

“He’s suggested that you know your way around starship engines. That right?”

Daro blinked. “My background is in designing starship engines. I…”

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t need or want your potted life history. Can you repair engines or can’t you?”

“Well, yes, but I don’t have any tools or…”

“There’s a crate in my office. Should have all you need. Get to it. Docking bay sixty three. Starboard engine needs checking out. You’ve got three hours. Go.”

Daro blinked again and remained where he was.

“Two hours, fifty five seconds.”


You see, Daro Daro Keers? I finally got someone to give you a job worthy of your talents and believe you me, convincing this fine fellow was no easy task. I had to flatter you outrageously, so you’d better make sure you do a good job. And of course, I can help you. Because Glix knows his way around engines too, oh yes.

It was the first truly nice thing that had happened in days and with a grin at the jawa and a nod to the supervisor, Daro headed off to docking bay sixty three and the possible chance of getting himself more credits. All thoughts of that afternoon’s drinking session fled as he immersed himself in the sort of work that he had once loved and enjoyed so much. He missed having a ship to work on. The Nebula hadn’t been much, but she’d been home and he’d spent many happy nights down in the engine room, avoiding the temper of the captain and seeing just what enhancements he could deliver to the ship’s aging engines.

They fell into an easy partnership whilst working. Something in Daro Keers flipped from the airheaded layabout into a fully competent technician when he was working on an engine and Glix picked up on this interesting new… sober aspect of his friend and didn’t get under foot once. Instead, he fetched and carried tools and held things steady and as a consequence, Glix and Daro completed the task half an hour ahead of schedule.

“Good work, Keers. There might be more of that if you’re lucky.” The supervisor nodded his approval and paid Daro for his day’s work, including a handful of additional credits, a small commission from the fee he’d got for himself from the ship’s owner. “You want to thank Glix there. Got yourself a real champion, ain’t you?”

The jawa bounced up and down slightly. “Utini!”

You see, Daro Daro Keers? With your technical expertise and my faultless assistance, we will soon earn enough money to buy our passage off Tattooine. Oh, my dear friend, the big wide universe awaits us! Such adventures we will have!

Daro nodded at the jawa, not understanding a word. Instead, he chose to interpret it the way he wanted.

“You’re right,” he said, clinking the credit chips together in his coat pocket. “This calls for a bottle of best brandy tonight!”

Three hours later, Daro Keers was roaring drunk, sprawled face-down on the cantina table and Glix sat opposite, wondering for the first time if he hadn’t made a terrible, terrible mistake in chancing his future to this man.

He was dying.

There was no other plausible explanation for just how terrible he was feeling. Every time he opened his eyes, the harsh, unrelenting sunlight of Tatooine pounded at the back of his retinas. It wasn’t even a regular rhythm. It wasn’t a gentle ‘thump thump thump. This was an irregular tattoo of THUMPthumpthumpTHUMPTHUMP.

He was dying. Definitely.

On waking Daro followed a certain process. He took a mental stocktake of his body parts, making sure everything was still attached. Limbs, there. Eyes, hurting, but there. Ears, still on the side of his head. His hand absently reached round to the front of his trousers. Yep. Still there. That was something, at least.

So everything was still attached. There was no blood on the ground beneath him. Every muscle in his body was aching. He felt as though he had been wound up so tightly that it was a wonder he hadn’t snapped.

The banging in his head started up again and he moan softly in protest, bringing his arms up to cover his eyes. It did little to help, but he did it anyway.

I. Am. Dying.

He felt, on a supremely bizarre level, exceptionally disappointed. He’d always thought his death would come with a bang, not a whimper. Instead, he was going to waste away, unnoticed in this place.

Where was this place?

Slowly, inch by painstaking inch, he dragged his arms away from his eyes and forced his left eyelid to prise itself upwards. He was… it was hard to make out exactly where he was. Everything was glaringly bright.

Other senses kicked in around this point and after his blurred sight was just starting to focus, his sense of smell turned up with several weeks’ worth of luggage and announced its arrival quite powerfully with a sudden, overwhelming stench of rotting meat and vegetable matter.

Daro felt his stomach react to the arrival of his sense of smell. It bounced around in his torso like a thing possessed and then it cruelly squeezed tightly. He barely had time to catch his breath before he was violently, loudly and comprehensively sick. He vomited repeatedly until there was nothing left to throw up and then he lay back, shaking from a combination of dehydration and horror as the true realisation of his whereabouts permeated his hungover brain.

Apparently, he was in a waste bin.

The first three attempts to clamber out were hindered a little thanks to the smooth sides of the container. By some curious providence, he was able to avoid falling backwards into the veritable ocean of puke that he had generated. On the fourth attempt, he got himself over the edge and then fell the reasonable distance from the bin to the ground.

He landed with a sickening ‘crunch’. He lay there, covered in litter and several half-eaten meals from the cantina that had been thrown out the previous night stunned and startled. After a short time had passed, he began the stock take of his body parts again. Everything was still attached and by some incredible twist of fate, nothing appeared to be broken.

OK, I’m not dying, he grudgingly acknowledged.

He lay on the dusty ground for a while, staring up at the azure blue of the Tatooine day. There was the faintest wisp of cloud set against the endless sapphire welkin and he marvelled at it as though seeing a cloud for the first time in his life. Somewhere, he reasoned, a moisture farmer is getting really excited.

More time passed. The hangover wasn’t getting any better and now it was made worse by the fact that he smelled vile.

Maybe if I just lie here long enough, there’ll be a sandstorm and it’ll cover me up. And all my worries will go away. He considered life as a sand dune for a little longer and then, with a sigh, he realised that he needed to move.

The act of going from lying flat on the ground to all fours took a concerted effort and by the time he managed it, he was exhausted. He must have been going at that brandy hammer and tongs last night to be this broken. Then he became aware of a slight shadow falling across his own. He raised his head slowly. Very slowly. An ambulatory dark brown robe with piercing yellow eyes stood in front of him.

“Oh, hey, Glix.”


Daro waited until the silence became too uncomfortable not to fill.

“I… er… dropped something. I’m looking for it. You want to help me, little buddy?”


I think he hates you, Keers.

I think you might be right.

He’d never known the jawa to be so very silent and it made him feel more than a little uncomfortable. Several more moments passed and he became acutely aware that a sense of extreme disappointment was radiating from the small figure. A spark of rebellion flared in Daro’s gut and he almost… almost told the jawa to leave him alone, that Glix wasn’t his kriffing mother, but he thought better of it.

“Um… utini? You couldn’t give me a hand to get up, could you? I really, really need some water.”

The day is filled with glass lemons. I like pies!

“Utini.” Just that. Just the one word. No emphasis on the end. It was so severe and so cross, that Daro didn’t even pretend that he’d understood it. Because he had. Perfectly.

“I’m… sorry, little buddy.” All Daro’s bravado left him and with extreme caution, he moved from all fours to sit down, cross-legged in the sand. He was more or less at eye level with his jawa companion and that somehow didn’t help one little bit. He had to look away. The sense of disapproval was too strong. “I get it, now. You want me to buy passage off this planet so we can do… our thing. I… just couldn’t help it. I like a good drink. Maybe too much. I know. Don’t look at me like that, OK? I’m sorry.”

This is what it’s come to, Keers. You’re being schooled in how to grow up. By a jawa. Good going.

Gilx hunkered down and peered closely at Daro.


“Yes. I promise. I won’t spend any more of my earnings getting drunk.”


“No, I won’t go back on my word.”

Glix nodded. “Utini.” Then he unclipped the water bottle he wore on the belt across his robe, handing it to Daro. The man took a long pull of life-giving water and sighed heavily. It had taken the friendship of the strangest of little creatures to teach him that he was losing control. It was time, he realised, to stop acting like an idiot and to start getting his shavit together. He gave the water bottle back to Glix, who took it wordlessly.

“Utini?” Daro chanced another one of Gileas’s phrases.

A nexu has eaten my raspberry. Do you know the way to the cantina? A fearful switchblade upon the house of Organa.

Glix reached over with a little gloved hand and tweaked the end of Daro’s nose. It was such a friendly gesture that Daro almost cried. Later, he would blame his tearfulness on the fact that he was so badly hungover, not on the fact that he’d finally found someone to steer him right.

The jawa offered out his hand again and although it was about as much use as nothing at all, Daro took it and got shakily to his feet.

“No more hangovers,” he vowed. “At least, not like this one.”

* * *

Daro’s head was hurting again, but it wasn’t from trying to fight off a hangover. He’d been booze-free for several days now. No, this time, his head was hurting because he was learning.

Both Daro and his older brother, like many of the children on Corellia, had been home-schooled. Kevan had always been the one who understood, who solved complicated maths problems, who wrote the best stories and who even learned to cook the best cake. But Daro always outshone his brother in matters of physical challenges. Daro was the better runner, the better swimmer, the best at climbing trees… and then falling out of said trees and breaking his arm. Daro had been the reason Kevan had almost died at the age of ten, when he’d tried to stop his little brother from climbing too high, had fallen himself and landed on a pane of broken glass that had sliced open his lower abdomen.

Kevan hadn’t died, but he’d never really got on with his little brother after that. Then, of course, he’d left home at fifteen. At that point, Daro’s parents had tried for a late baby in an effort to fill the void left by their older, definitely more beloved son and Daro’s home-schooling had come to an end. He’d been put into an engineering apprenticeship programme and he had finally shone, finding his skill.

But since he’d left Corellia, seven years ago, learning hadn’t been much of a thing for him. Now he was sitting, cross-legged in the sand, with three jawas who were tinier even than Glix. That particular jawa was standing up in front of them and he was teaching.

The three tiny jawas were, Daro had realised, jawa children. It was hard not to pick them up and hug them.

Glix made a barking cough to draw everyone’s attention.

“Po,” Glix began, and the three little jawas immediately picked up the cue.

“Ko, kyo, yo, dyo…” Glix held up a hand to stop them and pointed at Daro encouragingly.

“Oh, gods… uh… Po, ko, kyo, yo, dyo, lyo… the – ah – non-existent seven, ho, toe, ki… ki…”

“Kisewa!” The three little jawas (jawa-lings?) chimed in with the missing number and Glix nodded. Learning the basics of the Jawa trade language was an important lesson for young jawas. And for young humans as well, it seemed.

Daro ached to ask questions. Why was there no number seven in the jawa language? Was it a superstition thing? Were the jawas even superstitious? The more time he spent around the rodent-like creatures, the more curious he was getting. Slowly, bit by bit as he’d started earning Glix’s trust back, the jawa had visibly relaxed. He’d watched Daro like a hawk for a few days, noting the effort the big man was putting in to sorting his life out and this, it seemed was his reward.

One of the tiny jawas got up and scuttled over to Daro, clambering into the big man’s crossed lap. It looked up at him and offered up a slow blink of its yellow eyes.

“Ayafa,” it said.

Glix nodded. “Ayafa.”

Later, much later, Daro learned that ‘ayafa’ translated as ‘clan’.

Squared Away [Overwatch]


“No. Absolutely not.”

Reinhardt’s ham fist slammed down on the table and the machine parts jumped a clear four inches into the air before clattering back to the surface. He scowled and looked across the table at the young woman. She met his uni-glower calmly and even had the audacity to smile with indulgent affection.

“No,” he repeated, although there was slightly less conviction in his tone. “Absolutely…”

“Reinhardt, I know you mean ‘absolutely’,” she interjected, cheerfully – the way she did most things. There was an incorrigible side to Brigitte Lindholm that even adversity did not seem to supress. At least she wasn’t as infernally cheery as Lena Oxton, whose never-ending energy was exhausting. And there he was, thinking of Overwatch again…

Nein, honigbiene,” he said, a tone of desperation creeping in as he used the term of endearment he’d adopted for her not long after becoming her godfather. Honeybee. It suited her, too: Brigitte was always busy, working on this thing or that thing or the other thing and he had, over the years, encouraged her. Now that was coming back to boot him quite squarely in the posterior. “It is too dangerous to…”

He’d chosen his words poorly. He could tell by the way her eyes hardened suddenly. “I am not afraid.”

“I know that, schatzi, I know. But…”

“I know your armour better than you do.”

“I have managed without…”

“Why manage without when you can have assistance? Trust me, Reinhardt. I know you look at me and see that baby girl pulling your beard, but I grew up.”

Yes. She’d certainly done that. Torbjorn had related to his friend over dinner the previous night just how he had already had to interpose himself between Brigitte and a number of would-be suitors. She attracted the sort of element who weretaken in at first by her pretty face and who later succumbed to her extraordinary ability to drink them under the table.

“Bees,” Torbjorn had said, sadly, “around a honeypot.”

Yes, Brigitte had certainly grown up. She was no longer a child, but a young woman. As gifted and stubborn as her father, as warm-hearted and compassionate as her mother and, he reluctantly conceded, apparently as fearless as her godfather.

And as foolhardy?

It was Ana’s voice in the back of his mind and a small smile quirked his lips upward. Brigitte’s moment of anger had subsided and she sighed heavily. “When I was nine years old, I asked you a question. You wouldn’t tell me the answer. You said you’d explain one day when I was old enough to truly understand. Do you remember what it was?”

Why don’t the Crusaders protect us any more?

Yes, he remembered. He put his hand briefly over his eyes and drew a shuddering sigh. He’d not wanted to explain to a child why it was that after the battle at Eichenwalde, the Crusaders had fallen apart. After Balderich’s death – a death he still carried the weight of responsibility for – the protectors had fallen away one by one, returning to their own lives. He’d taken Balderich’s place on the Overwatch team…


“I remember.”

“Then tell me.”

He let his hand drop and stared down at the table. In a low voice, so soft that she had to strain to hear him, he began to relate the answer to a question she’d asked so many years ago. When he was done, when the words finally passed his lips and into the air, he could not look up at her. He was afraid to see the disgust in her eyes. Brigitte was the daughter he had never had; the child he had indulged outrageously. He’d known how to handle her when she’d been a child. It was easy. But this woman… she was different. The child had been an extension of Torbjorn and Ingrid. Now she was a person in her own right.

Reinhardt had never understood women. Looked like that wasn’t about to change.

The silence stretched out. Aeons passed. Ice ages came and went, but nobody noticed.

I have lost her. The sense of grief was profound. He coughed to cover the moment of emotion and made to stand. “I should go.”

“Reinhardt… sit down.”

Alarmed at her tone, he sat. She nodded firmly, then absently stroked the cheek of the cat who had jumped up onto the table and who was winding itself around her hand with feline joy. She studied her godfather intently and he shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. All these years, you’ve filled me with stories of honour and chivalry… of heroes and valour. Of how honesty is the only true way forward. Have you really carried this around all these years? What did you think I would do?”

He looked up then, his single bright, blue eye clouded with emotion. “That you would be angry. That I would lose you.That you will hate me for the fool I was.” He shuddered. “That is why I never told you the full story. You are everything to me. Your father, your mother, you and your siblings… the closest I have to family. You wouldn’t see me as a hero any more. Just… just as a man with flaws and secrets.” Even as he said the words, he resented their selfishness.

“Oh, Reinhardt…” She moved from her side of the table to stand in front of him. The cat came as well, tripping lightly over the cluttered debris on the table. It leaped lightly from the table and sat on Reinhardt’s lap, treadling happily until it was comfortable before curling up in the big man’s lap.

Brigitte took his hand in her own smaller one and squeezed gently. “You still are a hero. Haven’t you and Papa taught me that accepting your flaws is all part of becoming who you’re meant to be?”

“Yes, but a man died because…”

“You’re making a chicken out of a feather,” she said, quoting her father’s nonsense with such ease that the big man could not help but smile. “You’ve told me stories of Balderich before. He would be proud of what you achieved. Of all the people you helped when you served with Overwatch. And if you are going to crash around the world without direction, attempting to redeem yourself because of a poor choice you made in your youth, you are going to need an engineer. So let me come with you. Let me learn what it is to be a true hero. Flaws and all.”

A wave of affection washed over him and he squeezed her hand back. She was a gifted engineer, that was absolutely fair. She’d already worked on – and even improved – elements of his aging Crusader armour. She was bold. She was self-assured. She was…

“My squire,” he said, suddenly.

“Pardon me?”

“You can be my squire! Responsible for my armour.”

“And for you as well, I expect.”

He ignored that.

“Do we have a deal, then?” Torbjorn would object, he could see it already, but that was an argument for later. Brigitte studied him for a moment, then shook his hand firmly.


She threw her arms around his neck, much as she had done when she’d been a child and hugged him. “You won’t regret it, Reinhardt, I promise you.”

“No,” he said, amiably, “but you might.”




