Part One

Visibility wasn’t normally an issue unless a storm was building but presently the atmosphere was heavy with dust.  Sand buried itself against her scalp as her sun streaked hair whipped back from her masked face and shielded eyes, so she decided to stop and check her bearings. She cut the engine with the drop of her heel and the steady hum of her glider faded. Unlocking her knuckles and releasing the steering bar she hopped down from the glider, stretched, then scuttled up the side of the nearest dune. At the crest of the semisolid wave of sand, she brought the scanner from its belt case and raised it to her eyes.

There, to the east and just beyond the next two rises, was a life sign. The Armidian. Quickly she stashed the scanner back into its protective pouch then slid to the base of the dune. Brushing at her cloak, she grimaced. It was her natural state of being covered in desert dust that had gained her the horrible nickname Sandy. In fact, she had long ago concluded that her mother had planned the cruel joke when naming her. Jumping back to her place on the glider she adjusted her coordinates and gave a couple of pumps on the foot pedal to restart the engine. 

As she continued on to her meeting she thought about the only person who had ever used her real name, a lifetime ago. When they first met she had been staring out across another desert valley just like this. 

“Hey, there,”  his words had startled her.

The tall dark man stood in front of the sun, forcing her to squint up at him from where she sat. He noticed and politely stepped around. He was the new hired-hand she had only seen from a distance, until then. It was rare for new people to come out to the farm. She had been curious about the new man but there was nothing she could do about it as most of her time was spent out in the dunes. Sandy did not even know his name.

“Hello,” she remembered to respond. 

“You pretty much stay out here all alone, don’t you?” The man’s soft spoken, amiable tone eased her nervousness.

“I keep watch,” she said and sighed. She appreciated his consideration in seeking to meet her. Or maybe it was just to assuage his curiosity. At least he had that freedom.

“Best job here,” he said. Sandy considered him and decided he wasn’t just saying it to be nice. 

“Mind if I sit?” She shook her head and he joined her. Sandy took in the man’s profile with his strong nose and square stubbled jaw line. His hair was pulled tightly back into a long crisp braid. He had the usual dark tan and nearly black hair of most locals but his eyes were a lighter gray. Far from traditionally handsome he had still caught her attention.

“I’m Da’sin. What’s your name?”

“Everyone calls me Sandy,” she answered.

“Sandy? Ugh- I bet you hate that! What’s your real name?”

She pulled her thoughts back to the present and chided herself for drifting off. Even after all this time she still caught herself thinking about him. That part of her life was over, and she had business to attend to. 

After descending the last rise, she caught sight of the Armidian’s hulking silhouette merging with the sand-ship in the third sun’s slanting glare. She parked her glider a respectful distance away and approached on foot. Calmly he waited, arms crossed, though Sandy could see that he was annoyed. She didn’t care. She wanted him to think that she hadn’t jumped the second he called her.

He extended his hands to either side in greeting. Sandy mimicked the gesture; a symbolic sign that neither was armed. “You were slow in arriving,” the metallic voice of the translator said above Nak’s natural speech.

Sandy ignored that comment. Nak was a go-between for potential employers and herself, and of course the Armidian always got his cut from the deals. When city people- mostly smugglers- had business in the desert, who better to hire than a local? The planet’s net system had gaping holes in the wastes which was why so much blackmarket activity took place there. Few places were as desolate as the wastelands and not many people inhabited those areas, so someone with Sandy’s skill set was valuable. Even so, things had been slow lately. 

“Do you have a decent job for me?” She tried to sound indifferent even though she was desperate for new work. If Nak knew how much she needed this he might stick her with info on the most undesirable job he had.

Nak nodded an affirmative. He pulled a small info-chip from his sleeve.

Forcing herself not to snatch the chip from Nak, she passed him some credits. It was almost everything she had left. She was anxious to run the info, but waited. Nak’s manner seemed off. What was he up to? Sandy wished she could see the expression that was hidden by Nak’s mask. She suspected that he knew something he wasn’t telling.

“We’ve yet to discuss the final cuts,” came Nak’s translation. An innate warning went off in Sandy. Something was different about this job and Nak wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of her. She shook her head.

