“Dr. Dana D. Eggebrecht, wasn’t it?” Ellen Strasser drew out each syllable of the name mockingly. “From the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC?”
“That is correct, Ms. Strasser,” said Eggebrecht. “I’ve come to speak with you personally, to deliver a warning.”
“A warning for me? How quaint.” Strasser sat at her desk and gestured for Eggebrecht to be seated opposite her. “I should warn you though, ‘doctor,’ that Prosperity Falls is well outside any jurisdiction you’d care to name. The town has been on this spot since the 1830s, long before the United States exercised any sort of sovereignty here. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that half a century hasn’t changed that.”
Eggebrecht scowled behind his pince-nez spectacles. “My warning is nothing so prosaic, Ms. Strasser,” he said icily. “As you may or may not know, I have been researching the Ide tribes which live nearby.”
Strasser slowly, deliberately, leaned back in her seat and crossed her immaculate cowboy boots atop the desk. “Those savages have been a thorn in our side since my grandmother’s time,” she said with a yawn. “The Prosperity Rangers are preparing a solution as we speak.”
“That’s precisely what I’ve come to warn you about, Ms. Strasser!” Eggebrecht leaned over the desk, his face red. “You simply must not ride against the Ide at this time!”
Strasser reached into her holster and produced a Colt Lightning. She opened the loading gate and began casually removing empty shells with the ejector. “And, pray tell, who the hell are you to give orders to the deputy chief of the Prosperity Rangers?” she said drily, refusing to meet the Smithsonian man’s gaze.
“Listen to me, Ms. Strasser. I’ve been studying the Ide for years, particularly their mythology. They have a well-developed eschatology, a story of the end times. By coincidence or design, the conditions now are very like those in their myths.”
Her unloading finished, Strasser produced a box of .32 caliber shells from a desk drawer and began delicately dropping them through the revolver’s gate one by one. “You’re right. When we ride against them, the Ide had better believe it’s the end of the world.”
“No!” Eggebrecht stood and pounded his fists on the desk. “You plain fool, you don’t understand! To attack would be to fulfill the myth, to unite the Ide against you. It would bring a full-scale war to the valley, in direct violation of the Prosperity Charter you claim to cherish!”
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” Eggebrecht said. “My research confirms this. Right now the Ide are divided about whether this is truly the end time their legends speak of. An attack would drive them all–the High Ide, the Low Ide, even the Ide among the Drifters–to confederacy against you! It would be a sure route to slaughter and utter destruction.”
Ellen Strasser said nothing and continued to slowly load her pistol.
“The legend stresses that all who die in glorious battle during the end times will be borne to the Ide conception of heaven,” said Eggebrecht, “in response to an attack from outsiders. It’s what split the Ide on your forefathers’ arrival, damn it, and your course will surely lead to the total destruction of the valley settlements and my research.”
“Let me get this straight,” Strasser said. “The expedition I am planning will unite the Idea against us and goad them into joining suicidal battle?”
“Yes,” Eggebrecht said, sounding relieved.
“And you’ve told no one else of this?”
“I came to you first.”
“Good.” Strasser snapped the gate shut on her Lightning and fired three rounds into Eggebrecht’s chest, point-blank. Rising, she pulled a derringer out of her boot and pressed it into the scholar’s hand.
“I think a good old-fashioned judgement day is just what the Ide need,” she said softly. “Imagine the look on those fools’ faces when my Rangers save the town and open up the Ide lands to settlement in one fell swoop.”
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