Beto Rivera is a prospecting on the lonely planet of Mirimar when he rescues a woman that he wishes he hadn’t. — ed, N.E. Lilly

Beto Rivera rested his cheek against a wind-polished lump of sandstone in the darkness. The smooth surface of the rock was warm in the cool, windswept night. He momentarily closed his eyes against the blowing sand and the screams and gunshots that the wind brought to his ears.

Miramar was a desert planet where the lives of men were often worth no more than the nickel it cost for a cartridge to end them. It had been prosperous once, with sprawling wastelands rich in ores and heavy metals, but with no oceans washing the sandy surface of the planet. The collapse of the far-off, galactic government brought an end to the prosperity of Mirimar. No more starships came to collect ore, no more supplies were delivered from greener, lusher planets.

The fireball from a rupturing fuel tank lit up the valley below him. Beto took a deep breath and opened his eyes. It was not his fight. He was ashamed to realize that he had been prepared to leave, when the piercing scream of a woman echoed in the night.

Beto gritted his teeth. If men wanted to kill each other like dogs, it was their own business, but no man who was a man would allow such treatment to be visited upon a woman.

He crept back through the sand to the low depression where he’d parked ‘Gitana’ and gave the trailer hitch lever a kick with the pointed tip of his boot. As the tongue of the two wheeled trailer slammed into the sand, he was already climbing aboard the bobbing hover-cycle. He pulled on his goggles and tugged the stampede-string of his wide-brimmed hat up snug under his chin.

“Okay, niña,” he said as he switched off the vehicle’s auto-pilot and took control with the knee switches. “It’s time to go to work.”

The beep of the control panel was his only answer.

He touched an actuator and the primary thrusters came to life with a rumble. His hand grasped the imported walnut stock of a revolving scatter-gun and he slid it from its scabbard as he bumped control-spurs against the vehicle’s side-panels. At that, the hover-cycle bounded forward leaving a billowing plume of dust and smoke behind it.

Clearing the crest of the hill at high speed, the cycle sailed a full ten feet over its rated altitude before plummeting back down to cut a groove in the sandy hillside. Beto let out a wild yell and drew a .44 revolver with his left hand.

The raiders had been busy plundering and savaging the travelers they’d ambushed. There was no defensive perimeter set up, no scouts watching for any counter-attack. Beto roared through the scene of destruction and misery like a fireball. He let blast into the hydrogen tanks of both the raider’s vehicles as he past and cut a man down with a third, quick shot.

One of the raiders ran off into the darkness and he let the man go, promising himself, ‘later’. Another dusty raider—a woman he thought—loosed a shot in his direction. He fired in return before his natural aversion to shooting at a woman stopped him. Logically, he knew that a battle against wasteland-raiders was no place for ethics. He would regret the shot after the fighting was done, but not during the battle.

A rocket wushed close across his path and impacted explosively into the hillside a quarter of a mile away.

That was too close! Beto spun Gitana and looked frantically for the marksman. He prayed the raider didn’t have a multi-shot tube and he’d have a moment while the man re-loaded.

“Gitana!” he called, “Auto-scan, where did that come from?”

A red dot flashed on the Head’s-up Display in his goggles as his wildly searching gaze past over one of the crippled vehicles. He threw a quick shot at the ID’d location to make the gunner duck. Spinning his cycle in a roaring half-circle, Beto drove directly at the cowering marksman while unleashing a fusillade of shots. A second rocket careened wildly into the night sky, and then the raider was up and running. Beto cut him down from behind and blasted back to the ambush site.

Another raider was running, dragging a prisoner by her slim, pale arm. Beto caught a flash of a narrow waste between a flowing dress and long, blonde hair. Running was a stupid act. On Mirimar, there was nowhere to go. Beto sheathed his empty weapons and drew his right-hand revolver as he pursued.

As he closed to within pistol range, the raider spun and clamped the woman to his chest as a human shield. Beto raised his cycle’s nose to break, and pulled up about sixty yards from the pair. The woman held out her hands, warning him away while the raider snarled his defiance and kept an automatic pistol pointed his direction.