“Same as always,” she said. “Why should this time be any different?” 

He was silent. Sandy had been working with Nak since she first got her start in this sort of work. There were only one or two other contacts out there, so Nak knew that Sandy couldn’t afford to lose the business he brought her. Thus, it had been arranged that she always gave Nak a small fee up front and his full percentage after she was paid, but Nak seemed to be hinting at a payment now. Sandy couldn’t afford to pay Nak yet, even if she wanted to. Before he decided to protest, Sandy pocketed the chip and jogged back to the glider. 

“I’ll contact you as soon as I finish this job,” Sandy called to him. She started her engine and left him behind.       


       Typical of a spaceport city, it was crowded and filthy. It kind of gave her the creeps after coming from the free openness of the wastelands. She walked down the narrow street; a claustrophobic hallway of buildings layering classy establishments and sleazy ones all together. She passed two men who seemed to be keeping an eye on the alley she was about to turn down next and just as she suspected, the two started to head into the pass after her. Were they thinking of mugging her? Sandy un-sheathed her bowie knife and faced them.

“Look, I don’t have anything valuable but I have a really big knife. Let’s leave it at that, ‘right?” 

The bald one held up his hands and smirked. They turned around, but Sandy didn’t think for a minute that was the end of them. 

Soon she came to the rendezvous indicated by the package’s instructions. She threw back her hood and stood a moment, unbelieving. Surely not, she thought. Smugglers usually met in bars and other hell holes but this was a nicer looking restaurant, and she certainly wasn’t dressed for it. Her layered hair was windblown and the headband she always wore was sweaty but she dared not take it off. Her body suit was muted with dust, there was a goggle line across her nose, and her hands were filthy- pretty much her natural state.

         She had no choice but to march in. The info chip she’d received from Nak had given detailed instructions for the pickup of a package. It indicated that further plans would be available when she acquired the item. Few could navigate any aspect of life without the cloud, yet Sandy rarely used it; another bonus of her service was her lack of footprint on the grid. She had followed the directions to a mid-sized town on the Danik side of the wastelands and there she found an archaic post pick-up for the surrounding farms. Using the combination from the chip she opened a small mail locker and pulled out the sole object inside: a sealed envelope with more instructions attached. She had slipped the envelope through her belt and immediately popped the new info chip into her scanner.

        Sandy looked up at the restaurant again. The chip said this address, this time, this date, and here she was. She planned to drop off the weightless envelope and get paid; then she could ditch the creepy place. Sandy straightened her cloak and went inside, desperately hoping someone was waiting for her. Her entrance drew immediate attention. A haughty man behind the counter looked up. He considered her appearance and grimaced disapprovingly. “Do you have a reservation?” he asked, confident that she did not.

         “I’m meeting someone,” she replied indignantly while he regarded her with open distaste.

“Surely you must be looking for one of the neighboring establishments.” Another man, probably the bouncer, had joined the Maitre de. 

        “I wish,” Sandy said, and shoved past them, heading for the bar.

         “Did I miss something?” a new voice asked. Both the men stopped and Sandy with them. The new arrival was a sharply dressed, auburn haired man with his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. The Maitre de jumped and Sandy stifled a laugh as he tried to apologize for the disturbance.

       The bouncer hastily put distance between himself and Sandy and she continued on her trajectory.  

She took up a stool and tried to get a good look around while the men up front were distracted, but she couldn’t figure out who the contact would be. Meanwhile, the auburn haired man came up beside her. Could he…? But she just as quickly discounted him as a possibility.

“Buy you a drink?” The man asked.

“No thanks.”

“ ‘Shame- the blue eclipses here are pretty good,” he said nonchalantly.

“Oh!” Sandy looked at him again. That was the code! “Damn, in that case...I’ll have a blue eclipse hold the rocks.”

“Send them to my table,” he said to the bartender and with that the man turned and beckoned Sandy to follow. 

        “Alston,” he offered, as he led her into the dining room. He gestured for her to sit down then did so himself. He had a sharp profile, a deep voice, and his wavy hair fell well below his shoulders which was unusual for an upper-class man. Was he a smuggler? 

