Out on the horizon, the blazing red sun of Sikarra scorched the arid sands of the southern wastes, as a pair of Scantids fought each other for the liquid nourishment of a hapless sandworm. The Scantids, hearing the mechanical hum of a Vulture hoverbike out in the distance, scattered just in time as the bike whirred by, its gravitic thrusters squishing their intended meal.
Moments later, the Scantids themselves were crushed by two more hoverbikes in hot pursuit.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeehawwwww!" Haley shouted with her girlish laugh, her ponytail flapping in the dry air behind her like a living thing. Ten kilometers ahead she could see the familiar rock circle of Scavenger's Folly while behind her the pursuers were still gaining. Taking advantage of an angular slab of sandstone ahead of her, she kicked the bike into overdrive and gunned the cycle over the makeshift ramp. The jump would grant her the necessary extra seconds she'd need for the plan that had just congealed in her mind.
Pulling into the outer edge of the rock circle, the pursuers came to a halt, scanning for their prey.
"She was just there, Qlyde. She must be hidin' behind one of these rocks," said the burly, black-bearded pursuer. His partner, stubble-faced with raw, sand-worn leathery skin and a pock-marked yet chiseled jaw, nodded his agreement. "Come on out, girl! We identify ourselves as Kelanis Officers Qlyde and Parx, Sikarran Special Security. Surrender now and you won't be harmed." He turned to Qlyde and smiled a wicked yellow-toothed grin. Qlyde laughed under his breath and smiled the same grin.
"Hey boys." The two officers turned to see Haley on the other side of the circle between two large sandstone pillars, waving a small canvas pouch. "Looking for this?" she said in her sultry voice, and then switched to the irritating poisonous hiss, a technique she'd mastered over the years. "Come and get it!" She ran back behind one of the pillars and disappeared.
The officers smiled again. "She's a fiesty one. This is gonna be fun," Qlyde said.
"Yeah, well I got dibs. I'm first this time," Parx replied and gunned his engine, kicking up a dust cloud before racing off across the sands. Qlyde scowled and went after him.
Once they were midway through the inner part of the rock circle, Haley casually walked back out of her hiding place and propped herself up against a pillar to rest her back. She opened up her canteen, took a swig of water and waved goodbye. Surprised and angered by her brazenness, the two riders shifted into overdrive, just as the sand gave way beneath them. The massive stone-like teeth of a giant water-annelid's gaping maw rose up from beneath the sands to claim its meal, the ground within the center of the rock circle and everything on it devoured whole in seconds, before the creature submerged itself again in a cloud of dust and sand.
"That's why they call it 'Scavenger's Folly,' fellas," Haley said, shaking her head before taking another swig from her canteen.
Cool streams of water jetted toward her, thousands of droplets caressing her body like a second skin. She raised the temperature and felt the searing heat begin to burn away the aches and pains of her strained muscles. She stood there for a while with her eyes closed, getting used to the hot water as it massaged her neck and shoulders, splashing her face now and again to kill the pain in her eyelids. She was wishing she could stay there forever when the water stopped abruptly.
"Daily water rations at seventy-five percent. Recycling and filtering beginning now," came the shower's computerized voice. Vacuums in the wall began whirring to life as the moisture in the stall was reclaimed.
Minutes later, Haley emerged from the grooming chamber wearing a fresh pair of Khaki shorts and a matching top. She walked down the hall and picked up her cat, "Mr. Boofers," hugging him before setting him down again and walking outside to see her father chatting with one of his old friends.
Harley turned to see his daughter, a spitting image of her mother, emerge from the house. "Haley, you know Jorj Keel. Me and Jorj were in the Guild Wars together."
"Ma'am," old Jorj nodded.
Haley smiled. "Hi Jorj. Its nice to see you again." She turned to her father. "Dad, I'm going downtown. I've got a little trading to do."
Harley raised one of his bushy eyebrows and pointed a stubby finger at her. "You remember what I taught'cha about hagglin'!"
Haley laughed and hugged her father. "Yes Dad..."
She waved and headed around the building to grab her hovercycle. Waiting for her was a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man wearing a blue sandsuit, his shaved bald head gleaming in the sunlight as he leaned on her bike with his arms folded. He pulled off his black and silver sun visor to reveal his cool ice-blue eyes and smiled as she approached.
"Okay, Mal... whaddaya want?" she said, raising an eyebrow and curling her lip.
Malachi laughed, his deep masculine voice contrasting heavily with her own. "That's beside the point. The reason I'm here, however, is to let you know I found you a buyer."
She gave him an irritated smile. "I hate it when you do that."
Malachi laughed again. "You should be lucky your ex couldn't do it."
Haley crossed her arms and scowled.
Malachi waved his arms. "Whoa, there. Let's not get bent outta shape. Sorry I brought it up."
"So who's —"
"—the buyer?" Malachi finished with a smile. "An avid collector. An off-world mutant named Ro'taann. I've dealt with him before. I don't completely trust him but I haven't had a bad deal with him yet, and his avatar is a straight player I've known from way back. He's waiting for us at the Red Shift Café."
Malachi made an innocent face. "Hey, if you learned to shield your thoughts better there wouldn't have to be an 'us.' Just as well that you hadn't cuz that little item you got is hotter than Sikarra's double suns, and whether you like it or not, you needed me to set up this deal — believe me. Besides, I think we can get him pay enough to satisfy both of us."
Against her better judgment, Haley relented. She hopped onto the bike and Malachi hopped on behind her, grabbing her around the waist.
"Watch those hands if you want them to stay attached, buster," she warned.
Malachi laughed as the engines roared to life. The bike kicked up a cloud of sand as the Vulture spun and headed towards the Red Shift Café.
The Antioch Chronicles™ © 1998, Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. All rights reserved. The Antioch Chronicles™ trademark and associated logos are the exclusive property of Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. Characters and distinctive likenesses thereof, character names, item names, place names, named events, artwork and all other related material not disclosed herein are protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Any reproduction, retransmission, or unauthorized use herein is prohibited without express written permission.
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