The tableau held for only as long as it took the raider to cock back the hammer of his pistol. Then several things happened almost at once: Beto ducked and raked his cycle with silver-mounted spurs, the raider began firing at him, and the woman vented a piercing, drawn-out wail of terror.

Beto crouched as a bullet glanced off Gitana’s low windscreen. He gritted his teeth in anticipation and kicked again with his control-spurs to engage the after-burners. There was a bone-jarring jolt, and he was ripping past the pair in a blast of flame. He chanced a single shot, and the couple was left rolling upon the ground in his wake.

He wheeled and returned at a more controlled speed to find the woman screaming and flailing in the sand. The Raider never changed from his position as a crumpled heap upon the valley floor.

Shrieking curses and crying hysterically, the woman was slapping at her smoldering hair and clothing.

“Are you all right?” Beto yelled.

“All right? All right?” she shouted. She pulled her hand away from her head and it came away with a fist full of blackened, frizzled hair. “You almost killed me you—”

“Almost is good enough,” he spurred Gitana and left the woman venting curses in his wake. He re-loaded his pistols as he circled the area scanning for life. Finding none, he rode off into the desert to track down the raider who’d run away.

There was no justice in the wastelands of Mirimar, only the crude, violent cycle of action and reaction.

Beto returned with the raider’s weapons tied across Gitana’s rear seat. The body was left to feed the buzzards and ants.

He found the woman busy applying burn salve to the side of her face from a scavenged first aid kit. She was sitting next to the single vehicle that wasn’t burning. It had been a plush limousine before the raiders had crippled its engine pods with careful rifle-fire.

Beto pulled up and kicked off Gitana’s main thrusters. “How’s the face,” he asked.

“Burned!” she snapped.

“Hair and skin heal,” he replied with a shrug. “A fellow parts your hair with a bullet, it’s more permanent.”

“Thanks!” she snapped.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, though he could tell by her flashing eyes she had not meant it in gratitude. “Did you transmit an emergency signal when they hit?”

“There was no time,” she told him. “We were just passing through the valley and then rockets were raining down onto us.”

“Anyone else left alive?”

“I haven’t checked—”

Beto left her to work on her burns while he searched through the corpses. He couldn’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t check to see if their friends needed first aid. It was completely foreign to him.

He found no one alive. There were a dozen bodies, all young men, all well dressed and packing guns. They were armed, but not prepared. They had died inside the comfort of their air conditioned vehicles. The raiders had made a good ambush of it. Beto decided it wouldn’t surprise him if they’d had inside information.

Inside information meant money, big money.

The woman was mid thirties and fashionably dressed. Probably someone important. Her good looks didn’t mean much to him. Surgical enhancement was too cheap. Too many hollow, miserable people had their looks vetted thinking it would hide what they were inside. The crude, hookers that worked every spaceport were some of the most dazzling women he’d ever seen, and some of the worst thieves and murderers.

The woman he’d saved was someone important enough to be sent out with an escort of guards she didn’t care about losing. That made her someone it would be good for a miner to get rid of before he became entangled with wars over oil, minerals, or corporate subterfuge.

Beto dug through luggage, tossing most of it onto the sand, and came up with a pair of OD mechanic’s coveralls and a large, white shirt.

As he walked past the woman, he tossed her the bundle, ordering, “Put these on, señorita.”

“Are you insane?” she argued looking at a grease stain on a dangling sleeve. “Why would I want to—”

“Traveling clothes,” he told her. “Whoever arranged this ambush is going to come looking when no one delivers you to him. We’d best be long gone.”

“I’ll just radio for help—”

“Radios are burned up or dead.”

“I have my hand set.” She held up a palm-sized transceiver. “The reception isn’t very good, but if we just get to high ground—”

“Say, is that one of those new YZ-44’s?” he asked taking the item from her hand.

“Yes it’s— What are you doing?”

Beto pulled the battery and tossed the phone into one of the burning vehicles.

“Just keeping us alive,”

“I could’ve called my—”

“Whoever you called would’ve tried to kill you, or sent men to try and kill you.”