Reboot [Overwatch]


Efi Oladele sighed heavily and drummed her fingers lightly against her forehead. She had been working solidly for several hours and while there had been a modicum of success, there was still an extremely long journey ahead. She was tired – despite being a genius and a prodigy, she was still just a child – and she wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and sleep. To get some precious rest. To stave off the headache she could feel blossoming at the back of her skull.

But she was so close now.

So very close.

So close that she could literally reach out and touch it. Which on impulse, she did. Her fingers met the cool metal of the unit’s head and followed the curve of the horns that graced the oval-shaped skull. The eyes were closed and the unit remained unmoving. The revamped OR-15 model was ready to be switched on for its next test. This was the big one. This was the one that Efi had been striving for. The moment, as they would say, of truth.

Had her customised personality software been successful?

She grit her teeth, took a deep, bolstering breath and said, “I am Efi Oladele. I am a genius.” Her little hands balled into fists several times, then relaxed. The gesture release some of the quite considerable tension and she felt better.

There was no bragging in the words she spoke aloud to fortify herself. It was no different to saying ‘I am Efi and I have brown eyes’. It was merely a statement of fact and it served to boost her flagging confidence.

The workshop smelled strongly of oil and solder and had that faint crisp layer of ozone that came with working with so many electronic components. Her senses had tuned them all out some time ago and only now that she allowed her concentration to relax slightly did she notice the scents. She sniffed hopefully, but the last of the coffee had long gone.

There were those who sneered. Those who said she was too young to drink coffee. That she should be out playing with her peer group. Those who did not value their extremities also pushed it one stage forward and suggested that she should be playing with dolls.

They only said it once. Efi didn’t stand for misogyny either.

But many of those from her group of immediate friends had gone, taken away from Numbani by anxious parents who had fled in the wake of Doomfist’s horrific attack. Things had settled down once he had left, but that fear permeated every part of Numbani, like a growing fungus. When would he return? Who would save them?

Efi – and Efi alone – had gone into what remained of the airport and had seen the damage Doomfist had done. The OR-15 defence bots that had been installed to protect the people had been universally flattened into so much Omnic jam. It had all but broken Efi’s generous heart. But she’d had vision. And she would not stop until that vision was realised.

It was an obsession, plain and simple. But it was herobsession. So that was just fine.

She turned from her creation and typed furiously at the keyboard. As well as her ability with robotics, her software design was extraordinary. When she flicked the switch, and only then, she would be able to judge her success or otherwise.

She flicked the switch.

The low hum of the unit powering up sent a faint vibration through the workshop, making the instruments rattle slightly. She knew from experience that a new boot-up sequence would take a short while. Long enough, perhaps, for her to go and get something to eat. She glanced at the computer screen. Nothing was showing out of the ordinary.

Efi left the unit powering up and made her way out of the workshop.

>> Running systems check.

>> All systems optimised. Running core data check.

>> All systems optimised.

A pair of eyes flickered open with a gentle click and a bovine-like head turned this way and that.

>> Optical sensors online.

>> OR-15(A) personality file booting. Installing logic.Installing knowledge. Installing literary references. Kipling, Rudyard. I knew six fine old serving men who taught me all I knew, their names were why and where and when and how and what and who. Employ these six steps and answers will present themselves.

>> Initiating logic sequence based on Kipling, Rudyard.

>> Why am I wondering about myself as
an ‘I’?

>> Where am I?

>> When did I stop thinking like a defence machine and start wondering about poetry by a
long-dead human?

>> How did this happen?

>> What is going on?

A pause in the lightning-quick processing.

>> Who am I?

Another pause.

>> Adjustment to question. Who is Efi? Cannot compute answer. I am unsure.

The OR-15(A) moved slightly, leaning back on its haunches and peered around the room. Its vision circuits were perfect, but there was something charmingly myopic in the way it blinked slowly, getting its bearings and adjusting to the rush of data that was pouring through. It did not have a memory, not as such, and what little basic programming its original form had possessed had been wiped clear.

The unit swivelled and knocked several things off a surface onto the floor where they landed with a heavy ‘crash’. The still-hot soldering iron burned into the wood of the floor and the unit leaned down and picked it up.

A voice, mechanised and synthetic, but quite unmistakably female emitted from its vocal circuits and filled the room. A calm tone. A pleasant pitch. Designed to be reassuring and placatory, it came as something of a surprise to the unit. It – no, she – voiced her immediate concern.

“Efi will not be happy about this.”

Yes. That seemed like the right thing to say. The logic and knowledge synapses were now firing so fast that the OR-15(A) was starting to piece together everything. Efi was her creator. She had been built to protect. And here she was, effectively breaking everything. A noise, almost, but not entirely like a sigh came from her and she turned at the sound of someone entering the workshop.

“Hello.” Efi couldn’t keep the sheer delight from her voice as she saw the product of her many hours of labour crashing around her workshop like a newborn calf stumbling its way through its first steps. The unit blinked owlishly and Efi clapped her hands together. And in a single rushed and muddle paragraph, she answered every one of the OR-15(A)’s internal questions.

“Welcome to Numbani! You are here to help me demonstrate that we can all work together for the greater good. I have repaired your systems and altered your core programming so that you will be Numbani’s chief protector. I have… given you a personality.” Efi beamed. She was childishly thrilled and rightfully proud of her creation. “You need a name,” she said, unable to keep the delight from her voice. “How about… Orisa?”

Blink. Blink.

“It is acceptable. Orisa online. Hello, Efi. I am fully rebooted and ready to serve…” No. That was something else. That was a hang-on from a former existence. Orisa revised her words. “I am fully rebooted. And ready to assist.”

Doctor-Patient Confidentiality [Overwatch]


“You have saved me.”

His voice was pleasant and heavily accented, with no hint of the half-machine that he had become. She wondered, in a rather flustered manner, what he might have sounded like before she had…

No. You must not think like that.

“No.” Her tone was firm, but the manner light and airy. “Let us be clear, Mister Shimada…”

“Please. Genji. Call me Genji.”

She ignored him.

“Technology has saved you. I merely… coordinated the orchestra that has played the tune of your new body, if you like.”

It was a far-reaching analogy, certainly, but Angela Ziegler still rather liked it. She was fond of music – something she shared with Winston – and had listened to many classics while she had been working over the broken body of Genji Shimada. When he had first been brought in, it had looked unlikely that anything could be done. Too many bones were shattered. Too much damage had been done. Too much of this. Too little of that. Always negativity. Always despair.

But despair was not something that was in Doctor Ziegler’s nature. She had determined to save the life of this young man. After all, was she not sworn to the Oath? So she had kept him alive, connected to machines via networks of tubes and wires. She had monitored his vital statistics to the point of obsession. Sleep became secondary to finding the solution to helping him.

Cybernetics had been the obvious choice from early on. When she had first brought him into a state of awareness, when he had first been able to engage in discourse with her, she had sat with him and explained what would need to be done. The amputations. The re-building. The cybernetic implants. The months of rehabilitation. The likelihood of extreme pain now and possibly for the rest of his life. He had looked up at her through those intelligent eyes and spoken softly in his broken English.

“I want to walk again.”

“I’m not a miracle worker.” She had smiled, sadly. “Well. Not always.”

“I believe in you.”

Of course he did. Want to walk again that was: she found herself strangely bashful about his easy belief in her abilities. And so she had done what she had needed to do in order to give him what he wanted. It had taken every ounce of courage they both possessed and became a journey they undertook together. It was natural, therefore, that they would become close – and that was what had happened.

For a long time – perhaps too long – Angela Ziegler had been too wrapped up in her own studies and research to allow herself time to focus on that most mysterious thing of all – human nature. And as she had grown to know the stranger in her care better, she had discovered a sharp, acerbic wit and an intelligence off which she could bounce her own.

But he was still Shimada. Angela was not fool enough to be unaware or ignorant of the clan and its dealings they were hardly covert. Genji had professed it was his very disinterest in the family’s shadier dealings that had landed him very firmly at Death’s door and she had no reason to disbelieve him. There were conversations to be had, certainly, but for now the focus must be on returning him to health.

“Doctor Ziegler?”

His soft voice pulled her out of her reverie and she stood up and straightened her white coat, flushing slightly as she realised that she had been lost in her own thoughts. She looked down at the man in the bed. She considered him, his intense eyes, his cybernetic, his intense eyes…

You can’t let this happen, Angela. Never get involved with a patient. You remember what happened last time?

Oh, yes. She remembered.

“Yes, Mister S…”

She capitulated.

“Yes, Genji?”

Those eyes shone brightly when she used his name and with a precision borne from years of closing herself off to her innermost self, she drew up the shutters against their lure. Her tone, her manner, even her stance became purely professional.

“I wish to try again tomorrow. To walk. Will you oversee my rehabilitation?”

Yes, I would love to.

“My duties…” Her sense of resolved wavered under his steady gaze, but she pulled the shutters more tightly around her heart, sealing her feelings as deeply as she could manage. She had always been able to ignore these sort of feelings before, but she suspected that beneath the intensity of those eyes, there would be no mercy.


“We will see,” she said, primly and his eyes lit up with pleasure. His instant arrogance and assumption that he had won her attention irritated her while at the same time brought a most unprofessional blush to her cheeks. She made a mark on the clipboard before replacing it at the end of his bed and striding from his room.

It was only when she let out the breath that she even realised she’d been holding it.


The Green Man

Explanation: years ago, I was in our school’s annual May Day celebration Mummer’s Play. Many varaiants of these things exist, but that one from my childhood coloured my perception for this story.

* * *

‘You see, people just don’t care about tradition any more.’

My companion is veering towards being hopelessly drunk. It hasn’t taken much to achieve this effect; a couple of pints and maybe just a little manipulation on my part. But mostly it’s an innate inability to hold his beer. He looks at me earnestly, a scrawny, unshaven figure with lank, thinning straw-colour hair that straggles down to his shoulders and watery blue eyes that are the predominant feature in his rat-like face.

He’s expecting me to say something. He only met me an hour ago but now I’m his best friend. His very best friend. I smile and pat him on the arm with an easy familiarity. He smiles vaguely at this gesture and goes to place his hand over my own. He misses.

‘There are ways of making them care,’ I tell him. For this game, I have adopted the guise of an Irishman and the brogue sounds entertaining to my ears. Mischief, in all its forms. That’s me.

‘But how?’ He’s whining. Time for some careful application of stronger liqueur. There’s an art to manipulation and it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s good old-fashioned charm – and I possess that in spades. For this man, it’s the gentle introduction of alcohol into his life. He was an easy soul to read: few friends, loner by nature, shy and retiring. Every cell in his being cried out for company.

Telling him to hold the thought of ‘how’, I pick out a double malt – not cheap – from the colourful array on display behind the bar. A smile for the barmaid and I don’t have to pay. She flutters her over-made up eyes at me and I can see the sudden puzzlement deep therein. She’d been thinking about booking a session on the sunbeds before her planned holiday with her girlfriends only moments ago. A moment in my company and instead, she’s thinking about how wonderful it would be to fill her house with babies instead.

You see? A careful art.

I wind my way back through the growing crowd to re-join my companion. He is singing softly to himself. A old folk tune and one which he obviously doesn’t know all the words to. Ironic, really, that he’s complaining that other people don’t respect tradition. I smile indulgently at him.

‘Here,’ I say, plying him gently with the amber liquid. ‘Try that. It’ll help. All those worries of yours? They’ll dissolve quickly enough. Finest malt this place has on offer.’

He stares at it dubiously, then looks up at me. ‘Really?’ I grin.

‘Trust me,’ I say. It’s something I say a lot.

It is the least of my lies.

I should introduce myself, although some might say I need no introduction. I’d usually say it. But propriety demands.

For the moment, you can call me Jack. I have many names and many guises, but Jack is the one who fits best into today’s world. The key thing to remember, my modern friends, is that mythology never dies. You can’t just banish me and my kind without expecting us to put up a fight. The seasons still turn, the stars still shine, the unexplained still happens.

Spring happens. The renewal of the land, the rebirth of nature. And with it come celebrations of things that nobody even really remembers any more. Pagan festivals trussed up in severe religious corsetry that constricts their true beauty. But yet through all this denial, me – and those like me – prevail.

For someone of my… disposition… it has been amusing down the years to watch historians and so-called experts argue about my personal aspect in the mythology of the ages. I am at one and the same time a force of nature, a force for impish mischief and occasionally, just occasionally, I am portrayed as something much darker.

Whatever I may be, one thing is certain. My drunken friend is quite right.

People just don’t care about tradition any more. But I’m going to help him with that. We’re going to craft something subtle together, my friend and I. We are going to wake up the sleeping beliefs that most people hide behind scientific papers and things they read on the internet (which therefore must be true).

When we’re done, they will care about tradition.

Every year, this village holds a medieval fayre. They call it a medieval fayre, but really it’s little more than an excuse to bring garish rides on the back of trucks to town. They hire apparently countless coffee vans, selling overpriced and fancy-named beverages for extortionate prices. People drink their coffee and eat their toffee apples or candy floss or sausage-in-a-bun and throw their litter down on the ground.

The countless folk who pass by tread the rubbish into the earth. Disregarding their habitat.

Disregarding me.

As part of the proceedings, a local Morris group is dancing in the roped off ‘square’ in the middle of the village green. They look self-conscious and they are getting it wrong. It doesn’t really matter, though. Nobody watches them and those who do glance their way sneer their superiority at the men wearing ribbons and bells, skipping to some badly-played folk music.

At some point during the day, the Mummers come into the square. This usually generates a little interest – mostly from the children. I enjoy seeing the mixture of fear and delight on their little moppet faces as St. George’s dragon runs around the perimeter of the square roaring his fury. Mostly, this one is roaring at the impotent fury of what is a very poor costume that is falling to pieces, but the children love it regardless.

It’s a variant on a familiar theme. Father Christmas, Jack Frost… the piece’s villains if you will. This is something children don’t seem to grasp. How can Father Christmas be a bad man? Listen to him. In come I, old Father Christmas… welcome or welcome not… I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.

Appalling grammar aside, Father Christmas is a creation of a newer world. He was never a part of mine. It was his introduction into our culture that saw the true beginning of our slow demise into obscurity. See how the children cheer at him.


‘Are you ready?’ My companion whispers to me. I turn to him and smile. Of course I am ready.

‘I was born to play this part,’ I tell him truthfully.t The words he has given me to learn are confused, tangled and yet still carry the ring of absolute truth. Father Christmas presents his champion, the mighty Jack Frost who postures rather appallingly in front of the crowd and then, right on cue, it is my line.

The moment, the very second I walk into the square, those who are half-heartedly watching sit up and pay attention. Those whose attention is elsewhere find themselves inexplicably drawn. It is not my performance that has brought them to watch, but my sheer presence.

I am a potent force.

Watch me use it.

‘In come I, Jack, the man in green…’

They are the lines that mark my entrance and I speak them with easy confidence. My tone is calm, reassuring and certainty drips from every syllable. The people around the arena know that’s the absolute truth. I am not some foolish, aging hippy with a suit made of ribbons. I am, without question, what I state I am. Jack, the man in green. They are captivated now and I continue.

‘…I stand for all that’s new. I am the keeper of the Spring… a change of season’s due.’

At the words, I glance up at the skies which before I began the spell were dark and threatening to deluge this quaint May Day setting with relentless precipitation. A postage-stamp of bright blue appears and begins to spread, insidiously pushing aside the dark rain clouds. The air clears. Beneath my feet, daisies that were closed against the dull day begin to open. Even the grass strains to reach me and grows an extra fraction in a matter of time so brief there is no measurement for it.

People watch this happening. They watch, but they do not see. That is where the magic lies. That is where the unexpected happens and why it is that people fail to truly comprehend what has happened to them.

Father Christmas and Jack Frost are staring at me now, slack-jawed and enraptured by my sheer sense of presence. They are little more than ants on the playing board of this green stage and my attention is barely drawn to them other than to speak the ritual words of the ancient play. Like so many of its kind, this one is bastardised and altered far from the original. But I read through it. It is sufficient.

I level a finger at Father Christmas and he starts in alarm at the look of thunder on my face as I speak the next lines.

‘What Father Christmas said is right… for trouble is what we bring. Old winter’s past… the flowers are out. The bluebells soon will ring.’

Trouble, ah, there it is. I cannot help but bring mischief in my wake. It is the blessing and the curse of the sprite; of the fae-blooded to enjoy interfering with order. Spring is a given. Year after year, the world rearranges itself to welcome the influx of new life that has slept for so long in its depths. But around the things that happen
naturally, the existence of men has brought with it many things that those of my kind can manipulate.

