Author : Kevin Crisp

“You’re a cheat!” Eb shouted, tossing his cards as he rose to his full, imposing height. Money would have meant nothing to Eb on a planet with little left to spend it on, but he was playing for information. And Pierre was beating him, badly.

The pod was tense and silent as Pierre rose to his feet. “No one calls me a cheat.” Men started slipping out of the door. Rose ducked low behind her bar.

“There are other men here that you’ve cheated before,” Eb continued.

Pierre and Eb stared at each other in silence. Pierre’s dark eyes smoldered. He’d won too many hands in this colony to let the hangers on write him off as a cheat. He’d be stabbed in his sleeping furs, and die with his boots on. But what if he drew? How good a shot was Eb Kelly? How fast could he draw that blaster hanging low at his side?

Eb broke the silence. “See, you all? He doesn’t deny anything!” This last taunt was more than Pierre could stand. He reached for his blaster, but Eb’s was out first and flashed fire. Pierre’s shoulder jerked, like an unseen hand had shoved him, and he fell. Rose screamed, leapt over the bar and dropped to her knees by the fallen man.

“Dead?” Eb asked, replacing his blaster in its holster.

“No,” said Rose, rising quickly. “But you are.” She jabbed the cold, hard barrell of Pierre’s blaster into Eb’s ribs. “Get out of my pod, the rest of you!” she yelled. The nervous remnants scrambled out.

“Rose — I don’t understand — why?”

“‘Cause a girl’s gotta make a living, Eb, however she can. And that old son-of-a-bitch Harte would pay through the nose to have his daughter back.”

“Pierre was working — for you!” Eb said, incredulously.

Suddenly, a voice outside called, “Everything alright in there, Rose?” Surprised, she glanced toward the door. That momentary distraction saved Eb’s neck. He smacked his forehead down quick and hard on the crown of Rose’s head, and she staggered and fell over stunned.

Eb bolted through the pod door. Swirls of purple dust wisped through the air amidst the ever-twilight of fading twin suns. Oblong pods of varying capacity were scattered helter-skelter, scarcely moved from where they landed in The Big Drop. Added to the ranks of Rose’s ousted customers were a few colonists who struggled on to make a meager living after the mining companies had moved on to more fertile worlds. Mostly men, they stood scratching at the ground with their boots, and saying nothing.

“Well, where is she?” Eb asked. “Where’s Blythe?”

“Don’t know nothin’, Eb,” someone muttered, avoiding his eyes.

A gray-bearded old-timer caught Eb’s attention with a twitch of his head subtly toward a small, derelict storage pod. No one tried to stop Eb as he pushed through the crowd. Two solid strikes with his shoulder was sufficient to bust the latch, revealing rusty, discarded mining tools and spare parts from an old atmosphere generator. In a dark corner lay a bound young girl, gagged with an oily cloth, eyes wide.

He jerked out his knife and ripped her bonds asunder. “Eb?” she gasped. “You’re still alive!”

“Glad to find you in the same condition.”

They hurried toward his lander, Eb with blaster drawn and ready, but no one interfered. “Where are we heading, Eb? Where’s there left to go?”

“Anywhere but here,” he said, sliding her into the cockpit and squeezing in beside her. He threw the thrust into full and the lander tore up into the alien sky.

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