“Whatever are you talking about?” Her anger vanished and her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“You’re off the Darry road,” he explained. “No reason for your drivers to have turned into these hills except to get themselves far off the beaten track. And raiders, they don’t just rocket passing vehicles.”

“Raiders will shoot at anything,” she argued. “Everyone knows that.”

“There is no salvage reclaimed from a vehicle hit by a 50mm Lancaster!” he began to lose patience with her inability to understand the situation. “For a raider, that would be like cooking the goose who laid the golden eggs. So, why did they blast your escorting vehicles, but only disable yours, Señorita?”

“Well, I suppose—” she began slowly.

“Because they were sent here for you, of course!” he cut her off. “Raiders kill for loot. These banditos killed to wipe out your bodyguards. Someone was after you. After you alive, I think, but those sort of ideas change upon a whim. So if I were you, I’d get dressed so we can vacate this location.”

“Where can I—”

“Push some bodies out of your vehicle there if you’re shy,” Beto nodded at the disabled goundcar.

“Do you ever let people finish what they’re saying?”

“No time for rambling, Señorita, we’ve got to move!” Beto suddenly had a very bad feeling about the ambush site. Someone was liable to follow up and be sure the job was done right, and that someone would be a lot more professional than wasteland-raiders.

He waved at the woman to approach. “Get on the back. We’re going to move out now!”

“But you just told me to change—”

“I’m leavin’.” He threw a leg over his cycle and floated it up about six inches off the ground. “Bring the clothes, but get on now unless you want to walk back to Carbon Canyon.”

“Walk?” she snapped. “It’s eighty miles! I can’t—”

He revved the cycle and let it begin to coast away. She ran after him and jumped onto the long seat behind him, fighting with her dress and cursing under her breath.

As soon as she touched the seat, he accelerated up the hill and out of the valley. As they left the burning vehicles behind them, he called out, “Gitana, give me an active scan of the area.” The cycle gave an audible beep and a holographic image flashed up before him.

“Nothing,” the woman called out, looking over his shoulder at the image.

“Don’t matter. They’ll be coming soon enough. Best we aren’t here when they arrive.”

He drove them back to where the trailer waited and backed up to the hitch.

“This would be a good time to change your clothes, Señorita,” Beto suggested as he hooked up the cycle.

“If you’ll just—just face away,” she said with the clothes clutched to her chest.

“Yes, Señorita,” he said with a sigh of resignation.

He heard clothing dropping and a zipper being closed. He gritted his teeth at the foolishness of it. All she had to do was walk off ten steps and she’d be completely invisible in the darkness.

He heard the ‘clunk’ of his trailer hitch and turned to find her sitting astride his hover cycle. She was dressed in the coveralls with the shirt draped over and knotted at the waste. She also had a captured pistol pointed at him in a competent manner.

Beto raised his hands and scowled at her.

“Sorry, but I’ll travel faster without you,” she apologized without any real regret. “I’ll send back help.”

“Those scooters can be a little wild out here in the wastelands,” he warned.

“I’ve driven a model three hover-cycle before,” she informed him. “Just back off there. Go on, get back!”

Beto backed away while she started the cycle with her left hand. She turned and pulled on the throttle in a single motion. It was clear she had experience on a cycle.

Beto watched her roar off into the night. He put down his hands and watched the lights grow smaller and smaller in the darkness. Then there was a wild flash and a sharp noise. The beam of the headlight blazed up into the sky, illuminating the cloud of dust that swirled around the wreck.

Beto began walking toward the light. About halfway there he saw the beam swing back and forth, as though someone was righting the cycle. Then there was a roar and the lights began to dwindle in the distance once again. Beto continued to walk. It wasn’t more than fifteen seconds before the crazy sweeping of the headlight told of another crash. This time there was no more movement. The light just blazed up into the dusty sky again, marking the location like a beacon.

Beto walked on and approached the wreck carefully. He could see the woman struggling to get her leg out from under the fallen cycle. The heavy piece of hardware wasn’t moving.

“Need some help?” he asked calmly.

“Don’t I look like I need help?” she demanded.

“Uh-huh,” he replied. “Toss the gun over here.”

She did so with a curse under her breath. He brushed off the weapon and shoved it into the cargo pocket of his trousers.

