Desert Rat

He peered tentatively over the door. Max was picking himself off the ground and giving the kid a look of confused annoyance, but the other guy was scrambling on all fours searching for the gun he dropped.

“I’m gonna kill that little shit!” he screamed.

Max stepped over and placed his foot on the pistol, though he didn’t dare pick it up. He kept his hands where everyone could see them.

“If you even think of pointing your gun in his direction, you won’t live long enough to actually do it,” Max irrefutably stated.

The man scrambled to his feet. “He scared the shit outta me!”

“I suggest you calm down and look around,” Max said coolly.

The man did as he was told. Max’s team remained just as they were. They hadn’t moved at all. They hadn’t needed to. The other side was a different story. They were flat on the ground or had ducked behind the levicars. Two of them were writhing on the ground in convulsions. They had been hit with zap bullets.

“Taking into account there were only about eight shots, and two of them came from them,” Max indicated the two stranded transport drivers, “that means our sides fired about three shots each. You have two people down.”

The kid could see the man struggling to make sense of the math. The targets were not that close to each other, yet the team had hit two of them with just three shots despite the quick draw-time.

“We have much better aim than any of you,” Max said to help him with the conclusion. “And the gun aimed at you right now is not loaded with zap bullets. You can listen to my proposal, or you can get out of here.”

He agreed to listen. The armistice involved pulling the opposing vehicles out of range, fixing the transport, and taking only what they could carry. Their leader made it known he didn’t care about fixing the transport, but the rest sounded fine; however, he insisted in having his own mechanic come in and oversee the work. He didn’t trust Max and the kid to play it straight.

Their mechanic turned out to be a very skinny girl in her early twenties and covered from her head to her toes in grease and grime. Despite her size, she had no trouble lifting out the huge tool box from the back of her levicar. She plopped it down in the shade of the disabled vehicle and waited.

“Do your thing, Kid,” Max said.

He stepped out of the cab, pulled his tools from the flatbed, hauled them over and dropped them next to hers. She stared him down though they were both about the same size.

“They call you the Kid,” she said. It wasn’t a question. It sounded more like a clarification.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“My name ain’t free, Kid. Ain’t nuthin’ free. You gotta earn that.” She dropped to the ground and rolled under the transport. “Show me watcha got.”

He knelt down and crawled in after her.

Max and the other leader agreed to stay and keep an eye on each other. It turned out he liked to talk—a lot. He proudly introduced himself as Silo.

From under the transport, the kid could hear Max’s incredulous reply. “Like a grain tower?”

“What?” Clearly, Silo had never heard of such a thing. “It’s a name. An awesome name.”

The kid moved toward the lower drive housing to get access to the field drive, but the girl had stationed herself in the way. She didn’t budge as he moved near, forcing him to crawl over her legs and bump into her shoulder.

“Don’t know why you bother fixing their shit,” the girl said as he brushed by her. “Just get the back door open.”

“We made a deal,” he said as he started unlatching the panel. “I told ‘em I’d do it. You work on the door.”

“I’m not here to do your job.”

He looked past his feet to where she slouched in the confined space. They were in somewhat of a hurry, so why wouldn’t she help? Why had she bothered bringing her tools? She shrugged and looked away.

“You don’t know how,” he said when he figured it out.

“You don’t know what I know.”

She suddenly seemed very young to him. He had not noticed any other women in their group. What was it like for her with such undisciplined companions? She certainly seemed tough enough to take care of herself, but maybe it was just an act.

“Then you fix the drive, and I’ll work on the security door,” he suggested.

“No,” she said as she crawled up next to him. “I help you with the flunkin’ field drive, and you show me how to bypass a security lock.”