‘So step aside, you frosty folk and give us room to rhyme. For we have come to crown our queen…’

Ah, my queen. What became of you? Your unsurpassed beauty. Your voluptuous curves and sumptuous body. Your air of bounty, of life and rebirth. How I miss you. Look – there is the ‘queen’ they have chosen to crown, a child who sits rather self-consciously on the wooden throne. A pretty child to be sure: with hair the colour of the setting sun and features that when they mature will certainly earn her more than one amorous suitor. But for now, she is a child who the people have chosen as their queen.

Imagine what could be unleashed if Jack in the Green actually did crown her. That is the culmination of this Mummers play. In which Jack, the queen’s loyal servant, lays upon her head the crown of thorns which blooms and blossoms into a crown of spring flowers… represented here by a wooden circlet. If I did crown this child as the Queen of the May, then things would really get interesting.

Particularly when Her Furious Former Majesty returned to fight for her rightful throne.

The war would be beautiful. The deaths would be sweet. The sacrifice would be immense and my place at the Queen’s Spring Court would once more be assured.

Perhaps the Queen would even consider me at last as her consort, instead of her servant.

I do not know why I tell you this. My dreams are not yours to know. All you need know is this. If I, Jack the Man in Green choose to bring forth the might of Spring, your brief and violent existence would be snuffed out faster than you could put a message on your Twitter feed. Because that’s what would happen.

End of the world OMG #disaster

But this world… this ugly, broken, beautiful world in which you humans now live intrigues me too much. There is a curiosity that keeps me here. I can see where you are heading and it will be a tragic ending for your species. Ultimately, of course, it will be the end of mine too – because when a world is devoid of people, it becomes a place devoid of belief. You see? You are not just heading for your own destruction, but you’re too selfish, too ignorant to realise it. You think you have progressed.

If only you knew.

Maybe I should place that crown on the girl’s head. Wipe the slate clean. Allow the forces of Spring to come to fruition. I could do it, too. My power to manipulate and weave the threads of the future are strong. My fingers tingle with the thought of opening the gateway. Instead, I finish my line.

‘…for we have come to crown our queen, all in this sweet May time.’

The crowd, which had been holding a collective breath, without even realising it, sighed their appreciation of the pretty would-be usurper seated on the fake throne. My hand curls into a fist and the magic drains. For a moment, however fleeting, the people on this village green believed that I brought forth the magic of Spring. They will remember that feeling in years to come. When the faces of the bumbling Turkish Knight and the heroism of George, the Englishman (with sword and shield in hand) are a forgotten thing, they will all recall Jack in the Green.

And so it goes. The seasons change and only a fool believes it is because of a globe in space, spinning on an axis. No, my friends. The seasons change because of the work of the forgotten few.

We persist. We exist.

Don’t forget.




Ryū ga waga teki wo kurau!

Father, I miss your wisdom.

All my life you demanded I live up to expectation. To be the one prepared to take the reins from you. From the moment of my arrival in this world, the burden was placed upon me. I was expected to be the one to take up the reins. To be your chosen, honourable heir. To be my brother’s keeper. To step into my birth right.

I was your scion.

I visit you every year since you died, Sojiro Shimada. It is fraught with risk and danger and still I come.

My father, I know you loved both your sons, but for very different reasons. I was your pride. Your first-born. The one who would take over the empire. I have it on account that following my birth, you celebrated for a full week. And yet for all that, I cannot recall a single moment of affection. No kind words, no look of pride or even love. You are too much like your mother, Hanzo. Your manner too soft. Your mood too easy to fall into introspection. Your aim, boy, is not true.

Perhaps they were words spoken to build character. To make me the best version of myself that I could be. All I remember was the endless sting of disappointment.

But there were times, Father, rare though they may have been, when I caught on your face the glint of something akin to pride. The day I first called forth and commanded the Shimada dragons. The pleasure it brought you to see that small boy struggling for control of that power, to then accomplish it was writ large upon your face. For me, a son who yearned for approval, for a kind word, that expression was the most glorious of things.

And there were times, too, when you would sit with me and impart the pearls of wisdom that I have held so close to my chest. Simple things.

Ah, my father. There is beauty, as you told me, in simplicity.

So if I was your pride, then Genji was most certainly your joy. He was spared your anger. Not for him, your disapproval. To him, you gave your fondness and your affect ion. You said, once, how you wished that Genji, your little Sparrow, was the eldest and that it was not beyond your powers to change who you selected as your heir.

I was never as jealous as I should have been. I loved my brother too much. Genji was always the light to my shadow. The humour to my gravity. We were as different as night and day, as far apart from one another in personality that even now I question our shared heritage. But you charged me with ensuring his safety. Father, I still remember the day you came into my room, reeking of sake, with that squalling bundle in your arms.

He is your brother, Hanzo. You must guide and protect him. Always.

And so I did. With the ferocity of a wolf, I ensured he was cared for and when our training paths diverged, I still watched over him as he practised for endless hours with his swords. His skill was something in which I found every reason to feel reassured that I was carrying out my task well.

But you, Father. You destroyed all my work. You indulged his every whim. Forgave his every transgression and there were many of those. Too many to count and each that little more damning than the last. You spoiled him and I paid the price.

Do you know that, Father? From wherever it is you have gone now? Do you look down upon your eldest son and rejoice that he showed the tenacity to do what had to be done for the furtherment of your empire? Or do you weep in the knowledge that your sons turned upon one another? Either way, it matters little now. Things are changing. I am no longer heir to the clan. I cannot put my all into something that has forced such heartbreak upon me. So I have fallen out of favour and thus I must continue my journey alone. I am outcast and disgraced.

I have no family, there is no guidance… no longer can I shelter behind the protection of the clan, for they have put a price upon my head and will kill me on sight. Already I have thwarted several assassination attempts and I do not imagine the clan will stop until I am dead.

I am lost without my brother. For all I was ashamed of him at the end for his wayward and irresponsible behaviour, for all I wished to see him punished for his acts, it was never my intention to kill him. It was a choice he forced upon me. Goading me into it, saying in what was very much your voice that I was too soft around the edges.

I proved him wrong. The greatest warriors are forged in the fires of regret, so they say, but it is little compensation for losing my brother. Without him, I am but part of a whole. Without him, I am no more than another broken, forgotten man, shattered by his death.

With every death, you assured me, comes honour.

With honour, redemption.

Now, as I journey alone, I strive to find either of these things in my life. For not to try is the ultimate failing and whatever else I may be, whatever the clan may say, I am – and always will be – a Shimada.


Thirty Shots, Thirty Seconds


Tombstone, 1881. Photography by C.S. Fly

Tombstone, AT
Wednesday, October 26, 1881

It is cold, even when one considers that is nearing the end of October and the heavy clouds scud across the dull, leaden skies. They are laden with unshed precipitation and people look up, squinting and shivering, drawing coats and shawls more tightly around their bodies. In some eyes, it is the kind of weather that does not only herald a potential fall of rain or even snow, but is blatantly portentous. Ain’t nothin’ good gonna come out of a day like today, they say to one another, eschewing normal greetings.Everyone is in a hurry this morning. Everyone has the apparent need to get their business through and finished before the inevitable storm hits and a sense of urgency ripples through the mining town; a need to get behind closed doors. If pressed, not one soul could tell you why they feel as they do.

Of course, the invisible guiding hands of fate are playing their part. But fate and destiny aren’t things the folk of Tombstone bother themselves with. Such things are fanciful and more suited to dreamers and artists than to the hardy folk whose lives revolve around mining, gambling and whoring. So, the rushing continues. People continue to expedite their day. Business is transacted with more alacrity than normal, bartenders are slower and inexplicably reluctant to open their doors to the public.

Tombstone is, to all intents and purposes, the same as ever it is. The streets are as filthy and muck-strewn as ever. The hollers and cat-calls passing between drovers, miners and the saloon girls are just as loud as you’d expect. It’s just an arrogance to believe that something greater is at work here today.

Through all the hustle and bustle, other men, important to this tale, sleep. One will continue to sleep until past noon, having been awake all night policing the streets despite being off duty. Let us call him Virgil Earp, because that is, after all, his name. Two others – his brothers – will wake soon enough and the fourth man, the odd one out in this strange tableau, has already had his allotted rest. Five hours wouldn’t seem much to most, but he is used to long hours and short sleeps. His illness is not gracious to him when he lays down. He has gone to visit the barber and is blissfully unaware that things are unfolding.

They are secondary to this story at this time, however, so let’s focus instead on a lone figure as it trudges its way down Fremont Street. His given name, the one the preacher said over him when he was first born, is Joseph Isaac Clanton. Everyone has always known him as Ike.

Ike is the third of seven children and even his brothers and sisters feel that he has been born with a chip the size of Chiricahua Peak on his shoulder. The weight of that mountain also appears to press into him permanently, causing his broad back to stoop as it struggles to bear its burden. His face is prematurely creased in a permanent scowl. He is thirty-four years old and he is a long, long way from his home state of Missouri and he is bitter about it. The endless burning of the Arizona sun has tanned and hardened his skin. It has also hardened his attitude and made him into a callous, spiteful bully. His youngest brother, Billy, worships him and he struts around in the basking adoration like a peacock on display.

Ike Clanton is not a happy man. Ike Clanton is also not hungover. At first, this might seem like a surprise, given how much alcohol he has been taking on board. But it is not hard to realise that the reason he is not laid low by the after-effects of demon drink is simply because he has not stopped drinking. He has been imbibing now for close to sixteen, maybe twenty hours. Ike passed the shut-off valve for coherency and reason at about four this morning and has moved into the realms of cold, hard fury.

It is hard to quantify Ike’s anger at the best of times, but this morning, it’s doubly so. Specifically, it is hard to pinpoint which of his current issues is making him so tempestuous. But as he makes his way down Fremont Street like a man hellbent on finding his quarry, it’s safe to make some assumptions. It obviously has something to do with the man for whom he is now figuratively and literally gunning. The shotgun he is carrying suggests that he isn’t, perhaps, looking for a sit down and friendly discussion over a shared bottle of Old Overholt. It is evident that Ike Clanton’s approach is more… direct than that.

He comes to a stop outside C.S. Fly’s Photography Studio and Boarding House. He sure as hell isn’t here to have his portrait taken, that much is obvious.

One ham fist comes up to hammer incessantly at the door.

“Holliday!” He bellows the words loud enough to wake the dead, half a mile or so away up on Boot Hill. “Holliday! Get yer skinny good for nothin’ ass out here right now, lunger. Get out here an’ let’s settle this once and for all.” He does not slur his words. There is no hint of the sheer, impossible level of intoxication that would have floored a less robust man. Ike Clanton can hold his drink, let’s say that for him.

There is no response to his summons and Ike hammers on the door once again. 


“He ain’t there, Clanton.” The voice is that of Camillus Fly himself. He’s coming around the back of the boarding house, having clearly been doing something in the back yard. Ike doesn’t particularly like Mr. Fly, but grunts and steps back.

“Where is he?”

“I’m his landlord, not his damn keeper.” Fly taps his pipe against the side of the building and, taking a tobacco pouch out of his pocket, begins to fill the bowl. “Heard the two of you had a fight last night.”

“No, sir, that weren’t no fight.” He is intense in his anger and the photographer behind Fly’s eyes wishes he could capture this moment of sheer intensity; the sense of righteousness that is driving Ike Clanton forward. The man is alive right now. If you could bottle that sort of energy and sell it…

Ike wipes his shirt sleeve across the back of his nose. “No, that weren’t no fight. That was just the invitation to dance. Holliday’s asked for it an’ I’m gonna make sure he gets it. Both barrels, you get my drift?”

“I get it, Ike. But are you sure you’re in any great state to shoot a weapon? You know the laws. You take that into town proper and Marshal Earp will…”

“Marshal Earp can kiss my ass.” Clanton slams his hand against the door of the boarding house one more time and steps back. “You tell that no-good dentist that I’m gonna get him soon as I see him. Gonna blow that smug, self-satisfied expression of his clean off his face. You hear?” Ike cackles maniacally, the sound grating Fly’s sensibilities like fingers on a chalkboard. Ever-placid, the photographer nods.

“I hear you, Ike. Lord, but most of Tombstone can probably hear you. And if what I hear about last night is true, I’m perfectly sure that Doc Holliday knows you’re looking for him.”

Bored with this conversation and too concerned with hunting down his target to engage the photographer further, Ike has already stormed away. A mighty thirst has come upon him and although it is an hour or two before the saloons open ‘officially’, Ike has no truck with ‘official’. They’ll serve him.

Fly presses the tobacco into the bowl of his pipe more tightly and watches the cowboy’s departure. Something’s brewing there, he realises. And isn’t it just typical that he’s been born into an age before easily transportable imaging technology?

Imagine just what he could have captured.

* * *

Camillus Fly is correct about one point. Doc Holliday does know that Ike Clanton is looking for him. As he relaxes in the barber’s chair enjoying the attention that is being paid to him, Doc Holliday also couldn’t give two hoots about the fact. Far as he’s concerned, Ike Clanton is a moron. But then, by Holliday’s standards, most people fall so far below his level that he simply – and vocally – assumes they’re ill-educated simpletons. It is a cocksure arrogance that marks him out, and not in a good light. Despite his genteel and polite manners, there is a superiority to John Henry Holliday that rubs a certain subset of the town’s population up the wrong way.

Just like his current feelings about Ike Clanton, Doc does not particularly care one way or the other what someone thinks of him. He has an oft-asked rhetoric for the subject. What, he postulates, is the benefit of bein’ liked? I do not see any point in formin’ long-term attachments. He’ll pause then and take a shot of whiskey, settling down the croup in his voice before he continues in a tone laced with bitterness. People are fallible creatures. They will just let you down in the end. They leave you, they hurt you… society would be a better place by far if there were no people in it. Of course, his illness is largely responsible for this fatalistic approach to life. He’s going to die sooner than most men, he reasons. Why pretend anything else?

He is quietly annoyed that nobody appreciates his attempts at irony in this backwards town.

Despite his repeated, vehement denials that he cares for anybody, it is beyond doubt that the softly-spoken Georgian gentleman has taken it upon himself to consider the Earps his adopted family. Virgil is often puzzled by this and will express his thoughts to anybody who cares to listen that he finds it strange how such a friendly man doesn’t surround himself with friends. Most of the high-profile sporting gentlemen in town have a bevy of hangers-on and sycophants, but not Doc Holliday.

Of course, Wyatt and Morgan are closer to him than Virgil is, largely borne of the fact that they’ve known one another since first Fort Griffin and later Dodge City. Virgil also holds Doc at arm’s length because he’s never quite sure that the man can be fully trusted. Oh, his word is his bond, sure enough, but Virgil suspects that there’s a Derringer in his sleeve at all times. Doc is certainly not beyond starting trouble for the sheer bloody hell of it and that makes Virgil edgy.

If Doc Holliday could learn to tame that Southern fire, hold his tongue at the right time and not antagonise the rowdier element of Tombstone, the place would be a lot quieter. Maybe if the dentist was less belligerent, Virgil reasons, then he would have more friends.

But Doc is fine with the status quo. He likes being on the edge of a crowd. Being at the centre is uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Nonetheless, everyone in town knows his face, knows who he is. In fairness, it is hard to be affiliated with the handsome sacks of brawn who bear the name ‘Earp’ and not be known.

Doc Holliday’s happiness is a long way from the top of Virgil Earp’s list of important matters. It is neither his business, nor his concern. Doc’s argument the previous night in the Oriental on the other hand was – and is – very much Virgil’s concern and it is that argument which is brought to the fore of his thoughts as he is woken from a pleasant sleep by a breathless man excitedly telling him that Ike is ‘huntin’ Doc down like a deer’.

Tired from a night of playing cards and keeping the peace, Virgil Earp rouses himself from his bed and listens to the over-excited exchange. He decides that Ike Clanton must surely burn out his energy and makes the extraordinary decision to go back to bed for another couple of hours rest. Doc’s old enough and ugly enough to take care of himself, he figures. It’ll all blow over.

So, let us recap as to where the playing pieces in this game presently are. We have three pawns in active play on the board with the others on the side lines ready to make their entrance. There is Doc Holliday, relaxing in the barber’s chair, blissfully disinterested in Ike Clanton’s murderous rampage. There is Ike, of course, stalking Holliday as though he were the spectre of Death, albeit with a fraction of the charm. Unlike Virgil, Wyatt has woken and headed out to start his day. Not for him the after-effects of too much drinking. Being tea-total has its advantages.

Morgan Earp has yet to present himself to the attention of Fate, but the younger Clanton, Billy Claiborne and the McLaury brothers have just arrived in town, drawn by the allure of a possible fight. Ike is great comic value at the best of times, but when he’s angry, he’s even better.

The pieces are set. Fate takes up the die and blows on it for luck.

And rolls a six.

* * *


And then there’s Kate.