“Yes, Señorita, it doesn’t seem like you need me at all,” he said sarcastically as he flipped on the counter-grav generator and then the gyro-stabilizer. The cycle floated upright immediately. “A real expert on a hover-cycle, aren’t you?”

“Your gyros cut out!” she told him.

“They’re working fine now,” he said with a shrug.

“Well they failed on me!”

“Maybe Gitana, she don’t like you,” he suggested.

“Crazy dirt-miners!” she grumbled.

“Well, I’d better give her a test.” Beto gave the cycle full throttle and left the woman choking in a cloud of sandy dust.

“Hey! You can’t just leave me!” He heard her yelling after him.

Can’t I ride on the back of the cycle with—ouch!—with you?” the woman requested between the bumps as the trailer bounced over rocks.

“No,” Beto drawled. “I think I’ll keep you beyond arm’s reach.”

“We could move faster without this trailer, “ she griped as she moved around the canvas covered gear she was sitting on.

“Could be,” he agreed.

“Then why don’t you drop it?”

“Faster isn’t always the way a man needs to travel,” he replied. Besides, the gear is mine. I’d hate to lose it.”

“I’ll cover the replacement cost,” she offered petulantly.

“You don’t have the money to pay for what’s in that trailer.” he called back.

“You have got to be kidding,” she sneered.

Beto just laughed and continued to drive.

“Oh, don’t tell me this grip has ‘deep sentimental value’, to you?” she said. “What’ve you got under here, a tent and a shovel? Maybe a couple of gas and water cans? No more than any other hardscrabble miner on this ball of dirt.”

“Maybe, but it’s mine and I don’t want to lose it.”

“Okay, look,” she told him in exasperation. “I’m Tyrana Westlen, owner of the Eastern National Mining Corporation. I’ll pay you 20,000 Mir to dump this trailer and get me to San Paulo.”

Beto looked back at her for several, long seconds, then turned back to driving.

“Well?” she demanded.

“Sorry, I’m headed for Fort Lee,” he replied finally. “We get there, I’ll explain what happened to your escort. We’ll get you military protection back to San Paulo or wherever you were heading. I’ve got to report this ambush to the authorities.”

“But that’s a full day in the wrong direction!” she argued.

“It’ll be time well spent if they think you’re heading back to the main road.” he told her. “Besides, such a sweet, polite, well mannered señorita as yourself is such a bright companion on a dry trip. I’d hate to lose your witty conversation as we travel.”

He gave Gitana a small spurt of power and heard Tyrana curse as she fell back onto his gear.

Packaged rations?” the woman tossed the foil-sealed package back at Beto. “I’d rather starve!”

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug.” He watched her pick up his canteen and start to walk away.

“Hey, where are you going with that?”

“I’m going to take a sponge-bath,” she replied tersely. “Since there’s nothing fit to eat or do out here. And no, you can not watch!”

“Pssssss, as though I’d want to.” Beto scoffed. “If you want a bath, you dig your own water. Give me that!” When she didn’t immediately pass him back the canteen, Beto rose and took it from her startled hands. “Idiota!” he grumped. “No water for ten miles and you think you should take a bath?”

“Well it’s not fit to drink. Your canteen’s rusty. Besides, I’m hot, and I’m tired, and I’m sweaty!” she railed. “Just because you’re a filthy animal—”

“Surviving isn’t being an animal,” he retorted. “It’s just using common sense. You can soak in a tub for one whole week once we get to Fort Lee, but out in the desert, city-girl, you don’t waste water!”

“We’ll be at Fort Lee in the morning!” she argued. “There will be plenty of water!”

“Then you can wait till then for a bath,” he told her.

“Well why don’t we just keep moving until we get there. It’s only a few more hours?”

“Because in about one hour we’ll be in the middle of the biggest storm you’ve ever seen! That’s why.”

“How do you know?” she demanded.

“Take a look!” he pointed toward the sunset. That haze on the horizon isn’t man-made.”