After Alston, she took in the atmosphere and the few others scattered at tables. Then a man came in from the back. She recognized the bald man from the alley and grimaced. 

“So who are your friends over there?” Sandy asked. 

“No friends of mine, I assure you. Though they’d be very happy to make my acquaintance after I receive that delivery you have for me.” 

“I see.” 

“They were an unforeseen development. So not only do I need to get that package but I also need to lose them.” 

Sandy wanted to know who they were, but she knew not to ask such things. 

“They aren’t local,” he said. Sandy noticed that he hadn’t said ‘native’, like most foreigners. Though obviously she could tell they weren’t ‘local’. “At this point they may want to talk to you as well.”

“I was afraid of that,” she said. Why hadn’t they just jumped her in the alley. Did they let her lead them to this Alston, or were they waiting for his delivery. It did look as though they already had him staked out first and were waiting for the pass.

“Sorry about that. I imagine you can shake them with little effort and I know it’s not your problem after that but I could make it worth your while to help me out- three times your going rate?”

She casually leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. Let them think this was just a chat about the weather. “I could be persuaded,” she answered with a hint of levity in her tone. He lifted an eyebrow.

“Good. Then you have something you’d like to give me?” 

“Indeed.” She slipped the content of the envelope into her palm. And in a flirtatious looking touch to his arm, Sandy made sure he felt the object in her hand. He quickly caught on and covered her hand with his. Alston barely looked at it as he quickly tucked it away. 

He leaned forward continuing the act, though his low voice took a more businesslike tone. “So my proposition for you...” he said. 

Now Sandy sat forward, and despite appearances, was also all business, “Go on.”

He continued, “When I dealt with your Armidian agent I had no way of knowing what kind of person I was hiring. A risk on my part but I had assurances. Now that you’re here you’ve proven yourself somewhat reliable.” Sandy noticed that he didn’t say trustworthy. Wise on his part. “One of my partners and I had to split up- now I need a guide.” 

Alston was unquestionably a foreigner, pale skinned with a different accent, but he did seem to know how this planet worked. Luckily he wasn’t a fool. It was more profitable to deal with equals.

“Where’re you headed?” she asked. Her instincts were telling her something was up- again- but she needed the money badly. 

“First, I have to get to Port Town.”

 “And of course there’s only one road from here, so, they’d have you. I’d go south into the wastelands. If they’re dumb enough to follow I can lose ‘em easily. We can grab some supplies I have stashed then swing round west. There’s a small gap in the canyons there. It’d take an extra day and a half.”
“Let’s do it,” He said. 

“First, how do we get out of here? I don’t see the big guy that was with Baldie earlier, so he’s probably waiting outside. How long have they been tailing you? Do you know how many?”
“Not sure exactly, but I rented a room on the second floor hoping they might pay more attention to that,” Alston said.
“Oh, that’s a good idea, they’re probably waiting to hit you there.” Sandy thought back trying to picture how many levels this building had. “Are the lifts in the back?”

“Yeah, there’s a lobby and two lifts. Stairwell. There’s a club on the upper level.”
“If we can get to the roof, we’ll be set. How are you with heights?”

“Fine,” He smiled. “What are you thinking?”
“Better to just try it, ready to ‘go back to your room’,” she leaned in closer to make it look like a more solicitous whisper. 

“I have everything, so yeah let’s split.”

Sandy took his hand and led him to the lobby like it was fun that they were in a hurry. Once they turned the corner she quickly dropped the act and rushed to the lift. Luck had it open and waiting, she activated all the floor levels and sent it up. “The stairs?” 

“This way,” Alston had the door open.
Running up two at a time, she called back over her shoulder, “Hopefully they try your room first, then the club.” The stairwell came out on a landing with more lifts on the empty club level. No one was around at this time of day. 

Sandy spun around looking for the roof access.
“Over here,” Alston said just as she saw the second door down the hallway. It was one more short flight up, but the door was padlocked. Not an impressive one but still a hindrance. “Give me your knife.”

“It can’t cut through that,” Sandy protested.