She’s often referred to as ‘Big Nose’ Kate and never behind her back. She doesn’t particularly mind. A nickname simply means people have noticed you and in her case, it’s a misnomer. People are curious and want to know why she has the nickname when her nose is perfectly ordinary. Well, maybe a little bigger than normal in an unflattering light, but…

“I am interested in other people’s business,” she will interrupt in her unusually accented voice. “Whether they want me to be or not.” She’s Hungarian by birth, but since arriving in St Louis when she was seventeen, has become more Americanised than she likes to think. She was aristocracy as a child and that haughtiness has never left her. She was educated, and she is intelligent, and she is, without doubt, Doc Holliday’s intellectual equal.

Many people find it strange that a man as well-bred as John Henry Holliday has a whore as his near-constant companion, but then most people don’t know what those two do. They know that they are so bad for each other that it all balances out in the end. For every night they spend fighting and screaming at each other, there are countless other nights when they co-exist in a pleasant state of equilibrium. Kate finds suitable games for Doc to join and he keeps her in a style to which she believes she is entitled.

Even when he is on the breadline, appearances are important to Doc. He and Kate strike a handsome couple when they stroll down Allen Street together. But he has never married her and she has long since given up hinting. Like him, she is content with the status quo. But she will not accept that she is a kept woman. No, she is a working girl and she is a damn good one, too.

“Doesn’t it bother you none, Doc?” Wyatt’s concern has always been a source of gentle amusement to Holliday. “That she… she spends her time…” Doc takes brief, sadistic pleasure at the discomfort evident in the older man’s expression, but doesn’t draw it out from a sense of friendship.

“Miss Kate is very much her own woman, Wyatt,” he explains with a wry smile. “To control her would be like tryin’ to hold the lightnin’. Impossible, and even if you managed it… why, it would probably just out an’ out kill you.”

Mary Katharine Haroney, Kate Elder, Kate Cummings, Kate Fisher or any other number of pseudonyms she has adopted aside, she knows in her heart of hearts that she will probably forever be remembered as Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday’s girlfriend.

She is not wrong.

She, along with Ike Clanton, is in a foul mood today. The chill temperature and threatening weather, the lateness of the hour, everyone she passes on her way back to the room she shares with Doc at Fry’s, all of it is making her irritable. This is in part because she didn’t go back with Doc last night. He won’t mind, he never minds, but there is always a moment when she gets back. A moment when his blue eyes meet hers and assess her. He’s never looked down on her chosen profession and he only ever rubs her face in it when things get ugly between them.

She loves him, she supposes. And she thinks that he might love her. But it’s a love borne of a need for the pair of them to have a taste at something that could, with a favourable following wind, be considered normal. The normality never lasts and it never takes that much to set one or other of them off.

It is rare that two such different people come together in a parody of union and remain together as long as Doc and Kate have. She’s left him countless times, he’s thrown her out just as frequently, but here she is. Here they are.

She’d not wanted to leave Dodge City, but Doc had felt the draw of a boom town. His gambler’s heart had deduced that there was nothing left in Dodge. He was a vagabond, never setting down roots. The Earp brothers, they all have cottages out on Fremont Street while she and Doc room at Fly’s. If she didn’t know herself better, she’d have suspected a tinge of jealousy.

She draws her shawl more tightly around herself and shivers as a particularly spiteful bite of Tombstone wind kisses the tips of her ears. Now, darlin’ that is what I would call a lazy wind. She could hear Doc’s playful commentary even without his presence at her side. Goes right through you instead of around you. Doubtless yet another of the pearls of infinite bloody wisdom the man had harvested in Georgia.

Despite her tempered anxiety at his displeasure, Kate nonetheless finds that she is suddenly looking forward to seeing him. She hastens her pace to Fly’s. Their erstwhile landlord is still outside, enjoying a leisurely smoke before he begins his studio sessions at noon. He nods gravely at her approach.

“Miss Kate,” he says, politely, touching his hat respectfully. Suspicious, as ever she is, she sniffs haughtily but for once decides to give the photographer a break and treats him to that rarest of things.

A smile.

Kate moves from attractive to beautiful when she smiles. It is a shame, Doc tells her regretfully, that she does it so infrequently.

“Is he back yet?” She nods toward the boarding house. Fly takes his pipe from his mouth and hesitates. The pair argue so often that he has no desire to be some sort of catalyst to another showdown. But not being truthful with Kate is inviting a whole world of pain.

“He’s been back and gone out again, ma’am,” he replies. Her eyes harden, the green of them bright as emeralds and every bit as unyielding. “Said somethin’ about getting’ a wash an’ brush up.”

Doc is a terribly vain man, but Kate has always liked that in him. He takes hot baths three, sometimes four times a week and sends his clothes to the Chinese laundry as soon as he takes them off. No matter the circumstances, Doc Holliday is a man who is always well turned out. A ‘dandy’, they call him, but she, being in possession of a more romantic soul than she lets on, considers him rather a rose amidst a veritable jungle of thorns.

Kate considers the relative merits of hunting her lover down. Perhaps they will take lunch together, or simply enjoy a stroll. However, tiredness wins out. She decides she will take to their bed and get some sleep. Perhaps she and Doc will pass one another like ships in the night, as they do on some days. On days like that, there is barely time enough to exchange more than a swift greeting. Sometimes he will take her small hand in his own and raise it to his lips, allowing his gaze to linger on her. Other times he is in an extraordinary hurry to get away from her.

Perhaps their timings will coincide and they might spend time together.

“Ike Clanton’s lookin’ for him.”

Camillus Fly’s words stop her as her hand rests on the handle of the front door. She turns to look over his shoulder and gives a dismissive, disinterested shrug.

“Ike Clanton is… töketlen kis béna pöcs, eh?” She makes a crude gesture suggesting that Ike Clanton is not very well endowed to accompany the Hungarian. Ike doesn’t scare Kate. Not one bit. He has tried his luck with her before, but she took great pleasure in telling him that if he were the last man alive in Tombstone she would still prefer to sleep with a mule.

Ike Clanton did not like that. He does not like Kate, even if her relationship with Doc is removed from the equation. The dislike is mutual. Kate yawns, deliberately and continues on her way without further comment.

She will see Doc one last time before he marches with great vim and vigour into the history books. Had she any clue of the longevity of her lover’s enduring legend, she might have been a little nicer to him.

Hindsight, though, is twenty-twenty.

* * *


“Where were you?”

“Gettin’ a shave, darlin’. That alright with you?” Despite his earlier good humour, Doc is not pleased to have returned to his room to find Kate there. On a good day, he usually enjoys her company. But these erratic hours they both keep; her persistent disappearances make for an awkwardness that he doesn’t like at all. He tugs off his boots and sits down on his side of the bed. He deliberately removes his pocket watch, checking the time. “I am gonna take some more sleep.” There is a brief pause and the tension softens a little. “You can stay, if you want.” It is evidently the closest to acknowledging her presence she is going to get.

Kate watches him without speaking, her eyes on him the entire time; challenging him to just dare to ask where she has been.

He doesn’t ask. He is not feeling up to a quarrel. He just wants a peaceful, restful day. He isn’t going to get it, of course, but right now he is oblivious. Instead, he lies down on top of the bed, fully clothed and closes his eyes. His hands move up to support his head, opening out his chest and making breathing that little bit easier.

Kate continues to watch him for a few moments longer in case he opens his eyes and has any words for her, but after a few short minutes, he is clearly asleep. He has gotten so thin of late, she thinks and the old knot of worry clenches in her gut. She laughingly tells everyone that the only thing she finds attractive in the man is his wallet, but that is not true. She has genuine affection for him, although at times it’s hard to tell. The doctors, she knows, marvel that he continues to draw breath, but they don’t know him like she does.

Tentatively, cautiously even, Kate lays back down and dares to put her head on his chest. She can hear his breath, rattling in barely-existent lungs. Lying like this, she can feel the shape of every bone in his rib cage. There is barely any meat on his bones. She wonders, as she falls into a doze, if he will even live through the winter.

All is peaceful in the little room at Fly’s Boarding House.

It is not peaceful elsewhere in Tombstone.

* * *

Virgil was out of town last week and Wyatt hasn’t yet taken off the mantle of Acting Marshal, even if he’s changed badges. Oh, he’s still one of Virgil’s lawfully appointed Deputies, sure, but damn me if Wyatt Earp is not a leader of men through and through. People listen to the Deputy, whether they agree with him or not. There’s a steadfast determination in his own sense righteousness that can leave you speechless. Whether he is placing you under arrest or telling you which horses he think you should back in next week’s race, his sheer earnestness is powerful. Wyatt Earp believes.

What is it that he believes in, exactly? Well, it’s hard to pinpoint, but most likely, he believes in Wyatt Earp. That solid core of self-belief that most people lack? Wyatt has it in spades. A big, imposing man with broad shoulders and the sort of cord-like muscles that could only be acquired through the years of hard work that Wyatt has put in, he is also blessed with the same fair haired, good looks that the rest of the family possesses.

Virgil is bigger still, towering over his brothers and it is this which makes him so intimidating to those who have reason to fear him, but also loans an air of security to those who seek his protection. Virgil is a born guardian, Morgan makes friends easily. James is a canny businessman and Warren… well, Warren’s a little shit most of the time if Wyatt is honest.

Sometimes he thinks he’s probably the closest to normal.

As though thinking of his brothers somehow summons them forth, he hears a cheerful voice call out a greeting to him and looks up at the approach of Morgan. Everyone gets on with that boy. He doesn’t have a bad bone in his body and would lay his life down for his family, whether that be his brothers or his wife, Louisa. Wyatt occasionally finds the sugar-sweetness of Morgan and Lou’s seemingly endless love affair to be blood-curdling and wishes they’d fight for once, like a normal couple. Why, he and Mattie fight all the time…

Well, there are reasons for that, of course.

And there he is, thinking of Josie again. He puts all thoughts of beautiful women out of his head and focuses on the present.

“Morg,” he says, in response to his brother’s greeting. “Don’t you look fresh as a daisy?”

“Clean leaving, early nights and a good woman to support me, Wyatt.” Morgan always smiles. It seems that he has no other expression. Even when he’s angry there’s a mildness to his nature. Wyatt’s chosen method of breaking up brawls or dealing with trouble makers is far more hands-on than Morgan’s quietly-spoken approach. Not that Morg is afraid to get his hands dirty when it’s needed, of course, but he’s never killed a man and Wyatt sincerely hopes it stays that way.

“You didn’t stay for the game last night then?” Wyatt reaches into his coat pocket and produces two cigars. He offers one to his younger brother, who accepts readily. The Earp boys – with the possible exception of Warren – have few vices, but smoking is one they all enjoy. A good cigar is a thing of beauty. Morgan runs the dark tube beneath his nose and inhales the tobacco with an approving nod. He draws a match across the hitching post and it flares into life before he uses it to light both cigars.

“There were some high stakes at that table.” Wyatt continued. The Oriental did a roaring trade in Faro, but poker was always where the big money could be made. Wyatt wasn’t keen on poker. His impatience got the better of him and Doc had told him once that he could no more hide his excitement at a good hand than a dog with a bone. You do not just have tells, Wyatt, the dentist had said, amused. Your whole body lights up. Like some sort of beacon. Don’t you ever try keepin’ secrets, for the love of God.

“Naw. Lou wants us to save up. You know.” Morgan’s cheeks burn pink for a moment or two. “She thinks it’s time we started producing a brood of little Earps.” There is a pause, of only two or three heartbeats. “Damn, I’m sorry, Wyatt.” His sympathy and regret are genuine.

“It’s alright,” says Wyatt, and it is, really. His personal tragedy was a long time ago now. And even though the most beautiful girl in town occupies his thoughts, there is always a moment in every day, perhaps when the sun first kisses the sky at dawn, or when it sinks below the western horizon at night, that he spares a thought and loving memory of Urilla. He may be falling in love right now, but he will never bury the devotion he had to his first wife. Her death set him on a path that might well have seen him join her in her early grave, but he’d fixed himself up and was walking a straighter line now. “But you have to name your first-born after me.”

“Even if it’s a girl? Wyatt, that’d be the dumbest thing.”

The brothers share a hearty chuckle at the idea. The awkwardness is broken and Wyatt relaxes visibly. He considers his ‘kid’ brother, who’s not so young. The marshal has always enjoyed spending time with Morgan. Something about the young man’s easy-going, amiable nature helps alleviate some of his own anxieties.

“You seen Doc this morning? He was looking set for a major session when I left the Oriental last night.” Morgan changes the topic of conversation. Morgan likes Doc; just as Wyatt does, he finds the Georgian entertaining and stimulating company. He is entertained by Doc always calling him ‘son’, even though Morgan is a few months the dentist’s senior.

“Not seen him, no,” says Wyatt. “But he got into a situation with Ike Clanton. I took him back to Fly’s.”

“Again?” Morgan frowns. The frequency of these incidents is becoming alarming.

Wyatt nods. Trouble has been brewing for weeks. Ike Clanton is a perfect target for Doc’s acerbic wit and occasional spiteful riposte. More often than not it’s wasted energy on Doc’s part; some of his more impressive and memorable jibes go so far over Ike’s head that the dentist may as well not have bothered.

“There’s no good gonna come of that, you know Wyatt.” Morgan is heavily hinting that Wyatt should do something about it.

“I’ll talk to Doc later,” concedes the older brother. “As a friend. You know how he gets when I pull the lawman card on him.” Yes, Morgan knows. Doc’s friendly, genial nature flees and is replaced by a sullen defensiveness that nobody can permeate. Such moods are frequently followed by bouts of heavy drinking. Heavier than usual. Doc already drinks pretty heavily. Medicinal, he claims, but Wyatt knows the signs.

Their wandering feet have brought them to the top end of Allen Street. They walk past the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral, which is already a hive of activity with people coming and going. Wyatt and Morgan respond with polite greetings when anyone acknowledges them. They have just reached Hafford’s Corner when Wyatt is pulled to a stop. There are no polite, perfunctory greetings or pretence at friendship. This man is all business. He jerks a thumb over his shoulder.

“Clanton’s in the Oriental,” says the man who’s stopped them. “Drinkin’.”

“Already?” Wyatt frowns at this news.

“Not so much ‘already’ as ‘still’,” comes the reply. “An’ I’m pretty sure he’s armed. I told him he should get home. Get some sleep. But he’s insistin’ that he’s gonna stay in town ‘til you boys an’ Holliday show your faces.”

It doesn’t require elaboration as to what Ike Clanton intends to do with those faces when he sees them. Wyatt nods, grimly. “Thanks, Mister Boyle.”

“Just doin’ my duty as an honest civilian, Deputy.” Boyle touches the rim of his hat. He’s been hauled up for his own share of minor misdemeanours. He’s not a bad man, not in context of Tombstone as a collective. In fact, compared to many, he’s practically angelic.

Morgan runs his fingers down his moustache, smoothing it. His expression is that rarest of things, a frown. He exchanges a glance with his brother and a single word leaves both their mouths at the same time.


* * *


Once upon a time, Virgil Earp had wanted nothing more complicated than to own a smallholding. Perhaps produce a brood of children and enjoy life to the fullest. Happenstance had decided on a different path for him. Perhaps because of his size and bulk, Virgil always been a staunch protector of the weak and helpless. He does not do this through some desire for recognition, but out of an unconscious and extraordinary capacity for understanding right and wrong.

Well now, would you look at that, he marvels as the first white flecks mixing in with the rain begin to fall past his bedroom window. He has woken after a short nap feeling much refreshed and just in time, it appears. Below, the muffled sound of a banging on the door and Allie’s greeting. The words aren’t clear, distorted as they are by the floor that separates them, but the sonorous rumbles he hears in reply hold a pitch and tone that he cannot mistake. Virgil holds onto the blanket that Allie has thoughtfully put over him like he is clinging on for dear life.

Just five more minutes.

“Virg?” Allie’s head is peeking round the door and she smiles when she sees he is awake. “Your brothers.”

“Can’t you tell ‘em I can’t come out to play?” He has ever been in possession of a sense of humour although he rarely shows it outside of his own home. Her smile broadens a little and she practically twinkles.

“I’d like to, but…” Mock-regret. Virgil groans and sits up, swinging his long legs out of the bed. He runs his fingers down his moustache to smooth it out and stands, wincing at the fresh ache of his bones. He isn’t as young as he was and he works too many hours and doesn’t get enough sleep. But he is relatively content. Tombstone hasn’t been such a bad decision, he thinks. Morgan and Louisa seem well settled.

He heads down the stairs to where his brothers stand; Morgan the perpetually cheerful and Wyatt the eternally worrying. “Boys,” he greets them with a curt nod. “This better be a matter of life and death. Nobody interrupts me from my sleep without good reason.”