“That’s just a little haze!” she snapped. “We’re holding up because there’s a little haze on the horizon? Of all the stupid, superstitious people I’ve ever seen—”

How strong do you think these winds are?” Tyrana asked nervously over the wind that screamed and battered Beto’s tent. “Will the walls hold up?”

“Oh, we’ll be fine, I think,” he replied. “Gitana and I have weathered plenty of storms before.”

“Look, I know you’ve named your cycle, but do we have to have it and the trailer in here with us?” She banged a hand on the side to the trailer.

“Well I don’t want them all sand-blasted,” he told her.

“But there’s no room!” she argued.

“There’s plenty of room outside,” he suggested pointedly.

She sat pouting for several minutes before she suggested, “You could let the wind blast your cookware clean,” she suggested. “Your coffee tastes rusty.”

“Best coffee I ever had,” he looked at his cup with supreme satisfaction and told her. “You can do without if you don’t like it.”

“Do you always treat women this way?” she asked.

“What, you mean risk my life to save them then give them a ride to civilization?”

“No, I mean are you always this sarcastic and condescending?”

“Only when it’s deserved.”

She glowered at him for several seconds before saying, “I could be a good friend. What would you say to an executive position at Eastern National?”

“I’d say that I’m already the President of my own mining corporation,” he replied.

“What corporation? You, a trailer, and a shovel?” she scoffed.

“And I’d also say that you are no friend to me or any other miner on Mirimar,” Beto continued. “Eastern National is like an octopus, trying to buy up or choke off every other bit of competition on the planet.”

“So you know that I can crush you like a bug,” she said smugly.

“I know you are small-spirited enough to try,” he retorted.

“You independents are all such an arrogant lot,” she told him. “I just offered you a good position with me, and all the protection of one of the biggest corporations in the world and you turned me down flat. Why should I concern myself with someone too foolish to accept my gratitude?”

“Tyrana Westlen,” he said as if prophesying her doom. “You owe me your life. You were ambushed and dragged off like a piece of meat. You’ll have nightmares about that in the years to come, and you will remember the lone man who risked his life to save you.”

“Once I’m back in my office,” she retorted. “I’ll never think about this again! Not about the ambush, and not about you!”

“Oh, you’ll think about it all right,” he warned. “You’ll flinch every time a Champaign cork pops. You’ll think about it every time you see me.”

“See you? Ha! When this is over, you’ll just ride off into the wastelands. I know your type.”

“If you say so,” Beto replied with a chuckle. He lay back and pulled his hat over his eyes to sleep. It had been a full day.

Beto awoke to the warm, morning sun streaming in through the wide-open tent flap and the roar of Gitana’s thrusters from outside. He took a slow, deep, breath and stretched before sitting up and settling his hat upon his head.

When he walked outside, he saw a rising cloud of dust that marked Tyrana with his overturned cycle about fifty yards away. The woman was kicking Gitana’s seat and cursing vehemently.

“She just can’t stand not being in control of every little thing,” Beto grumbled as he checked his guns, adjusting their weight upon his hips. “I should have left her with the raiders. They deserve each other.” He pulled his trailer outside by the hitch, then walked around the back of the tent to relieve himself. He heard a roaring of thrusters again and looked around the tent to see that Tyrana had managed to muscle the cycle upright, which was quite a feat, and was trying to drive away on her own once again.

As he watched, the cycle flew off while canting drunkenly to the left and forcing the course into a half circle to head back toward his tent. It was almost back, with Tyrana cursing and fighting the controls, when it made a quick bound, as though it had gone over a bump, and spilled over, its rider tumbling onto the sand.

“Out for a little morning ride?” he asked amiably.

“This damned cycle is a menace!” Tyrana shrieked as she tried to shake the sand out of her face and fire-frazzled hair.

“I told you,” Beto said as he wandered over to the cycle. “Gitana don’t like you.”

“Stupid, rattle-trap!” she railed in blind fury. “I’ve never seen such a dangerous piece of junk!” She got up and began brushing off her clothing.

“Likely you’re right,” Beto stretched a leg over the cycle and re-started it. Gitana floated up perfectly off the sand, and Beto gave her a spurt of power to glide back to the tent.

“You need to junk that trash-cycle!” Tyrana shouted as she followed along on foot.