“Not to cut, as a lever.” 

She handed it over.
He put it between the hasp and the wall. Sure enough she saw the screws starting to pull loose. Her knife was bowing but he was actually getting it. That’s crazy! she thought, but maybe he had seen that it was old or weak. He gave the door a final kick and the lock popped off and swung down. 

“No way!” Sandy cheered, too happy to question it. “Come on!”
She raced up to the edge of the building, checking for the best route to the next roof. It would be easy to drop down to the lower building on the left, but with a short climb they could get onto the taller building which would be less expected. “Can you do pull-ups?”

She looked back and saw that Alston had dragged over a large cooling unit to block the exit.
“Woah! Are you a weight lifter?” He didn’t look that strong to Sandy.

“Are we going up there,” he looked at the metal work she had been eyeing for handholds. If he could budge that thing, she wasn’t worried about him scaling the wall. She stood up on the ledge and grabbed on to the wire conduit casing and hauled herself up. 

Giving those goons the slip was the kinda trick you could only pull off once but they made it. Two days later in Port Town, Alston handed over a folded map. Sandy thought it was odd that he didn’t have it on gps or at least an info chip but honestly she preferred it this way.  Carefully she flattened it out and looked. “Four, maybe five days hard travel from here,” she said.

         “Same rate?”

Sandy’s face was poker still, “What’s the catch?” Sure, he’d agreed to pay a lot to evade his problematic tail but this would just be a regular guide job. 

         “You get paid for both after we arrive.” Before she could argue for being paid immediately he went on, “But I’ll buy supplies.”

        “Everything?” He nodded. “Sounds too good,” Sandy replied coolly.

         “Look, my business is important to me and time is a valuable asset. I need to get someplace and you know how to get me there in one piece. It’s worth it to me to pay for quality service. But of course you’ll need incentive to get me to my destination and not just abandon me in the desert.”

“Alright,” she smiled. The money would be good and admittedly she didn’t mind continuing this partnership. Sandy held out her hand- a gesture she did not take lightly. Alston grasped it.

“Good. I look forward to continuing to work with you,” he smiled.


Three days into the middle of Dandawin’s wastelands they were the only sentient beings around.  Nighttime on this planet meant the second sun was halfway set; the third soon to follow. The two hours of full darkness were the coldest and in the wastelands sometimes they were freezing. Drastic diurnal changes and little shelter explained the natural lack of large animals and the abundance of insect-like creatures. All told, it made for an absolutely desolate landscape.

Sandy pulled her glider to a stop at the base of a rock face. Alston parked his sand-bike behind. She pushed up her goggles and loosened the strips of cloth protecting her face enough to talk. “Here's a good spot to make camp,” she called over the protesting wind.

“Alright,” he called back. She looked at the sky; the dark clouds stirring on the horizon were heading their way. No denying it now; a storm was imminent. Good thing they would have a haven.

“Let’s put the vehicles under cover and be sure to tarp and plug them tight. No gaps, no mistakes, and hurry,” she tried to keep the edge out of her voice. Sandy had been caught in far worse with far less before, but she’d also been alone. 

         “What’s going on?” Alston asked, startling her as he came up from behind. He had caught her off guard a few times and it made her a little uncomfortable. Sandy tried to ignore it since she didn’t really trust anyone, but she had come to realize there was something more to this guy.

“It’s a sandstorm,” she said as she pulled her glider into a cave-like niche in the rock face.

“Is that bad?” he shouted over the rising howl.

          “Can be,” she answered. “Hurry.”

          “But we won’t fit in that space with the skimmers,” he stated.

         “Of course not,” she called back and got out of his way as he pushed his bike into the overhang next.

          “Then where?” he sounded irritated.

          “There,” she pointed. He stood back to look at the cliff. A short way up was an opening in the rock. Sandy had noticed it from a distance and was now glad. She grabbed her backpack and started to climb.

After using the last tarp to cover the cave entrance, Sandy settled down against the back wall. Alston, normally so mellow, now looked like he wanted to pace. “Get comfortable. We had to stop for the night anyway. There’s nothing else to be done,” she said. Reluctantly he sat down across from her.

