Desert Rat

Outside, Silo was extoling the virtues of his chosen name. “You gotta say it low and slow. Makes it cool. Siiii…looo,” he incanted to let Max experience the full effect.

“Doesn’t matter how you say it,” Max said. “I’m still just seeing a grain tower.”

“What the hell’s a grain tower? Screw your grain tower. People quake when they hear my name. Makes ‘em afraid. Siiii…looo. Sounds like I’m hidin’ in every shadow. Siiii…looo. I’m around every corner. Siiii…looo. I’m the stuff of nightmares.”

They lay close to each other. The kid could smell her soft sweet breath. He looked at her dark tan skin and dark eyes and smiled uncomfortably. He had never been this close to a girl before. His blood started racing and his hands began to shake. It bothered him she might notice.

“Sounds like Mr. Grain Tower likes to talk,” he said just to have something to say.

“Mr. Grain Tower is an idiot,” she said. “He came in low when we should’a stayed up, but he wanted to scare everyone off. That didn’t work. Then he talked when he just should’a shot everybody. Now we’re wasting time fixin’ someone else’s problem.”

“Then you’d just be spending an entire hour cutting through the security door.”

“You’d be surprised how a gun to the head helps a driver remember the security code. Then we’d have the entire cargo to ourselves and the transport to boot.”

There was a harsh logic to the girl’s statement. In terms of expedience, it made the most sense. It was the typical attitude for life outside. The harsh elements outside of the cities had reduced people to the most basic instinct of self-preservation. Really, Max and the team weren’t much different than most other bandits except they never put themselves in the position of having to kill anyone. Max’s food industry connections and his security expertise helped them avoid that. They were never as desperate as most.

They swung the housing panel down, and he saw the problem immediately.

“There,” she pointed. “The flex tube corroded because some idiot used the wrong clamp.”

“You know,” Max was saying. “Grain towers aren’t even used anymore. Now they’re just empty and pointless.”

“Shut the hell up about it,” yelped Silo. “Who ever heard of a grain tower anyway? Who’d even make a tower out of grain? It makes no sense.”

“Just saying, you could have picked any name in the world. You went with Silo.”

“I suppose you think the name you picked is cooler. Max? You think that makes you a big man? Mr. Big Man Max. If you gonna call yourself Max, you better be over two meters tall. You don’t look like no Max to me.”

“You’re right,” Max conceded. “I should have gone with something more like Silo—maybe something like Wash Tub or Spew Bucket.”

“Them’s stupid names,” Silo decreed.

“But I went with Max, mostly because my parents named me Maxwell, and called me Max ever since I can remember.”

They had the flex tube fixed in five minutes, but he didn’t close the panel. Instead he disconnected the power lead to the control switch. The field drive could start now, but they wouldn’t be able to make it do anything else.

The girl laughed. “You’re smarter than you look.”

“Don’t want them trying to run off,” he explained. “Then Grain Tower will shoot them for sure.”

“Stupid people do stupid things.” She shrugged, making it clear she didn’t care what happened to stupid people.

“Scared people do stupid things too.”

She looked at him as if she were seeing him for the first time, searching his face for a roadmap to his thoughts. He could tell she was trying to figure him out, and not succeeding. When she spoke, it wasn’t what he expected.

“You’re too clean to be a mechanic.”

She reached into the drive housing, fumbled around and withdrew her hand covered in fresh soot and grease. Like an artist, she drew a few streaks onto his cheek. He was about to wipe it off.

“Don’t,” she said. “It looks good on you.”

He smiled.

She scooched away toward the back of the transport. “Now show me the security override.”