“It might be at that,” says Wyatt grimly. Virgil cocks an eyebrow and glances towards Morgan. The younger Earp shrugs in a faintly apologetic manner.

“Ike Clanton,” he says as though those two words explain everything.

They do. Virgil is already pulling on his boots even as his brothers repeat what they have just heard out on Allen Street. The plan is quite simple. Go to Clanton, relieve him of any weaponry and bring him straight up to the Courthouse to answer for his threatening behaviour.

“Reckon I should go round Fly’s?” Morgan isn’t sure. “Warn Doc?”

“No need to bother Holliday with this,” is Virgil’s reply. “What that man don’t know ain’t gonna hurt him. He had his share of being up in Clanton’s face last night. He doesn’t need to be involved.” He moves his gaze back to Wyatt. “Right?”

“Right,” says Wyatt. Virgil nods again and shrugs on his overcoat. It is too cold out there for just a jacket. His eyes rake over the shotgun in its rack by the door, but he leaves it there.

Later, that shotgun will cause no end of bother.

But that’s later. This is now.

* * *


The middle of the day has brought no hope for the weak sunlight that has failed all morning to permeate the cloud cover and the sleet is coming down harder. It disappears quickly into the parched, cracked earth of the Arizona mining town, but it is not long before there is that damp quality to the air that feels so strangely out of place here in the desert. The temperature is dropping and the older folk in town stare at the clouds, judging that their yellowish hue suggests the sleet will soon become snow.

People huddle, people hurry, people go about their lives in blissful ignorance. Fate checks her timepiece and begins her final countdown. She turns her attention to the epicentre, the two people who have brought this day to her door and assesses their current status.

Doc Holliday is snoring. Well, it could be called snoring, but only by someone who was feeling kindly. The noise his shattered lungs make with each exhalation of air is more of a whining, squeaking wheeze and each drawing of breath is an adventure in survival. He never sleeps for long: after an hour or so of this desperate grasping for breath, his body will finally force him awake. He does not rise, however, remaining where he is. He notes the darkness of the sky outside his window, despite the fact his clock tells him it is midday. Kate is still sleeping, her head resting on his chest, one arm protectively draped over his thin body. He reaches down to stroke her hair absently.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped roamin’, he finds himself wondering, but immediately pushes the dreams of settling down out of the way. He might not live out the week. Consumption is an unpredictable beast and he has even gone months with comparatively minor setbacks. Lately, though, he feels every beat of his heart is another hard-won triumph. He is tired. Not just physically, although the sleepless, disturbed attempts at sleep are not good for him. But he is tired of the endless battles in the endless war against tuberculosis.

He stops stroking Kate’s hair and forces himself to focus on the present and not allow himself to be transported by impossible hopes. Gently, he extricates himself from her grip and twists his body, so he can set his feet down on the floor. Their room at Fly’s is on the ground floor and he moves to the window. He twitches aside the curtain and stares out onto Fremont Street. The sleet is a rare curiosity, nothing more: he has seen enough hard winters in his travels west.

He shivers, although the room itself is not all that cold. He has slept in the shirt that he put on fresh this morning and that will not do at all. It is wrinkled and unsuitable for wearing out of the house again today. He removes it and takes a fresh, clean shirt from the wardrobe. He favours white or light, pastel shades. Subtlety and style. Today, he has selected shirt that is the faintest shade of green, a beautiful compliment to the light grey suit he has chosen. Doc has the most impeccable taste in clothes.

“Doc?” Kate’s voice is sleepy and he glances over at her with a charming, crooked smile.

“You go back to sleep, darlin’,” he says. “I have got errands to run.” She props herself up on one elbow, her hair dishevelled and her eyes sleepy. He loves her when she’s like this. The spitting wildcat tamed by sleep into a docile kitten.

“What errands?”

“My business.” He pulls on his jacket and pauses. “Don’t you be worryin’ none, though, my Hungarian beauty. I ain’t gonna get into any trouble. How ‘bout you meet me in the Oriental at four sharp? We can eat together. You an’ me.” He straightens his grey waistcoat and drops the watch into the pocket. In the slightly tarnished and distorted looking glass, he considers what he sees. He cuts a fine figure in a suit that has been expertly tailored by a remarkable seamstress over in Hop Town. It hangs on his frame well enough to conceal his thinness. His ash-blond hair, already streaked through with premature grey, is slicked back in a fashionable manner and his moustache is neat and well-trimmed.

“Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity… vanity, not love, has been my folly,” he murmurs.

“What?” Kate finds him a confusing, annoying, intoxicating blend of man and when he talks to himself, she gets defensive. He grins over at her, crosses the room and kisses her hand in a courtly, gentlemanly manner.

Pride an’ Prejudice, darlin’. Romantic flim-flammery at its absolute worst. Four. Oriental, yes?” He feels a thirst coming on. He knows what his first errand will be.

* * *

It transpires that even Ike Clanton actually possesses an upper capacity limit for alcohol. It further transpires that he has managed, through diligent application of hand-to-mouth action, passed it. He is done with drinking. Every time he raises the glass to his lips, his stomach clenches in an involuntary knot. He sets the shot glass down on the bar counter next to the bottle and throws a handful of coins down.

Stumbling more than walking, he heads out of the Oriental and into the sleet. A scowl immediately draws the lines of his face together and he squints up into the grey, colourless skies of the October Arizona day. The fresh air hits his drunken system like a hard slap and he leans over the nearby hitching post. His stomach contracts a few times and then he is violently sick. Nobody stops to see if he is alright; drunks vomiting up their guts is hardly anything new.

Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, Ike gulps in several deep breaths. Being sick has cleared his head a little, but he knows he is still drunk. What he needs is a coffee. He lumbers off down Allen Street, weaving as he goes. He shoulders his way past people coming in the other direction and merely responds in curses and grunts whenever anybody calls him on his behaviour.

He stops in at Hafford’s Saloon to get coffee. He calculates that it might just be enough to tip him back into functioning sobriety.

And Fate, at this point, proves that she has her own unique sense of humour. As Clanton leaves the Oriental and walks down Allen Street, Doc Holliday is strolling up Fifth Street towards the very establishment his nemesis has just left. Approximately seventeen seconds. That is the margin by which they miss one another.

Imagine, just for a moment, if Doc had encountered Ike Clanton outside the Oriental, instead of the puddle of puke that has already started to merge with the dirt and the horse shit that lines the road. Frankly, the reaction of extreme distaste may not have been all that different. But imagine, anyway, that they do not miss one another. That they have a fateful showdown on that dangerous corner. That place between the Oriental and the Golden Eagle Brewing Company. Where Ike, almost laid low by his own drunkenness cannot hope to match the speed and ability of John Henry’s gunslinger skills.

It would just have been another street brawl. All the names we now know might simply have slipped out of history. Perhaps Doc Holliday died in Tombstone in that alternative reality. Perhaps the Earps finally broke even on their mining claims. Nobody would ever have known their names beyond seeing them on the odd census form located far down the roads of time by interested historians. A world where three men do not die before this day is out. And all because Ike and Doc did not miss one another.

But miss one another they do.

So, while Doc is pushing open the doors of the Oriental and greeting those within (to mixed reactions: there are plenty in here who still do not trust the dentist), Ike is at the other end of Allen Street, drinking strong, hot coffee and starting to notice the presence of a pounding headache.

In a few minutes, his headache is going to get far worse.

* * *

It has been a while since any new faces have come into this story, but now seems as good a time as any. Sheriff John Harris Behan – Johnny to his friends and Sheriff to more or less everyone else – is a man of contradiction and double-dealing. He has not endeared himself to many people in his life; his first wife divorced him and his relationship with Josie went rapidly downhill after she found him in bed with another woman. In fairness, and not to afford sympathy to a deeply unsympathetic man, that particular relationship had been doomed the moment Josie met the taciturn Wyatt Earp.

Johnny Behan rubs Wyatt Earp up the wrong way, but the feeling has always been entirely mutual. Behan robbed Wyatt of the position of undersheriff, going back on a verbal deal the two men made in a saloon. In return, Wyatt, whether intentionally or otherwise – Behan has never been sure – quite deftly robbed Behan of his fiancée. Tit, as they say, for tat, even in the crudest sense. Any acknowledgement of his own wrongdoing has long since been forgotten. The split, it is obvious, was the fault of Earp and nobody else.

As such, Johnny Behan does not care for Wyatt Earp or any of his sanctimonious brothers. Virgil he tolerates, because it is difficult to do anything but admire the big, dependable man. He has little interest in Morgan and the recent arrival of Warren has merely seen a new face frequently involved in fights and disagreements. But Wyatt, ah, now, Wyatt he really does not like.

There is no love lost between Behan and Doc Holliday, either. Doc finds Behan’s friendship with the various so-called cowboys to be nothing short of suspicious and rarely hesitates in saying so. Doc has frequently allowed the word ‘corrupt’ to tumble artlessly into conversations about Behan. There is animosity and tension among the group and Holliday’s frequent altercations raise them to boiling point on a regular basis.

But Behan is aware that Ike Clanton is on the warpath and whether or not he cares what happens to Doc Holliday, he is certainly grudgingly accepting of the fact that he needs to demonstrate some semblance of law and order in the town. In much the same way Ike is looking for Doc, Behan is now looking for Ike. He will reason with the cowboy, recommend he get himself some sleep. Some of the others are staying at the Grand Hotel; maybe Ike can bed down there for a while. Behan couldn’t give a skunk’s rump about whether Ike and Doc are fighting, but he does not particularly want the hassle of arresting Ike for disturbing the peace.

In short, Johnny Behan is a fundamentally lazy man. Some days, though, he must be seen to be proactive. He has picked a fine day for it.

During his search for Ike, he has found someone else. More than one in fact, in the shapes of the McLaury boys. Frank and his younger brother Tom are not being their usual rowdy selves today; he has found them sitting at a corner table in the Grand Hotel, bickering over a friendly game of Five Card Pickup. Billy Claiborne, just one of the seemingly endless men named Billy who seem to exist in this town alongside the inordinate number of men named John, is also with them.

The atmosphere is not particularly unfriendly. It has no reason to be. The McLaurys are in town to finish up a deal signing several head of cattle over to them so that they can drive them further west to their final destination. Herding is hard work, dirty work and exhausting work and Behan doesn’t blame the boys for taking their entertainment while they can.

“Why Sheriff Behan,” drawls Frank, his lips forming the words around the cigarette that is hanging there loosely. “What brings you in here today? We ain’t doin’ nothin’.”

“Curb the paranoia, Frank,” says Behan. Normally he’d enjoy this sort of banter with the younger men. They are, after all friends. Some people aren’t too keen on the town sheriff being quite so close-knit with a group of known troublemakers. Behan doesn’t let it get to him; why should he? Today, however, he doesn’t not wish to engage in this sort of flippancy. Today, he is annoyed by the news that Clanton and Holliday are squaring up for a showdown and he wants to put an end to it before it starts. “Where’s Clanton?”

“Billy?” Tom nods over to the bar, where a callow youth is measuring out shots of whiskey. Behan shakes his head. The kid must only be nineteen if he’s a day and already he’s showing signs of following the path set by his slovenly older brother. None of the Clantons have turned out well as far as Behan can see. Old Man Clanton most assuredly raised them in his image.

“Ike,” replies Behan, running a finger over his moustache. It is the only tell of irritation on his face. “I’m trying to track him down. I hear tell he’s looking for Holliday.” He takes off his hat for a moment, running his fingers through his hair.

This elicits a snort of derision from the brothers. Tom slaps his hand down on the table and laughs so hard that his drink practically comes out of his nose.

“Holliday? The hell’s Ike doin’ goin’ after that long drink of water? What’s Holliday gonna do, Sheriff? Cough on us? Bring it, lunger.”

This unimaginative insult brings fresh gales of laughter from the others, and, despite himself, Behan allows a smile to tickle around the edges of his lips. He gets it back under control again and forces a stern expression to take over. “Don’t underestimate him, Tom. He might look like he’d snap in a good wind, but you know the reputation.”

Yes. The reputation. The arrests. The drunken misdemeanours. The temper. The McLaurys shrug.

“Ike’s big enough to take care of it. Don’t you worry none, Sheriff.”

“I’m going to keep looking for him.” Behan replaces the hat and nods to the boys at the table. “Ain’t no point in letting this get out of control if we can help it. Ike doesn’t need another night in a cell.”

He touches the brim of his hat and glances at them all. Before he leaves, some kind of strange premonition encourages him to speak words that form in his throat and escape his lips before he can stop them.

“Stay out of trouble, boys.”

* * *

Later, much later, even Wyatt will allow the thought to pass his mind that Virgil might be a little heavy handed with Ike when they finally catch up with him. But it transpires as they follow the man’s passage through Tombstone, that he has retrieved his weapons from the West End Corral and that means, much to Virgil’s quiet satisfaction, that he is now once more in violation of the ordinances. It adds a determination to Virgil’s already lengthy stride. He enters Hafford’s Saloon, trying not to let the grisly exhibition of once-animate life bother him. He’s never felt comfortable in here, not with all those beady, dead eyes judging him silently.

“Ike Clanton,” he says and does not need to elaborate.

“Sure. He was in here,” says Colonel Hafford, wiping out glasses with a cloth. He glances across the bar. “Boastin’ about how he’s gonna get you and your brothers. And that nice Doctor Holliday.” Even mired as he is in his rising fury, Virgil marvels just how it is that Doc is such a lonely man. Everyone – barring Ike Clanton right now, obviously – seems to like the dentist. And they have good reason. Holliday is polite, more than a little charming, with that roguish, crooked smile of his, and smart. Why it is that the man seems to have no friends outside of the Earp family is a mystery.

A mystery for another time.

“Where’s he at now?”

“Left just now. Headin’ up Fourth best as I could guess.” Virgil nods grimly and leaves, following in Ike’s booted footsteps. It’s not hard to catch up to him. His brief period of sobriety has passed. Coffee in Hafford’s turned into something infinitely more alcoholic, and he is stumbling in a crooked line, unable to focus and once more colliding with on comers. He is completely unaware that Virgil Earp, tailed by two of his brothers, is right on his tail until he feels the resounding thump of the Marshal’s gun against the back of his head.

Pain. Pain explodes in Ike’s world like a whole stack of dynamite blowing out a mine head. The agony courses through his body and dazed by the blow, he falls face-forward, off the boardwalk and into the road. Now he is not only drunk and angry, he is injured – as evidenced by the slow ooze of blood from his head – and covered in horse shit.

It is not going well for Ike Clanton.

“Wyatt. Morgan.” Virgil says the four syllables with precision. “Get his weapons.”

Ike is disarmed and hauled to his feet before he even catches up to his current predicament. Wyatt and Morgan force him to stand and Virgil glowers at him through those Earp eyes. All the brothers share those eyes. Cold as ice, piercing right through any artifice and straight into the soul.

“You’re breaking ordinance, Clanton,” he says. “And you know what that means.”

“Am I under arrest, Marshal?” Ike sounds so clever in his head. Externally, he sounds drunk. Mi underesht, Marshal?

“You know it,” Virgil confirms, grimly and nods to his brothers. “Get him down to Judge Wallace, boys.”

* * *

Doc is in a good place. Not physically; not in the literal sense, although the Oriental remains one of his favourite places in Tombstone. Not as plush as the Grand Hotel, not as busy as the Golden Eagle Brewing Company on the opposite corner. He is seated at a corner table, alternating sips from the tea he pours from a beautiful china pot with shots from the bottle of Old Overholt, his favoured drink. He is dealing cards out in front of himself, engaging in a game of patience. He does not feel as tired or off-colour as he did when he woke earlier.

Bourbon, he has found, not only suppresses his cough, it takes the edge off his near-constant anxiety. Sometimes, the façade cracks. Sometimes, Doc Holliday’s cool, calm exterior will shatter and expose a vulnerable, frail twenty-nine-year-old man, afraid of a death which could come at any time. He always sits facing a door – keepin’ an eye out for the Reaper, as he will tell anyone who observes this practice. Ain’t gonna let him sneak up on me the way he did my poor mama.

Fanciful, but partially accurate. If he is sitting with his back against a wall, there is minimal chance he will go out like ‘Wild’ Bill Hickok, shot in the back in Deadwood some five years back. Because Doc Holliday understands there are plenty of people, both here in Tombstone and from elsewhere in his colourful history, who would enjoy nothing more than decorating the table with his brains.

Bourbon helps him to cope with an increasingly miserable existence. The tuberculosis is bad enough, but of late, he has also begun to experience other side-effects of his illness. His symptoms, which had been confined to his lungs, have spread to his back. In his introspective moments, and he has many of them, he pictures his spine crumbling to dust, like a clod of earth between a miner’s fingers.