“How much of a delay will this cause?” he asked.

“Well that depends on how long and how high that storm gets.”

“How high?” he queried, taking off his cloak and dumping out his boots.

“Worst case scenario is a whole dune getting shifted over top of us. Less severe but just as likely is that it’ll raise the sand level so high that we can step outside the cave without so much as a drop downward.”

           “Dammit! Are you sure?” Alston asked anxiously. He took off the sun shades that never left his face. It was the first time Sandy had gotten a look at his hazel colored eyes.

           “I’ve seen it happen.” Sandy shrugged as she began to settle in for a long night. 

He grumbled in reply. Alston was charismatic, definitely handsome if you liked that type, Sandy thought. She might even have pursued the flirtation if he hadn’t made a second business offer but clients were off-limits in her book. She did get along with Alston pretty well. He was good natured, quick to smile and chuckle, but for all his rich charm and sensual voice she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was strange about him. Sandy glanced over as he stewed in frustration. She understood work but what could be so pressing? It was more than that... more than just his unknown business that unsettled her. Overall she liked the guy so Sandy convinced herself that she was just being hypersensitive since her meeting with Nak.

Alston was stressed and getting progressively worse as the hours went by. Sandy was starting to worry about him. “Try to get some rest,” she advised in a soothing tone. Reluctantly he gave in and sat back heavily against the wall. 

“Watch Out!” she shouted.

            Too late. She dashed in the other direction as he threw himself out of the way in a blur. Stone from the ceiling lay in a dusty jumble where Alston had just been. Sandy swatted at the cloudy air and coughed. Alston knelt just on the other side of the rubble. It hadn’t been much, but the scathing blow to her shoulder hurt badly enough.

            She winced as she shifted back into sitting position; her hand jumped instantly to hold the throbbing muscle. She looked up at Alston across from her. He was looking at his arm where the cloth was torn and she could see a gash. He got out of the way so fast, Sandy thought, I barely saw him move. He shouldn’t have escaped with only a cut.

           “Are you alright?” he asked urgently as it occurred to him that she might be injured.

           “Fine,” she answered through gritted teeth.

            Alston shoved the fallen rock out of the way and knelt down next to her. He reached out to look at her shoulder but she pulled away. “I’m fine!” For a moment he backed off.

           “Wait a minute,” he shot back, “You’re hurt.”

           “Sorry,” she calmed. “I’m not comfortable being touched unless I initiate it, okay. ‘Sides you’re hurt too,” she pointed out as she reached for his arm. 

“What?” Stunned she grabbed his wrist and pulled it towards her. “You were cut! I saw the blood,” she exclaimed, dropping his hand like a diseased piece of meat. The wound was gone. No human could heal that quickly. She backed further into her corner while still trying to favor her pained shoulder. His feats of strength, the way he constantly snuck up on her, now this. If not for the storm she might have bolted. 

           “Oh come on, Sandy,” Alston chided. “You are one of the toughest characters I’ve ever met. You’re not squeamish, so get over it.”

She tried to relax; he was right, it was far too late to turn tail and run, but now she had a reason not to trust him. I guess it’s not like he’s suddenly more dangerous than before, Sandy thought. At least, he needs me as a guide too much to try anything- right? 

But she couldn’t shake her disquiet now. What was Alston if he wasn’t human?


          Early the next morning Sandy roused herself from an uneasy sleep and went directly to check the cave entrance. She had been dreaming about her past again. Those dreams would never let her forget what she wanted to leave behind, yet they also kept her from losing the one thing she wanted to keep- the memory of Da’sin.

Sandy pulled the tarp down and looked out. The sandstorm hadn’t been bad after all. They were common enough occurrences; you just had to prepare for the worst. Luckily the dunes had shifted to the east leaving them uncovered by mountains of sand.

She looked over her shoulder at Alston as he began to stir. He looked completely normal while he was sleeping, Sandy thought. And despite last night, she had a job to finish.

         Another day further into the wastelands, still on schedule, Sandy stopped. Alston cut his engine also. “What is it?” he called. She dug the map out of her pack and double checked it. Alston walked over to her glider. “What’s up?” he asked again. 

