Unsettled Land

Weather-beaten and rangy. The library at her hip was grey steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl.

It’d been a dry year, killing dry. Ulloa could hardly breathe for the dust, spat mud even with her breather before she could get a swallow out of the bottle. Damn thing was probably dead anyway — indicator claimed otherwise, but her nose was full of algal rot like an aquarium gone bad.

Supposed to be work up to the Double B, some big project they were working on. Tarkovsky had said it was some energy thing, but that didn’t signify: everything was an energy thing these days. Still chasing the big score and a return to the fat days. Well, so. She’d take their money and ride herd for a season or two, build out a few processes or whatever they needed, enough to keep Nova fed, anyway. Poor dumb beast was happy enough with his steady diet of garbage, but she’d feel better for the effort.

She passed another wreck, some poor schmuck whose planning or luck had run short; just another sacrifice to the ‘9. Samaritans had been and gone, thankfully — not even enough grease left for Nova’s undemanding stomach. Ulloa glared into the mountains and thumbed the volume high on her library. Miles to go, and nothing owed to strangers.