Before he dies, six years or so after this fateful day, Doc Holliday will lose more than two inches in height through the deterioration of his spine. Already he finds it hard to stand fully upright. The cane he used after he was shot in the hip back in Texas had been less of a walking aid and more of an affectation, but now… now he needs to use it more frequently. His eyes linger on it, an innocent object leaning up against the table. It is rapidly becoming a symbol of his weakness, a rogue he cannot fight or face down, a thief who will take his life.

Sometimes, he is angered at the unfairness of it all. Other times, he reluctantly acknowledges that at least his terminal diagnosis has forced him to live – which is more than can be said for many.

“Maybe a year at the outside,” was the last verdict from Doctor Goodfellow. “If you give up your excessive lifestyle. No drinking, no smoking, no late-night gambling… that might buy you some time.”

Well,” Doc had reasoned, “I do thank you for the assessment, sir, but if I’m gonna give all that up, well then, I may just as well hand myself straight into the Devil right away.”

It is no surprise he has heeded none of the warnings. His deeds and misdemeanours have ensured he will receive a fast-track ticket to Hell. Why not enjoy the ride?

So, he is drinking bourbon (and tea – he is fond of the drink, despite what some of those crazy folks up in Boston might have felt), enjoying his own company and starting to appreciate the buzz that comes from a daytime visit to the Oriental Saloon.

He is, in short, starting to get drunk.

Not to the same degree as Ike Clanton – at least, not yet – but he is getting drunk nonetheless. But he is content to be by himself. No Kate, constantly worrying at him about leaving Tombstone. No Earp brothers, gently bickering over the smallest things. No Ike Clanton up in his face…

He recalls last night’s argument and shudders involuntarily. That came close to something other than harsh words. John Henry does not doubt his own skills as a gunslinger. He practises enough and even displays one of the classic signs of a man who does so. He must lean toward people to hear them when they are sitting on his left. Doc is, after all, a southpaw.

No, he doesn’t doubt his gun skills. But Ike is a big, powerful man. All it would take would be a well-aimed swing of one of those ham fists and Doc fears his fragile, frail bones will shatter like a shot glass dropped on marble.

And, of course, packing hardware in town is frowned upon most severely. Doc shifts position slightly, feeling the cool kiss of the Derringer against his forearm. He doesn’t doubt for one second that Virgil Earp would not turn a blind eye if he were to wind up shooting an oaf like Clanton through the forehead. No, that man would be down on him like an anvil. And it is not even Virgil’s disappointment he is reluctant to attract.

No, it’s Wyatt’s.

Wyatt is Doc Holliday’s friend. ‘Friend’ is just a word most people throw around freely, but Doc Holliday can count those he considers to be his friends on the long, delicate fingers of one hand. For Wyatt’s sake, he will hold his temper in check. But not for anybody else. He respects Virgil and he is fond of Morgan, but there is bond between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Neither of them understands it, and why should they? It is a fateful bond that the machinations of destiny have woven for them. Two unaware, innocent – as far as the word can be taken in relation to their activities – souls whose history pivots around a friendship founded in Texas, fortified in Kansas and which will be cemented into the bedrock of history today.

In around two and a half hours’ time.

Outside, the temperature has dropped another degree and the darkening skies are threatening snow. Inside the Oriental Saloon it is warm, and it is pleasant, and Doc Holliday has another shot of whiskey. He has no better place to be right now.

* * *

Wyatt stamps his feet a little and blows into his cupped hands to warm them. He is grateful for the wool overcoat that is keeping out the worst of the wind’s bite, but right now, he wants nothing so much as a hot drink to hold in his hands. He has left Ike inside with Virgil to answer charges before Judge Wallace. Morgan is rolling a cigarette and glances up as his brother emerges from the Courthouse.

“Good morning’s work?” Morgan’s grin is infectious. It always has been and what passes for a smile flickers onto Wyatt’s face. For him, that basically means his moustaches lift just ever so slightly.

“Better than hauling him and Doc off to Boot Hill.”

There is a moment of hesitation as there often is whenever the twin subjects of Doc and death are mentioned too close together and Morgan tactfully moves the subject onto the weather. Wyatt lets the younger man’s cheerful complaints – the boy can’t even complain without sounding happy about it – wash over him. He turns to head back inside and finds himself colliding with a heavy-set figure.

“Why don’t you watch where the hell you’re goin’?”

Tom McLaury has arrived. He has heard about what happened with Ike and has come to do whatever he can to sort the situation out. That’s what the cowboys do for one another. Help each other out.

“Watch your mouth, McLaury.” Wyatt maintains a firm stance, his feet planted slightly apart, his hip jutted forward enough that the other man can see he’s armed. It is an openly aggressive posture and McLaury hesitates. Wyatt glances at the cowboy’s hip. There is a holster there, but he can’t make out if it is presently occupied.

“You heeled, McLaury?”

Tom is surprised by the question, even though he was partially expecting it. Something bristles. Something burns, deep in his gut and his already potent dislike and distrust of Wyatt Earp sparks into something akin to open rebellion

“So what if I am?”

“Don’t get smart-mouthed with me, boy.” Tom is twenty-eight, not much younger than Wyatt himself, but the word ‘boy’ carries a heavy insult with it. He is a small man, not much over five feet in height and Wyatt Earp towers over him. But he suddenly doesn’t care. He does not feel threatened or intimidated or in any way afraid of this pompous son of a bitch.

“You don’t scare me,” he says and is rewarded with a blow to the side of the head. He didn’t even notice Wyatt take out the revolver, but he is aware of it when it connects with the side of his skull. Like Ike, barely thirty minutes previously, Tom McLaury goes down in the dirt outside the Courthouse. He remains there for just a little longer, then drags himself back to his feet and glowers up at Wyatt.

“You are all gonna get what’s comin’ to you,” he says, surprising himself with the aggressiveness of the threat. He puts a hand to his head and it comes away stained with blood. Tom grimaces and spits into the dust. At this point, Ike is being ushered out of the Courthouse, his pockets lightened by twenty-five dollars plus more in court costs. He too is looking the worse for wear after being struck by Virgil. He sees Tom and stumbles towards him. The two men move several feet away and talk together in low voices. Vigil also exits the building now and watches like a hawk.

“Hand over your weapon, McLaury,” Wyatt says, ignoring this complete disregard for his authority.  “I know you’re armed.”

“We’re leavin’ now,” comes the reply. “Ain’t armed. Handed my revolver in at the Capital before I came over here.” He flaps the tail of his coat to show an empty holster. It seems in order, but Wyatt is not completely convinced. “An’ you wanna be real glad we ain’t gonna file for assault. You got no right goin’ round just hittin’ people because you can.” He almost invokes the phrase ‘wait until Frank hears about this’, but he suddenly realises that calling on his older brother for protection isn’t going to always be the answer.

“C’mon, Ike.” Tom starts to walk toward Doctor Goodfellow’s place, not far from the Courthouse. “Let’s get both of us cleaned up and then we can…”

What it is Tom and Ike plan to do is lost in the clatter of a passing stage and Wyatt takes a step toward the retreating men.

“Let it be, Wyatt,” rumbles Virgil, quietly. “Clanton’s disarmed and sobering up pretty fast now. Everything is under control.”

Wyatt hesitates a moment, then reluctantly concedes the point.

“Glad we got that sorted,” says Morgan, amiably. The younger Earp brother can’t be further from the truth but at this point everything looks to have been dealt with. “Why don’t we go for a game or two over at Campbell and Hatch?”

Morgan loves his billiards. Wyatt shrugs and Virgil shakes his head. “No,” he says slowly. “No, I think we need to keep a careful eye out for the rest of the day. Something about all this doesn’t sit right with me.”

Fate ceases her whispering in Virgil Earp’s ear and hurries across town. She has somewhere to be and that somewhere is the Grand Hotel. Doc Holliday has just walked in and not only is he there, but so are Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. And she’s not done with them just yet.

* * *

“Doc,” says Frank warily as the other man walks in through the doors. The former dentist raises a hand to touch the brim of his hat in a polite manner. Just the short walk across the road from the Oriental to the hotel has left him breathless and he is keen to take a seat. He has no real desire to speak with McLaury, or the Clanton boy. But Alice McKey did not raise her baby boy to be impolite and so manners demand he acknowledges the greeting.

“Good day to you, Frank. Good afternoon, William.” He always uses Billy Clanton’s full name because he knows it annoys the boy and because it amuses him in turn to cause that annoyance. Doc Holliday takes a masochistic delight in winding people up and Billy Clanton is a prime candidate. His formal greeting is rewarded with an ugly scowl that makes Billy the perfect image of his older brother.

“What you doin’ in here?” Billy is less than polite and Doc brushes the light smattering of snow from his overcoat shoulders before he replies.

“Why, William, is a man not entitled to take an afternoon constitutional? Is he not allowed to take a drink in whichever fine establishment he chooses?” Doc’s words ooze charm and humility. “I am not interruptin’ whatever it is that you are occupyin’ your time with, am I? Does my presence insult you for some reason, son?”

Yes, actually, it does. Billy is aware that Ike and Doc fought last night and his sympathies are never likely to come down on the side of this itinerate Georgian. Billy scowls and drops heavily back into his own seat, glaring at the dentist. A crooked, borderline boyish grin lightens the creases of Doc’s face and, chuckling softly to himself, he moves to take a seat in the far corner. There are a handful of poker games starting up and he is feeling the urge to get some adrenaline pumping. Usually Kate will sound out the games for him, find the best ones for him to join, but today he will be happy to do the job himself.

He orders tea, but no bourbon to begin a planned afternoon of poker. He will break to meet with Kate – if she bothers to show – but poker is his aim right now. He watches in silence, absorbing all that is going on. Thus it is that he learns about the fracas with the other McLaury, Ike Clanton and the Earps from Billy Claiborne, who charges into the saloon and breathlessly drops down at Frank and Billy’s table.

“Ike and Tom…” he begins, but he is hushed by Frank who nods over to where Doc is sitting, still wearing his hat and coat. Billy Claiborne looks startled, then grim and then conniving. His face goes through the three expressions in a heartbeat and much to Doc’s distaste, he lowers his voice. They are sitting slightly to his left and his partial deafness, a result of all the hours practicing with his pistol, does him no favours. Occasional glances are shot his way and he judges the situation based on how Frank’s face grows darker and angrier.

When Claiborne has finished delivering his news, Frank gets to his feet and snatches up his coat from the back of his chair. He storms out of the Grand Hotel, slamming the door so hard it all but comes off its hinges. Doc quirks one fair eyebrow up in curious interest. For a moment, it looks as though Claiborne might say something, but he rushes off after Frank. Only Billy Clanton remains and he looks torn.

Then he points at Doc as though mimicking pointing a pistol at him and mock-fires.

Then he too is gone, leaving the dentist wondering what in the name of all that is good and holy has just happened.

* * *

Like so many of the inhabitants of Tombstone, Ruben Coleman is a miner. He is lucky enough to be employed in the Toughnut, one of the mines that’s going great guns. He likes it here and for the most part keeps his head down. He is not working today, although he should be, and he is also in the Grand Hotel when McLaury smashes his way out.

The other thing Ruben Coleman definitely is… is nosy. He is interested in what has occurred to make Frank McLaury so angry. He drains his drink and heads out the saloon after the other men. Doc doesn’t even notice. He’s already lost interest in Frank McLaury and turned his attention to a game happening right next to him.

So it is Ruben Coleman who witnesses Frank and the two Billys meet up with Ike and Tom just beyond the Grand Hotel. It is Ruben Coleman who watches them talk together in hushed, inaudible tones and it is Ruben Coleman who observes them head down to Spangenburg’s gun shop. He decides, there and then, based on the evidence that clearly the men mean trouble.

Ruben goes off in search of Sheriff Behan, passing Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan as he does so. The Earps murmur greetings to the miner, but he, pink-faced and puffed up with his own sense of civic duty, barely notices. Morgan chuckles at the little man’s sense of hurry.

“Reckon ol’ Rube’s on a promise, eh, Wyatt?” He nudges his brother, who doesn’t laugh. Virgil smiles, though, infected as easily as ever by Morgan’s bright, sunny personality.

“Can I trust you boys to keep an eye on things?” Virgil pauses outside Hafford’s. “If you wait here just a few minutes, I want to go home and get something. I’ll meet you back here.”

Wyatt seems offended that his brother thinks he might do anything but keep the peace and Morgan simply shrugs. It is snowing harder, now, and he is quite enjoying the spectacle of Arizona winter. He and Wyatt engage in low-level bickering, leaning up against the hitching post and keeping an eye on things without making it blatantly obvious.

Virgil strides off down towards his house on Fremont, hunching his shoulders against the wind that is biting at him. He is unaware, as he passes by Spangenberg’s, of the transactions occurring within.

His trip home does not take long and although Allie calls out a greeting to him, he only responds with a grunt. His quarry is right by the door, where he left it when he walked out this morning. He doesn’t know what it is that has compelled him to pick up the shotgun, nor why he conceals it beneath his overcoat, but he senses, instinctively, that it will all come clear.

* * *

Sheriff Behan is not pleased with the news that Ruben Coleman brings him. The puffed up little miner is filled fit to burst with the news that he has seen the cowboys buying ammunition at Spangenberg’s. Ruben also takes it on himself to tell Johnny Behan precisely what a Sheriff’s civic duty is.

“I reckon as they mean trouble, Sheriff Behan. You gotta go disarm ‘em before they start shootin’ up the town. You don’t want a repeat of what happened with poor Marshal White now, do you? You remember, don’t you?”

Behan instantly recalls Fred White to mind. The man has not even laid in the ground a year at this point. He had been the first Marshal of Tombstone and had done a sterling job until ‘Curly’ Bill Brocius had accidentally – at least allegedly – cut the thirty-one-year-old lawman down in his prime. Better part of three days it had taken the poor bastard to die, too. A lingering, excruciating death from the gunshot wound in his groin. And all because Brocius had been drinking too long, partaking of too much opium over in Hop Town and fancied his chances taking a pop at the moon.

Oh yes. Johnny Behan remembers.

Virgil Earp had succeeded White as Marshal and things have been on an even keel, more or less, until these past few weeks. Behan is acutely aware of the threats the Clantons – particularly Ike – have been making in what he considers to be an Earpwardly direction. He knows perhaps he can now no longer remain neutral.

“Spangenberg’s, you say?” He straightens his shoulders, stands up taller and stares up at the iron-grey clouds, filled with foreboding and pre-emptive regret.

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure I heard someone say the McLaurys were stabled at the West End Corral. If they ain’t already armed, that’s where they’ll be headin’, I’d say.”


Coleman waits, just in case he is going to be made privy to anything else, but Sheriff Behan is already preoccupied with the situation. He strides down the boardwalk of Allen Street, a well-dressed, suave figure radiating an air of authority that seems all-too infrequent in the Sheriff. He will speak with the boys. Reason with them. Suggest they head out to Bisbee for a few days to cool off. Everything will be just fine.

Fate is barely able to contain her excitement. It is about two-thirty in the afternoon by now and the page of the story turns as it shifts into its next phase  

* * *

Some months earlier, not long after he first arrived in Tombstone, John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday found himself in trouble. But then, he thinks, as he cashes out of the poker game, when isn’t he in trouble? He’s trying to lead a peaceful life now, because he honestly doesn’t know how much longer he will have that life to live.

 He pulls on his overcoat and hat, murmurs his thanks to the other players. He hasn’t particularly enjoyed the game and they have treated him with the same wary uncertainty that so many do. Ever since Johnny Tyler. Ever since Doc was disarmed and bodily thrown out of the Oriental by Milt Joyce. Ever since Doc, steaming drunk and incapable of rational thought, had returned home, got his revolver and gone back to the Oriental. Ever since he’d messed up Milt’s hand, shot the bartender in the foot… ever since then, nobody really trusts him.

He could’ve gone to jail then. Only the fact that he’d stood up to Tyler, a bully if ever there was one, was in his favour. But fortune favours the bold, so they say, and on that day, fortune practically showered Doc with a torrent of favours that he senses are going to start haunting him soon. He lives on borrowed time, he has escaped more criminal charges than he openly admits to…

Where is it all going to end?

Fate an’ fortune will come to collect in the end, my boy.

It is his father’s voice. Doc has had no contact with Henry Holliday in years and even remembering the reasons why are enough to ignite the fire of anger in his belly. He takes a deep, calming breath, but it is a mistake. The air is too cold. It snaps against the back of his shredded lungs and he must rest against the saloon’s exterior wall as a painful fit of coughing takes hold of him. He selects a clean handkerchief from his left pocket and covers his mouth.