“I don’t know,” Beto said as he pulled up next to the tent. “She’s never let me down.”

“It’s going to get you kil—” Tyrana stopped talking as Beto stepped off and reached out a hand. Without any sort of command the cycle’s side-pack lid popped open and he removed a claw hammer to pull the tent stakes.

“That’s—” she stepped forward, scowling at the cycle as Beto pulled up the stakes. She stood, with a quizzical look on her face, but not saying a word until he’d made the full circuit and tossed the hammer toward the open side-pack. The arc of his aim was about five inches short but the cycle closed the distance on its own and the lid snapped shut after the hammer clinked into the pouch.

“It’s a model twelve?” Tyrana whispered. She walked to the cycle and reached out to touch the seat but the Gitana drifted away from her hand. “Where would a miner get a model twelve? A sentient-robotic model twelve costs about two million Mir!”

“You were informed that Beto was the President of a mining corporation,” a calm, female voice came from a speaker on Gitana’s control console

“And it talks?” the woman said with a scowl.

“Well, not so often,” Beto told her. “Only when she has something to say.”

“You were making fun of me,” Tyrana mumbled with wide eyes. Then her look became ugly. “You two were making a fool of me!”

“No need to assist you in that,” Gitana told her. “You’ve been doing a marvelous job all on your own.”

Tyrana swung a flailing blow at the cycle, but Gitana simply drifted out of reach. She swung again and the cycle drifted further. It was only a moment before the enraged woman was chasing the retreating cycle, flailing the air with her fists.

Beto looked up from where he was carefully folding the tent and shook his head, muttering, “Mean tempered sort of woman.”

They pulled into Fort Lee at noon. Tyrana was sitting in the trailer, arms folded across her chest, as it bounced along behind Gitana.

“Hey, Beto!” the gate guard called and waved as they approached. “Long time no see. You got a prisoner there?”

“Nope,” Beto replied, “a refugee. Ambushed in the hills. I’ll drop her by the S-2 shop for de-briefing.”

“I’ll tell Captain Stanton you’re coming.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you sure she’s all right?” the soldier asked looking at her singed hair and grubby coveralls. “She doesn’t look too good.”

Tyrana merely clenched her jaws and looked to the front.

“Awwww, she’s okay.” Beto assured the guard. “She’ll be back in an office barking orders in no time. You’ll see.”

The soldier nodded as they past on by.

They pulled up to a low, concrete building and Beto dismounted. He kicked the hitch release for his trailer and Tyrana was surprised out of her grumpy silence as the front of the trailer tipped down and hit the ground.

She took his hand as he helped her down, but hissed under her breath, “I’ll be so glad to be rid of you!”

“It’ll be a pleasure for me to render that service, at least,” he said with an amused smile.

“Tyranna! Tyranna!” a voice called. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

A man was approaching from another building, but when she would’ve gone to him, Beto held her arm.

“A little convenient, your amigo meeting us here, so far off course,” he whispered to her. “Makes you wonder how many folks he’s brought with him to finish the job they started out in the desert?”

She hesitated, but told him, “Don’t be paranoid. It’s just Deke Wild, he’s the Vice President in charge of— you’re right.” Her face clouded with a scowl. “Why ever would he be out here? They couldn’t even know I was missing until this morning. They should be searching for the ambush site about now.”

“Well, I know how to separate the wheat from the chaff,” Beto whispered as the man approached.

“Here it is, compadres!” Beto suddenly shouted to the various hanger’s-on that were milling about the street. He reached into his trailer and dragged out a water can.

“Gather ’round. Gather ’round, amigos.”

A crowd gathered and Beto opened the can and dumped water into a cup. He passed the cup to the nearest miner and the crowd looked on while the man peered into the cup of water intently.

“Take a sip of pure gold, amigo,” Beto encouraged.

The man smelled it, then tasted it carefully. He made a wry face and sucked at his teeth at the bitter taste while the other men looked on expectantly.

“It’s got more iron than a horseshoe,” he said definitively. “This ain’t no distilled water. It’s ground water!”

“It ain’t,” someone else argued.

