Desert Rat

“Well lookie who has the cool parents,” they heard Silo taunt. “Mr. Big Max with the cool name from the cool parents. We can’t all have cool parents. Know what my parents named me? Terence. Now how am I going to scare anybody with a name like that? Who’s going to follow a short bald guy named Terence? Can’t change my looks, but I can change my name. So now its Siiii…looo. Don’t matter what I look like with a name like that. Siiii…looo.”

They opened the security panel on the underside of the cargo hold near the rear. From his tool box, he pulled a device with an electronic screen and wires dangling out. It looked like a large dead spider.

“This is a security bypass,” he said as he began to clip it into place. “You have to attach the leads in the right order or the system will detect a breach. Then the door won’t open for anyone.”

“I’m watchin’,” she said.

From the corner of his eye he could see the girl mentally noting every little step. When he finished, the screen flashed to life and began scrolling menus and numbers. It took only a few seconds.

“Ready,” he said. “The system still thinks the lock is operational, but it’s shut off now.”

“Easy when you got one of these gizmos. So learnin’ this isn’t doing me a lot of good.”

It didn’t dawn on him some people might not have a security bypass; the team had dozens. He considered them common items. Maybe that was because Max’s former job had left him with profitable contacts in the security industry. Not every gang could have a Max.

He turned to look out into the desert sun. “Doors open!” he shouted.

“About time,” said Silo. “Whatcha been doing under there? Smootchin’?”

“Not yet,” the girl yelled back.

He felt his face flush and kept looking away so she wouldn’t see. They stayed under the transport, waiting for Max and Silo to open the cargo hold. He liked being next to her.

“Food rations!” exclaimed Silo after the door rolled up. “All this mumbo jumbo for food rations. I’ve wasted better time than this.”

The kid did not totally disagree with him. Rations were nasty. The tall square cartons all held basically the same thing: a mixture of gluten filler, starch, and whatever flavor of food the label advertised. The stuff came out in a long gelatinous block to be sliced up as needed. Tomato was red, broccoli was green, banana was yellow. It was all the same consistency but with twenty percent of the labeled food product to make the difference. Rations. The team stole higher quality provisions on a daily basis.

The kid reached up and disconnected the bypass.

“You can do that now?” she asked.

“Yeah. When the door closes, the whole thing will reset.”

“Nifty toy.”

“Here, take it,” he said holding it out to her.

She eyed him suspiciously. Clearly, she wanted it, but something held her back. He could tell she was waiting for the catch—some condition or bargain. It’s the way the world worked out here.

“I’ve got another.” He continued to offer it to her.

“You won’t get in trouble?” she asked warily.


She grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him to her, and stared at him intently, as if looking for a hint of deceit or some other indicator of how his mind worked. He thought she might be getting ready to punch him, but he didn’t care; he could smell her breath again.

“You’re okay, Kid.” She gave him a hard kiss on the mouth. His lungs suddenly stopped working. Her lips were softer and wetter than expected. They didn’t match her dry toughness. Just when he was about to take his first breath, she pushed him back.

“My name’s Tess,” she said, taking the bypass from his stunned fingers. “Nice meetin’ ya. I hope you don’t die too soon.”