Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As I flew through the Rio Bravo Corridor in western Texas, the town of El Paso rose above the horizon. I banked northward and began a gradual arc to align my ship with the Juárez Flyway. I descended to 100 meters and throttled back to 50 kph. The streets appeared to be deserted. I knew that I was taking a big chance returning to Earth. But, I was willing to risk death to be with Felina. If all went well, in two days we’d dock at my hideout in the badlands of the asteroid belt, assuming we could avoid the Rangers. I spotted Rosa’s Cantina on the left, and picked out a landing bay on the upper level. After touchdown, I powered down the ship’s reactor and popped the canopy. Sensor readings were clear. I unbuckled my harness, and began to climb down the exterior of the ship using the “holds” along the fuselage. When my right foot touched the ground I heard a deep metallic voice from the shadows behind me, “Don’t turn around, Robbins.”

Damn, an android, I realized too late. If the bounty hunter had been human, I might have had a chance. Humans can be bribed, or out-gunned, but not a ‘droid. Using the lowest power setting on my implant, I mentally instructed the ship to arm the port thrusters. Hopefully, the ‘droid was too far away to detect the low intensity transmission. It was a desperate move, but if I could knock it off balance for just a fraction of a second, I might be able to reach my blaster.

I could see the ‘droid’s distorted reflection in the polished skin of my ship. I watched it approach, weapon drawn. When it walked in front of the thrusters, I transmitted the command. At the instant the thrusters fired, I spun and reached for my blaster, but I was too slow. I felt a deep burning pain in my side as the ‘droid’s neuronic disrupter hit its mark. The agonizing pain spread to my back and legs, and I collapsed. Stars exploded in my eyes when the back of my head hit the tarmac. I could taste blood as my universe convulsed. The ‘droid stowed its disrupter and stood above me, making sure that I was neutralized. It picked me up by the front of my flightsuit and pinned my back against the fuselage of my ship. “Your running days were over, Robbins,” it said as it placed a neutralizing collar around my neck. My next stop would be the Rehabilitation Facility in San Angelo, where I would get a mind wipe and a “Correctional” implant; one that would force me to serve humanity for the rest of my life. Most outlaws ended up as Rangers, where we’d be used to hunt down our compadres. No, I concluded with conviction. I could not allow that to happen. It must end here. I forced the relentless waves of pain from my mind, and focused on my ship’s master control console. I ordered the computer to bring the reactor on line, and to initiate an immediate self-destruct sequence.

Seconds later, I was looking into the ‘droid’s bloodless “eyes” as the ship’s reactor began to whine to a deafening crescendo. Its mechanical irises spiraled open as it realized what I had done. I managed a half smile as I spat, “See you in hell, ‘droid.” The last image I saw was the relatively dark silhouette of my shadow across the ‘droid’s back as it attempted in vein to escape the antimatter explosion.


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