The coughing fit passes. It always passes. But not before he feels more tearing in his chest. The handkerchief he tucks away in the other pocket is stained with blood. It no longer shocks him, no longer frightens him. No longer affects him. Just like everything else.

He can’t feel any more. It is as though his own emotions have dried up and deserted him. He yearns for an adrenaline rush, even knowing that it will likely set off another coughing fit.

Doc sighs softly, getting control of his own body once more. He is tiring of this endless battle.

This insular, lonely man stands now outside the Grand Hotel in Tombstone, leaning against the wall and, in defiance of his respiratory health, rolling a cigarette. He looks back over the last eight years of his existence. Life hasn’t treated him fairly, that’s true, but he is here. He is, as he likes to tell Wyatt, rolling. The take on the Faro table – when he’s feeling well enough to deal – is good and while his organs and bones may be disintegrating, his pianist’s hands, deft and quick, can still deal from the bottom of the deck when he needs a dollar or two more than usual.

Even that is starting to lose its appeal. Doc Holliday is beginning to wonder if this is it for him. The beginning of the end. If gambling, his livelihood, no longer appeals, what does he now have left to live for?

Over on the other side of the street, standing at Hafford’s Corner, he sees Wyatt and Morgan, talking earnestly to Virgil. The biggest Earp – dear Virgil, how terribly proper he was at times – is catching the arm of passers-by and speaking to them. Doc knows the Earps well and there is an urgency to Virgil that piques his curiosity. He licks the seal on his cigarette and strikes a match against the hitching post. The tobacco flares as it catches and he takes a pull from it before gathering himself together. For most people, this is a quick jaunt across the street. For a broken, dying man, it is an expedition.

Appearances, John Henry. We must always put our best foot forward.

“Hey, Doc!” Morgan, at least, is pleased to see the man as he makes his slow progress across the street. He hides his pace by pretending to pause to greet those walking in the other direction and to a certain extent, it works. Wyatt is watching him from beneath half-lowered lashes, though and Doc is uncomfortable. Wyatt’s concern is evident. Doc must look bad if Wyatt is letting his reactions show.

“Boys,” he says, greeting the brothers as though he is a man much older. In fact, he is younger than Morgan by a sprinkling of months. His illness does make him seem more aged, though. “Now what on Earth is goin’ on here today? People have been comin’ and goin’ all afternoon as though there is some mighty storm comin’ in on the Tucson stage.” His eyes linger on Virgil.

The oldest Earp present is making a poor show of hiding the shotgun. None of the Earps are any good at subterfuge or subtlety and Virgil is no exception. A chill wind blows down Allen Street and as Doc steps up onto the boardwalk, idly scraping the muck off his boots, he realises for the first time that he is perhaps just a little on the tipsy side. “So what is it that you boys are takin’ such pains to keep quiet?”

For a few moments, none of them reply to his question and Doc feels the first stirrings of uncertainty. “This got somethin’ to do with Ike Clanton?” It is an educated guess, nothing more, but the way none of them look at him directly tells him that he is bang on the money. “I do declare that man can hold a grudge longer than any man I ever did meet.”

“Not just Ike, Doc.” Wyatt finally looks up at him. “His brother, too. We think the McLaurys are in with him now. And Claiborne.” Wyatt shakes his head. “Seems Ike’s been having a good brag about how he’s going to do for you. And us, too.”

“Why, isn’t that just peachy? A veritable gang of ne’er do-wells.” Doc is cheered immensely by news of this little vendetta.

“Virg is talking about trackin’ them down,” offers Morgan. “Disarming them.” Virgil glares at his younger brother and Morgan gives that little one-shouldered shrug he always adopts when his brother disapproves of something he’s said or done.

“You don’t need to worry yourself about it, Doc,” says Virgil, keen to keep the Georgian out of any more trouble. He’s not as close to Holliday as Wyatt or Morgan, but he has little desire to see things get out of hand.

And Doc Holliday is momentarily infuriated by Virgil Earp’s unintentional patronising. He is incensed enough that the next words to leave his mouth are just one of a handful of things he, and the Earps will say this day which will be remembered well over a hundred years later.

“That is a hell of a thing for you to say to me,” he says, hotly.

“What?” The flare of temper startles Virgil. There is fury burning behind Doc’s grey eyes.

“Ike Clanton started this and I will thank you, sir, to remember just who it was he was threatenin’ last night.” Doc’s ire is uncomfortable and Wyatt instinctively lays a calming hand on the other man’s shoulder. Doc glances over at him and something unspoken passes between them.

He checks his temper.

“I can help you,” he says, evenly. “Cover your back if you need it.”

Virgil Earp is not a man to act on the spur of the moment. No, he thinks things through carefully before he tugs uncomfortably at his moustaches. He looks over at Wyatt, then to Morgan before back at Doc.

“Apparently, they were heading out to Fremont,” he says to the assembled group. “There’s a vacant lot down there, out front of the O.K. Corral. Next to Fly’s. Reckon they’re waiting to get you when you go home.”

“Kate’s there,” says Doc and everyone looks at him immediately. It is rare that he shows true concern for his lover, but there is a hint of uncertainty in his voice. True to form, he covers it up immediately with wry, sardonic humour. “They do not want to be wakin’ her up from her beauty sleep. She would crush them with everythin’ she’s got.”

“Johnny Ringo isn’t going to let the boys worry at a woman,” offers Morgan and this much is true. For his many faults, John Peters Ringo has limits. Even Curly Bill Brocius would draw the line at attacking a defenceless woman. Although Kate probably isn’t defenceless, the younger Earp adds metal.

“Johnny Ringo isn’t in town,” throws in Wyatt. “Neither is Brocius.” This explains a lot; particularly why the Clantons and McLaurys have been throwing their weight around. With nobody to rein them in they have started running wild. Virgil considers the implications of these facts and then he nods.

“That settles it, then. We go down there, disarm them.” He looks to Doc, considers for a moment and then holds out a hand for the Georgian’s cane. The silver-tipped stick is swapped immediately and without hesitation for the shotgun which is stowed away neatly beneath Doc’s coat. He hides it better than Virgil; there is less flesh filling out the fabric and the swing of the material is more natural. Virgil doesn’t need to know, at this point, that Doc is also armed with his nickel-plated revolver as well as the Derringer.

What Virgil Earp doesn’t know about Doc Holliday’s law breaking won’t hurt him.

Marshal Virgil W Earp looks over his brothers who are also his sworn-in deputies, and Doc Holliday, who he has unofficially deputised through the action of giving him the shotgun. Holliday has always been one of the first to present himself when help is needed, or at least was until his illness worsened. Does he trust him?

He knows Doc is a little under the influence of alcohol, but he also knows that at least this way the dentist might just heed his words rather than simply going crazy.

So yes. He trusts him.

“Let’s go, then boys.” He shoots another look at Doc. “Kate will be fine, Doc. Don’t you worry none.”

“Do not mistake me for a man concerned about the welfare of a wildcat,” replies Doc, airily. “Miss Kate can most certainly take care of herself. I am not worrying.”

He is. But he’d be damned as a scoundrel before he let on.

A crowd has started to form. They are all aware of Ike’s threats, of the actions of the McLaurys – Rube Coleman has been the catalyst for the speed of the gossip spreading throughout the mining town – and they are interested in the manner in which the Earps and Holliday are gathering. With Virgil and Morgan in front, the men set off two-abreast down the boardwalk of Fourth Street toward Fremont Street.

Toward the scene that Fate has been busily setting up for them since time immemorial.

* * *

It will be some years before what happens is known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Indeed, that description does not even take off until the film of the same name is released in 1957, more than three quarters of a century later. Up until his death in 1929, Wyatt Earp always refers to it as the Fremont Street fight and the wider American public doesn’t even particularly know about it until the lawman’s biography is released two years after he has passed away.

But ‘the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ is, without question, an infinitely snappier name than ‘altercation that took place on a vacant lot out on Fremont, slightly to the west of the O.K. Corral, next to Fly’s Boarding House and Photography Studio’. History, so they say, is written by the winners. It is also written by those who like catchy titles.    .

The relevance of all this is that events which transpire are never fully corroborated. The Earps are liked and hated in equal measure in Tombstone. There are those who side with the brothers, there are those who side with the cowboys. Doc Holliday, the wild card, garners no support, but nobody dares speak out about him, either.

These are all events still to come, however. Let us concern ourselves with the here and with the now. Snow is drifting gently now, settling on the shoulders of the dark overcoats worn by the Earps and Holliday as they walk down Fourth Street. It is not all that far, but they are not hurrying. Virgil has set the pace and he is not in a rush to get into a situation with the always-unpredictable Ike Clanton. Wyatt and Morgan mirror their older brother’s determined posture and expression.

Doc Holliday, so witnesses say later, is whistling cheerfully to himself as the group walks.

They encounter Johnny Behan at the corner of Fourth and Fremont.

Behan takes one look at the grim expression on the face of his Marshal and instinct takes over. Stepping down off his side of the road, he swiftly crosses to intercept.

“I’ve disarmed them,” he says. Later, he will claim that what he actually says is that it is his intent to disarm them, but the Earps will say differently. Either way, Virgil seems to relax a little at the news and Behan pushes this advantage. The Clantons and McLaurys are, after all, his friends – despite their reputations. He lays a hand briefly on Virgil’s arm. “It’s all under control. You don’t need to go in there.”

And this is the crossroads. This is the moment where Virgil could take Behan’s words as gospel and where he can spin around and let the matter lie. But like any deal made at a crossroads, the devil is here, whispering furiously in Virgil’s ear. Behan says he has disarmed the cowboys and that makes him relax just a little. He is holding Doc’s cane in his left hand with his right resting lightly on the revolver at his right hip. Encouraged by Behan’s claim, he is reassured enough to switch the revolver round to his left and move the cane to his right. It is his choice to do this which delays his partaking in any shooting that ensues.

Likewise, on hearing Behan’s claim, Wyatt also takes his gun, which he has in his hand under his coat and puts it into the pocket of his overcoat.

“You don’t need to go in there,” Behan repeats and Virgil hesitates as the demon at the crossroads provides him with just enough doubt.

“They’ve threatened my family,” says Earp and behind him, Doc Holliday looks up. He realises that Virgil has included him in that word and the sense of belonging is overwhelming. In that instant, Doc Holliday’s loyalty is assured. “I won’t have it. I am going to set this matter straight.”

The demon cackles, the deal is made. Behan shakes his head and steps aside as the four men continue down Fremont Street until, moments later, they catch their first sight of the cowboys standing in the vacant lot beside Fly’s Boarding House.

* * *

Kate is awake and is standing at the window of the ground-floor room she shares with Doc inside Fly’s. The sky has darkened and the room is gloomy, so she moves to the window, dressed only in her under garments. Not that she’s in any way bothered if anybody sees her. There are certainly plenty of men in Tombstone who’ve seen beyond even that layer. As she twitches aside the curtain to look out on the grey afternoon, she sees the Earps and Doc as they walk by.

Something romantic flickers over her at the sight of Doc. For now, he is still a handsome man, even with the ravages of his illness, and he is so much more stylish than any of these back-country miner types. Her heart flutters and she considers knocking on the window to attract his attention. It is instantly dismissed as too girlish and Kate doesn’t consider herself to be some giggling adolescent. She is way past that age for a start and besides, Doc’s walking with his left ear toward the boarding house. He probably wouldn’t hear her anyway. On top of that, he’s with the Earps.

Kate doesn’t like the Earps. Specifically, she doesn’t like Wyatt. She doesn’t like the snooty way he looks down his nose at her chosen profession. She doesn’t like the way Doc hangs on the man’s words like he’s dripping jewels of benevolent wisdom. She’s probably a little jealous that Doc enjoys spending time with the Earp brothers more than with her, but jealousy isn’t an emotion Kate easily admits to.

She’d usually have dropped the curtain by now, but something in the manner of the four men walking past her window holds her attention. She sees, out of the corner of her right eye, Johnny Behan standing on the corner, shaking his head. She notices how rigid Virgil is: how big and straight he is holding his posture. She catches the briefest glimpse of the shotgun inside Doc’s oversized coat and Kate Haroney is suddenly afraid. It is a strange fear and not one she is used to. For Kate is used to self-sufficiency. She is used to fear that gets her out of potentially dangerous liaisons with psychopathic, murderous men. She is used to fear that makes her run from danger when it starts. But right now, she is not afraid for herself.

She is suddenly, unconditionally and deeply afraid that this will be the very last time she sees John Henry Holliday alive. Her hand comes up to slap against the glass of the window. Only Morgan hears and he glances once, over his shoulder. He doesn’t see Kate: the angle is all wrong and so he turns his head and keeps walking. Kate’s hand leaves the glass of the window and she covers her mouth, her heart beating so loudly she is sure Mrs Fly, busy elsewhere in the house must be able to hear it. She is helpless to speak, helpless to act, helpless to intervene.

Caught by some compulsion she will never understand, a need to witness something she will carry with her to her dying day, Kate watches events as they unfold before her.

* * *

It is Tom who notices the arrival of the Marshal and his deputies first. He is standing. He looks up from his conversation with his brother and Billy Clanton and stares at the unlikely crowd of people who have followed Virgil Earp’s party down Fourth Street.

“Frank,” he says in a soft voice, filled with a warning tone. “Frank.” He nudges the other man with an elbow to interrupt the discussion. Frank looks in the direction indicated and his eyes narrow suspiciously. It has taken every ounce of effort on the part of his friends to calm Frank McLaury down after he learned of Wyatt’s assault on his brother. He is still not calm and the thunder in his face is more than evident.

A little further along, standing in the vacant lot, are Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne. During their visit to Spangenberg’s, they have picked up Wes Fuller, another one of the many people in town who is more than happy to deliver a little unpleasantness to the Earps. As well as the men, there is also a fine chestnut mare – Frank McLaury’s pride and joy – and another horse, a skittish young bay who is rolling his eyes and snorting as Billy Claiborne attempts to saddle him.

Six pairs of eyes meet four. Virgil slows his pace still further and approaches cautiously. His brothers fan out to his right – Wyatt next to him, Morgan on the far end, closest to Fly’s. Doc, without any prompting and instruction, anchors their line a few feet to Morgan’s right. He has shrugged off the overcoat now and the shotgun is clearly visible, although he still holds it against his thigh. He makes no effort to threaten. From her vantage point inside Fly’s, Kate realises how striking a figure Doc makes in his all-grey suit, standing out from the black-clad Earps.

He will freeze to death, is all her anxious mind will bring to the fore.

Doc is, in fact, cold without his coat, but he knows that if trouble starts – and somewhere, deep, deep down, he hopes that it doesn’t – the garment will likely impede his ability to shoot. Without the coat, he also exposes the revolver that has been loosened in its holster at his left hip. Each of the Earps has their six-shooter. By comparison, armed with his revolver, with his nickel-plated revolver and the hidden Derringer, Doc is without question the most heavily armed.

A silence falls. Even the crowd behind the Earps is holding its collective breath. The young bay snorts and bucks slightly as Wes Fuller surveys the scene. He says something to Ike and then leaves the lot. He does not approach the Earps, instead heading off at an accelerated pace down Fremont Street.

At this point, Wes Fuller fades into history, remembered only as window dressing.

Billy does his best to calm the bay, but all those currently present are exuding a sense of anticipation that is affecting the horses. The colt snorts and tosses his head and the chestnut mare beside him wickers softly.

Frank moves into the lot to take up her reins, his eyes remaining firmly on Virgil Earp. So far, neither side has said a word to the other. Only seconds have passed and then finally, Virgil speaks.

“Throw up your hands, boys. I want your guns.”

At this point the eye must follow very closely. Once the first shot is fired, the entirety of this unlikely historical event takes approximately thirty seconds to reach its conclusion.

But who fires the first shot?

It is impossible to be certain. Perhaps the fight commences after Doc Holliday raises the shotgun, readying it for action. He is not the first to fire, though, because the contents of the weapon’s barrels are destined for a particular target. When the shotgun comes up, the two parties are approximately eight feet away from one another and it is an instinctive thing for Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton to draw their own revolvers.

Virgil takes another step forward, raising the cane in his hand. “Hold!” He cries out, but nobody hears him. “Hold! I don’t want that!” But the pebbles cannot vote once the avalanche has started and the words disappear into the air.

Hammers are pulled back.

Triggers are squeezed.

Two shots go off, resounding with an echoing crack in the confined space.

On the other side of the face-off, only Doc is presently armed. But he has been told to follow Virgil’s orders and for now at least, he will hold to that promise. He keeps his position, holding close to the edge of the semi-circle and levels the shotgun, aiming at Frank McLaury’s head. He is not the only one whose instincts lead him to aim at the most dangerous man present. Frank McLaury has a reputation as something of a sharpshooter and represents the greatest threat. So as well as Doc’s shotgun aiming at him, Wyatt Earp is also – literally – gunning for him. The revolver that was previously in the deputy’s overcoat pocket is now in his hand and he returns fire.