“I know ground water when I taste it!” the man argued. “Where’d it come from?”

“I pumped it up at the base of the iron hills,” Beto told them. “Sensor scan says that there’s a whole ocean under there.” A roar of excitement went up from the crowd. “I’ve got two crews out drilling now, but there has to be more pools to the East that no one’s filed on.”

“An ocean of untapped water?” the miner said. “Damnit, Beto, you’ll be the richest man on the planet!”

“You hear that?” someone in the back of the crowd shouted, “Beto Rivera’s struck water!” The mob was suddenly a tumult of activity. Men scattered to get their gear and rush for the site of the strike. In a matter of hours it would be all over the planet and miners would be heading there from everywhere. The crowd all cleared except for the man who’d hailed Tyrana and three others who were closing upon their position from other areas of the street.

“And now we know who doesn’t belong,” Beto told her. “There’s a rifle under the tarp in the cart.”

Tyrana didn’t hesitate to grab the barrel of the rifle and begin dragging it out of the cart. That prompted the approaching men to grab under their suits for guns.

Beto was quicker though. His right-hand .44 whipped up and roared in a simple, sweeping, left-to-right motion that punctured Deke Wild and his gunmen with lead. Three fell without getting off a shot. The last kept his feet under him and raised his pistol. Beto fired until his revolver was empty. The man reeled, but just would not go down. The gunman’s wicked automatic barked, and a round fanned the breeze next to Beto’s ear. Beto side-stepped to throw off the gunman’s aim and flashed up his second pistol, praying he could hit something vital before the dying shooter killed him. Tyrana fired first, and it was a lethal shot. The rifle bullet spun the man around, and he crumpled. Succumbing to the hail of bullets at last, he fell into the sand with a final, desperate bullet going into the street.

“Good shot.” Beto commended her.

“My next one will be better,” she told him.

Beto turned his head and found himself looking down a rifle barrel.

“Are you out of your mind?” he asked.

“The biggest water strike ever made on a planet with limited usable water?” she mused. “And you think I’m out of my mind to take it?”

“You’re in the middle of an army post,” he reminded her.

“I have the best lawyers on the planet, to sort out little things like that,” she told him smugly. “In court it will just be a deplorable accident.”

“Yes, but you know what they say about lawyers?” Beto told her seriously, not daring to let his eyes follow the shadow that was closing behind her.

“That they’ll smile while they tear your guts out?” she answered with a gloating sneer.

“Nope. They say—” Gitana’s thrusters roared and Beto dropped as the rifle fired over his head. Tyrana screamed, her feet being knocked from under her and falling hard onto her back. Beto stood over her prostrate form and put a foot on the barrel of the rifle. “They say, ‘they’re never around when you need one’.”

“They don’t say that about Lawyers!” she corrected angrily. “They say that about police!”

“Is that a fact?” He took the rifle away. “Well, I don’t see any of them about either.” So saying, he left her lying on the dusty street, cursing like a sailor.

Beto made his report to the Fort Lee Intell Officer and officially recorded the specifics of his ‘water strike’, then left the post.

“I’m surprised you didn’t meet with Tyrana Westlen again before we passed through the gate,” Gitana told him as they headed back for his crew’s encampment at the foot of the Iron Mountains.

“Well I did hear rumors she’s been temporarily detained in ‘protective custody’, pending a military investigation.” he replied.

“That’s convenient.”

“Sometimes it is helpful to have friends in the Army,” he said.

“Will she try again?” Gitana asked.

“I expect she will,” he drawled. “A bitter person like that, she just can’t stand to see anyone else have something she might be able to get her hands on.

“But I’ve got lawyers too,” he added. “Good ones. She must think I don’t have a brain, or something. Like I haven’t got that claim legally protected by my own corporation.”

“That’s all right, Beto,” Gitana consoled. “She didn’t think I had a brain either.”

Robert Mancebo is a former soldier, classified courier, and security technician who's had stories published in Electronic Tales, Amazing Journeys Magazine, Cyberpulp, Ray Gun Revival, and several up-coming at Flashing Swords.  He also reads slush for Flashing Swords magazine.

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