          “This is where the map ends,” Sandy answered brushing dust out of her hair and headband.

“Oh, is that all,” Alston said nonchalantly.

“Is that all? What’d you mean ‘is that all’?” She snapped. “The map ends here and there’s nothing around!” He just laughed making her even more angry.

“Sorry,” he said around his chuckling. He must have seen her exasperated expression and stopped. “I know where to go from this point.” It had taken time to get back on Sandy’s good side and even then she was still keeping her distance. It wouldn’t take much to drive her off again. “Listen, it’s just not common sense to go flashing a full map of where you’re going to a practical stranger, is it?”

She was fighting a smile. “No, it’s not,” she agreed. “But how much further?”

“About another half day.” He checked an old compass that he wore on a chain around his neck. “Follow me,” he said as he turned back to his vehicle.

“That’s it?” Sandy asked, gazing down from an overlooking dune.

“That’s it,” Alston smiled and started down the hill. She reminded herself her job was not to ask questions. In the valley below all she could see was a small vehicle shed and across a stretch of flat ground was an insignificant looking trailer.

          “Okay,” she said, slightly disillusioned by the anticlimactic ending. As they stowed their vehicles Alston finished first. “I’m going on ahead. Just come to the trailer when you’re done. You can restock your supplies and spend the night before heading out,” he explained as he started across the flat plain.

         “Whatever,” Sandy mumbled to herself as she lifted her pack off the ground and started after him. She may not completely trust Alston but she had to admit, weird or not, she’d gotten used to him, and gods forbid she still even thought he was alright. But, he and this place were strange and Sandy never liked things she couldn’t fully explain. Yet even as she was thinking these things, she let her guard down.

A low rumble started off to her right. The sand began shaking in waves like water. “What the hell?!” She stumbled a step backwards but caught herself at the last moment. Loud grinding sounds filled her ears making it impossible to think, just as a split appeared in the ground beneath her. The sand spilled into it in streams as the gap widened, pulling her with it.

“Sandy!” She heard Alston’s shout but in the commotion she couldn’t find him. Before she knew what was happening he’d grabbed her, slung her over his shoulder, and gotten them both clear. When Sandy looked back over his shoulder she saw that it wasn’t an earthquake or even a cave-in. The metallic whine was from an underground hanger beginning to open. She also saw what was inside the hanger and closed her eyes.

Sandy sat outside the trailer, out of breath and rather disgruntled. She could hear Alston inside yelling. She hadn’t even seen who was inside. He had literally left her on the back doorstep and stormed in. She had seen inside that hanger. Surely Alston never intended that to happen. Of course, she had expected something illegal, that was part of her job, but this? Mech-exoskeletons were banned on almost every planet. Military abuse and damage to the pilots had gotten them universally eliminated for over twenty years.

Alston’s voice rose again, loud enough that she could distinguish words. Something about how they should have known he’d have had a guide with him; that they should have had operations shut down during full light hours anyway. Sandy couldn’t make out much but that was fine with her. She knew more than she wanted to already. It doesn’t matter, she thought, as soon as the alpha sun is up I’m out of here. 

Damn it all, she thought and watched nervously as the beta set. 

But she was too stressed to wait for dawn. Traveling in the dark seemed less dangerous than waiting around there. She crept out to the shed and found her glider’s energy pack gone. Panic set in as she checked Alston’s sand-bike; empty too. The other vehicles were all the same. Calm down, she thought. It might not be what it looks like. She hadn’t really talked to Alston since the hanger and decided it was time to just find him and settle things, but finding him only made it worse.

He was sitting outside alone with a small lamp in front of him. He grumbled into his communicator but she couldn’t hear without getting closer. Sandy belly crawled close enough to make out what he was saying.

“-I think she did. Couldn’t have missed it. She nearly got dumped into the hanger,” he said. “No. No. Yeah,” he responded to the other’s queries. “It may be necessary. It’d be a shame to do that but I agree...” 