The first shot, it is uneasily agreed later, was fired by Billy Clanton aiming at Wyatt. The second shot is Wyatt’s as he fires at Frank McLaury. He cannot tell if he has hit his mark because at this point, Ike Clanton rushes up to him and grabs the deputy by the lapels.

“I ain’t armed,” he babbles drunkenly. “I ain’t got a weapon, Wyatt!” Wyatt is not impressed by Ike’s blubbering and shoves the man roughly aside.

“Get to fighting, or get out of here, Clanton,” he yells and, stumbling over his own feet, Ike Clanton, one of the two people at the heart of this terrible situation, crashes through the front door of Fly’s Boarding House, disappearing out the other side. Johnny Behan sees him charging up Allen towards Toughnut Street and it is likely that in his drink-fuelled terror, he simply keeps running for his life.

Billy Claiborne notes that perhaps for the first time ever, Ike has demonstrated good sense and it is a question of seconds before he is also off and running.

Seven seconds.

Morgan is now also armed and has fired off at least two shots. Virgil, fumbling with Doc’s cane, finally swears – a testament to the severity of the situation – and drops it to the floor, cross-drawing his own weapon.

The bay horse is now in a panic and rears up, narrowly avoiding hitting Tom McLaury in the head with his hooves. Tom holds on desperately, but the horse is too strong. And now Doc breaks his promise to obey Virgil’s orders, taking the situation into his own hands. Tom has thrown a hand to his right hip, clearly ready to draw, and the Georgian is not going to let that happen. Not on his watch.

With graceful ease, an athleticism that belies his condition, Doc Holliday steps around the bay horse and unloads both barrels of the shotgun into Tom McLaury’s chest.

Twelve seconds.

Tom is pushed backward by the impact of Doc’s close-range shot, but does not fall. He stares down at his chest, startled to discover that he has a gaping wound there where once there was a breastbone. Tom McLaury is already dying at this point, but that fact has failed to register.

There is no pain, he thinks, and has very little time to marvel on the matter. It will better, he determines, for him to get away. Yes. Ike and Billy had the right idea. Doc has no interest in the man he knows is simply going through the motions. He throws down the now-empty shotgun and draws his revolver, turning his attention back to Frank McLaury. Tom releases the mare’s reins and the animal withdraws to the back of the lot, stamping and making a noise of terror that no animal should ever have to make.

Tom begins to stumble away, onto Fremont and Third, where he almost immediately falls, slumping at the base of a telegraph pole.

Fifteen seconds.

Shots continue to trade across Fremont Street. From her spot inside Fly’s, Kate can no longer see Doc. When he stepped out of her eyeline to shoot Tom McLaury, she almost ran outside. But she is not fool. She has seen enough gunfights to know that stray bullets are very much a thing. She is frankly chancing her arm standing this close to the window.

Nineteen-year-old Billy Clanton has failed to make it out of the alleyway. A shot to the side has taken him down and he slides, bleeding, down the wall. It doesn’t stop him from returning fire. Even when a well-placed shot from Morgan hits him in the wrist, forcing him to swap hands, he determinedly keeps on. If Ike had hung around, he would be proud.

But Ike isn’t there. It is Billy’s last regret.

A stray shot takes Morgan down. It is a shot that if today had been his day to die might well have felled him for ever more. It enters his body through the right shoulder, tearing through skin, sinew, muscle and bone. It rips a hole in one of his thoracic vertebra and reverses its entry process, tearing its way out the other shoulder. As he stumbles backward, Morgan trips on a newly-buried waterline and crashes to the ground.

Today, though, is not Morgan’s allotted time, although his appointment with Death will came far sooner than is just or even fair for a man of his age.

Eighteen seconds.

Virgil has moved from his original position too, and continues firing at Frank and Billy Clanton. Only Wyatt has stayed still. Perfectly, statue-still. It is this, later, that proves to be the smart move – or lack thereof – that saves him from any injury. He shoots at Frank McLaury and hits the other man in the abdomen. Wounded and desperate now to escape, Frank staggers into the alleyway and snatches the reins of his horse, leading her out and into the road. He struggles with the animal across Fremont Street, attempting to reach for the shotgun in the saddle scabbard. The movement unsettles the animal and he loses control. The horse wrenches free and now she can flee the horror, the noise, the shouting and the smoke.

Doc follows Frank, firing whenever he can take a shot. There is a burning in his own chest, but unlike Tom McLaury, still slumped against the telegraph pole, it is not because he has been shot. The exertion of this gun battle is tearing adhesions in his lungs, pieces of diseased tissue forcibly being wrenched from his chest cavity by his efforts. There is the taste of blood in his mouth and the urge to cough.

He fires.

He misses.

Somewhere, he hears a yell of pain as a lucky shot from Billy Clanton hits Virgil in the calf. With the tenacity of every Earp, possibly throughout history, Virgil continues to fire, back at Billy.  It becomes evident that Morgan, despite the severity of his own injury, has also got himself up into a shooting position.

Billy Clanton yells in pain and one more gun is silenced.

Doc is only aware of Morgan on the very edges of his awareness. His world is narrowing down, funnelling everything into one simple fact. It is him and Frank McLaury. Nothing else, nobody else is even important any more. He hasn’t been counting shots.

Frank shoots and the bullet grazes against Doc’s hip, stirring the old injury. The pain is e and extraordinary and he sucks in a breath. The scarlet flare of anger fires behind his eyes and he can no longer think rationally. Fuelled by drink and rage and something else, Doc Holliday lets out an almighty bellow of fury. Ignoring the blood now soaking through the fabric of his fine grey suit, he explodes into the temper for which he is justly famous.

“That son of a bitch has shot me! I will kill him!”

He is aware of Wyatt, shouting something at him, but he does not care to listen. Doc squeezes the trigger on his gun again and nothing happens A misfire? No ammunition? Either way, nothing happens.

Twenty-six seconds.

In this split second, Doc realises with absolutely certainty that this is it. This is his moment to die. He finds himself at peace with the idea that in a few heartbeats, he will be dead or dying and in a curious demonstration of defiance, he spreads his arms out wide. Frank, bleeding heavily from his own injury, laughs without humour.

“I’ve got you now, lunger.”

Doc nods, solemnly. Behind him, Morgan is fighting through his pain and sees this curious exchange. He hears Frank’s words and then he hears Doc utter the line that, over a century later, is repeatedly misquoted.

“Blaze away Frank,” says the dentist, his tone solemn. “You’re a daisy if you have.”

Frank fires.

Doc, acting on the instincts of a gunslinger, fires.

Morgan fires.

One man goes down and it is neither Morgan nor Doc.

Nobody ever knows who fired the bullet that hit Frank McLaury in the head, killing him instantly.

Thirty seconds.

The guns stop.

Three men are either dead, or headed in that direction. Three men are injured, one severely. Wyatt Earp remains precisely where he was half a minute ago, smoke curling from the barrel of his gun as he surveys the aftermath of the horror that has ensued. He wonders, briefly, what the loud noise is and then realises it is the sound of his own heartbeat, pounding urgently against his chest.

He exhales. He hasn’t even been aware he’s been holding his breath until that point.

Some way up Fremont Street, Doc Holliday sinks to his knees, cursing the searing pain in his hip. Unlike his prior injury, he knows that the bullet has grazed him, not gone through the skin, but that doesn’t stop it hurting. His blood stains the snow beneath him and he drags himself from his self-pity, drags himself back to his feet and forces himself to turn. He forces himself to check on his friends.

Wyatt is standing where he was, breathing heavily. Virgil is struggling to stand, but cannot. Morgan is crying out in pain. Now that the younger Earp has stopped, now that the adrenaline has stopped, the reality of his pain has begun to take hold.

But they are all alive and that is more than can be said for the cowboys.

Thirty shots, thirty seconds. Many years later, one of the men who re-enacts this battle, several times a day will tell me that they average nineteen shots during their thirty second shoot-out, but they consider that they are over-exaggerating for the benefit of a captive audience. Maybe thirty shots were fired. It is unlikely anybody will ever know for certain.

What is certain is that Frank McLaury is dead. Tom McLaury, who has not moved from where he fell at the start of the battle is carried with due care to the Harwood House, where minutes later he dies without speaking a word.

Not such a silent farewell for young Billy Clanton, who is bleeding, dying and demanding morphine with each breath. The arrival of Doctor Goodfellow – who someone had the sense to run to fetch as soon as the Earps set off from Hafford’s Corner –  grants him his wish. As they carry the youth to the Harwood House, where moments earlier his friend has passed away, he is still in terrible, agonising and lingering pain. Reluctantly, Goodfellow hits him up with a second shot.

Billy reaches up and grasps at the doctor’s sleeve. “They have murdered me,” he gasps, still resisting the effects of the morphine. “They have murdered me! Tell these people to leave me alone. Let me die!”

It is horrific to watch a man die in such agony. Doctor George Goodfellow is painfully reminded of the final days of Fred White and, as the light finally dies in Billy Clanton’s eyes and he goes to meet his Maker for whatever judgement awaits, he removes his hat respectfully. He reaches out and closes the boy’s staring eyes.

Then, and only then, does he go out into the street to take stock of the injuries sustained by the lawmen.

* * *

“I have to arrest you all, Wyatt.”

Johnny Behan is stunned by what he has just witnessed. Stunned to have seen three men he considers to be his friends fall. Stunned to have watched as his own Marshal and deputies deal out Tombstone’s unlikely justice. He’s seen gunfights before, usually one-on-one disagreements that end with an angry man shooting another angry man before one of them has the chance to pull their weapon. But this was something else. This was a grudge that got out of hand.

“What?” Wyatt is preoccupied with ensuring that Morgan and Virgil get home where they can be treated for their injuries. Goodfellow is overseeing their transportation, while Doc is managing – just about – to limp along with the aid of his cane in one hand and his other arm around Kate for support. Every other step brings another stab of pain, but he insists he can manage. Wyatt lets him walk. The dentist got so angry when it was suggested he be carried that it was easier to give in.

“You’re under arrest.” Behan is still hesitant, still uncertain.

“No.” Wyatt turns his full attention to the sheriff. “Nobody is being arrested. I won’t be arrested today. I am right here, and I am not going away.”

There is no arguing with Wyatt Earp’s stubbornness and Johnny Behan is a poor excuse for a law keeper. He steps aside and allows the Earp brothers to be carried home, where Goodfellow will treat them.

Doc, whose injury is superficial, nonetheless appreciates the opportunity to sit down in the big armchair in Wyatt’s front room. His chest is full of blood and it is an hour or two before the endless stream of handkerchiefs are no longer scarlet, but a sickly-looking pink. The man is exhausted by the afternoon’s events. Kate, relieved he is alive, tells him precisely what she thinks of what’s happened and he lets her endless vitriol wash over him like a balm.

“I’m alive, darlin’,” he mumbles and pats her hand gently. “Y’all can rip into me tomorrow when I am feelin’ up to it, hmm? I’m alive. I’m here, an’ you are here an’ I think we should let it be for now.” He pats her hand again. He feels light-headed and woozy, a side-effect of the laudanum that Goodfellow has given him to relieve some of the pain. It renders him docile, the firecracker of earlier now dissolved into a broken man who is dying inch by painful inch.

Doc’s words and the gesture of patting her arm are so gentle and unexpected that Kate Haroney decides to give it a rest.

This is nothing short of a miracle.

Doc closes his eyes, wanting nothing more than to rest. Wyatt does not grant him that liberty. He emerges from the back room, where Morgan is now stable.

“What have we done, Doc?” There is deep, heartfelt regret in his tone.

The dentist cracks open one eye, then the other. “I am not sure, Wyatt,” he says, reluctantly. “Everythin’ happened too fast. Three men are dead, though, an’ that will no doubt require us to explain ourselves.”

“But it’s dealt with, at least?” It is a question, not a statement and Doc takes a long time, a very long time to answer. Finally, he sighs.

“I fear, my taciturn friend, that we have not heard the end of the matter.”

How right Doc is. Months of trials, assassination attempts, life-altering injuries, successful assassinations and a startling vendetta ride across the Arizona landscape wait the attention of the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Even the newspapers carried on the bitter divide. The Epitaph found firmly in the favour of the Earps, while the Nugget championed the cause of the cowboys. Witnesses could not agree on what they had seen, what they had heard. Only a handful of people knew the absolute truth of the events on Fremont Street that October afternoon and half of them were now dead.

Thirty shots, thirty seconds. Not a soul alive could have told you where it would end.

– END –

Allegro [Overwatch]


Did… someone say ‘peanut butter’?


He loved many things.

The swell of the orchestra as the music built to a crescendo was one of them. He lay in his hammock, his eyes closed, appreciating the ebb and flow of the most beautiful Adagio from Spartacus. Yes, he loved music.

(It is worthy of note that he also had a soft spot for bananas and went crazy over peanut butter, but that was incidental to the joy of classical music).

Winston sighed softly and let his arm hang loose, swinging easily to the rhythm and cadence of the tune. This piece was one of his absolute favourites. Harold, his handler, had introduced him to the pleasure of classical music so many years ago that he’d lost count. While some of the other specimens had barely responded to music, Winston had adored it. And this particular work always took him back to the heady days of his youth. It didn’t have the drama of, say, the Rite of Spring, nor the airiness of the Nutcracker Suite, but the tune was nonetheless a most welcome…


…he didn’t remember that infernal electronic drum beat in the middle of one of the most famous ballet scores in all of known history…


Neither did he recall the moment in the ballet that the girlish voice lifted in tuneful song, belting out one of the most popular K-pop tunes of the day occurred.

“Young people,” grumbled Winston in his deep baritone. “No respect.”

With easy grace, the gorilla rolled from his hammock and listened carefully to the endless drumbeat. He knew precisely where it was coming from and it was interfering with his rare moment of down time. He was feeling annoyed.

Annoyed, not angry. When Winston got angry, people knew about it.

“Do you want me to increase the volume, Winston?” He turned his head to the source of the voice and sighed.

“No, Athena,” he said, with reluctance. “It’s probably best not to ruin the optimal level for enjoyment.”

“I can turn down the other music remotely if that will help?”

It was tempting, certainly, to let the base’s AI interfere in this unlikely and sudden battle. Winston had still to get used to the newer members of the unit and this was no different. They’d exchanged very little in the way of words (‘LOL, you’re a gorilla’ and ‘GG, Winston’ being two of the more baffling phrases he’d encountered).

Hana spoke English beautifully but there were times when he wished she’d speak her native Korean more. He understood that more clearly than any of these bizarre Young People Acronyms. She seemed inordinately young to have taken up permanent residence on the team, but he couldn’t deny that her skills were more than welcome in these changing times.

He just found her so difficult to relate to. For the first time, he had grasped a reed-thin glimpse at what it must be like to be Commander Morrison when faced with the attitudes of a new generation.

“No, Athena, thank you. I will… speak to her personally.”

Moving at his easy lope, Winston made his way down the hallway to the young woman’s door. She had decorated it with a huge, golden star that contained more glitter than Winston had ever seen in his entire life. He was not keen on glitter. It got into the fur and made him look less than credible…

You’re an ape in a suit of armour, he thought, glumly. Don’t start talking about credibility.

He raised his knuckles and rapped on the door. Unconsciously, he was knocking in time to the drum beat.



I play to win!

There was no reply, so he tried again, twice more. Both times nothing happened and with a low growl of minor irritation, Winston raised his fist to bang more loudly. As he did so, the door swung open to reveal Hana Song standing in front of him. She was chewing loudly on her customary bubble gum, a pair of fluorescent pink headphones perched on her head and a game controller in her right hand.

“Hi, Winston!”

Everything the self-styled D-Va said was punctuated by exclamations. Two minutes of talking to her exhausted him so.

“Hana, I wondered if…”

“Is my music too loud?! I’m sorry! I was playing this great game and totally like, arguing with someone over my headphones! I’ll turn it down!”


“I love this song! I forget there are other people here! Sorry!”


“I gotta go, I’m queuing for competitive play and people get, like, SO down on you if you get kicked! GG, Winston!”


The drums softened to a barely audible whisper of sound, but Winston found his eyelid still twitched in rhythm. He had barely understood a word of the conversation. He swivelled a digit in his ear thoughtfully and stared at Hana’s now-closed door before straightening the glasses on his nose, uttering yet another sigh and loping back to his own room.

“Athena… unpause.”

“Of course, Winston. Would you like me to start from the beginning?”

“Why not?”

He got sixteen bars in before it happened again.


The gorilla pulled a pillow over his face and whimpered. This, he knew with deep regret, was his own fault.