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Sandy, cool in action but nearly wild with fright, slipped her knife from its sheath. “We can’t afford to risk that happening-” Alston said right as the knife came under his chin. Showing no signs of shock nor any other emotions he said, “Let me call you back,” and he cut the connection.

         “Sandy?” he asked, sounding almost amused. Her body pressed against his back as she tried to control her panicked breathing and steady the blade against his neck.

         “Can you heal a severed head?” she growled. “’Cause I’m not going to be the one who disappears out here! You’re going to get me my glider’s energy pack and some supplies and I’m getting out of here-” 

Sandy’s vision exploded into black and a small noise escaped her as she fell back. She lay there stunned and unable to move. Through blurry eyes she saw as Alston slowly turned to look down at her and then take the knife that had fallen from her hand. One of his men knelt beside her, a blunt board in his hand. He looked up at Alston. “What should we do?”

         Alston put a hand to his throat. She hadn’t even broken the skin. “What will we?” he asked just as Sandy lost consciousness.


Sensation started returning to Sandy in the back of a moving vehicle. She could feel the rope constraining her ankles and the binders restricting her hands before she was even fully awake. The closer she swam to the surface the clearer things started to become. The throbbing of her skull was a quick reminder. She finally forced her eyes open to find herself leaning against Alston’s side. Instantly she jumped back.

        “More awake, I see,” Alston’s angular teeth shone with reflected light. Even with the tinted windows it was too dark to be full daylight. Could she have been out an entire day? To her right sat another man. He was darkly tanned and had other obviously native facial features. His eyes met hers briefly before looking away. The driver was barely visible from the back seat so Sandy had no guesses about him. Classic metal could be heard faintly from a player in the front. Sandy’s head seemed to throb in beat with the music.

        “You’ve caused me quite a dilemma, Sandy,” Alston said. “We’ll just have to see what we can do with you,” he smiled, “It wasn’t really your fault.”

         Sandy sniffed at his statement and turned away trying not to show how apprehensive she was. She had tried to ignore his strangeness before but Alston was now her enemy and there was little escape sitting between the two men. She rode in silence the rest of the trip. Her only efforts focused on trying to get comfortable. She tried not to think of her uncertain fate, and tried to dismiss the trivial questions that popped into her mind. Where was her glider? Her equipment? Her career and reputation were through. Anger swelled when she realized that Nak must have had some idea of what she was getting into. Dammit! She should have known when he wanted full payment early that he hadn’t expected her to return. She swore under her breath causing the black haired man to smirk.

          The vehicle stopped. Sandy wished she could see enough to know where she was, as she turned her head about in all directions trying to get a view.

           “Sandy, hold still.”

            She turned towards Alston. A gleaming object shone in his hand. She froze. It was her bowie knife, the same she had held to his neck. In another of his barely visible motions, he cut the bonds around her feet. When she finally realized what he’d done she let out her held breath. Alston took her elbow and helped her out of the back seat. Without the use of her hands she was forced to let him assist. Every cramp and sleeping limb protested. She must have been sitting for a long time. 

           It was early dawn, and there was grass up to her knees. As the vehicle pulled away she looked in the direction that it was heading. The grass stalks flattened as it skimmed over them before turning behind the strange building. A log cabin? With only the porch light, the fading tail lights, and the dim third sun it was too dark to get her bearings. But there was no doubt in Sandy’s mind, as Alston steered her towards the house, she was a long way from the wastelands.

She was irritated by not having the use of her hands and grumbled this to Alston. The other man just laughed as Alston grinned at her.

          “Remember that next time you get the urge to play with your knife.”

           Stumbling up the front steps, Sandy noticed a man leaning against the door frame on the other side of the screen door. Still leaning he pushed the door open with one arm.

          “Make-up the guest bedroom, I brought home company,” Alston joked.

           The other man stepped out onto the porch and pushed his long braid over one shoulder.

          Sandy stopped. Her face went flush and her heart lurched like she never thought possible. She felt like all the fake clichés that had ever been written. Her pulse pounded so hard she thought she was going to faint. Was this how one was supposed to react to seeing a person they had never expected to hear from again, much less see face to face?


Next ~Back