BANDERSNATCH GEORGE AND THE BASIN RIDER RENDEZVOUS
BANDERSNATCH GEORGE AND THE BASIN RIDER RENDEZVOUS
Cerebrus was a classic tale of what was wrong with the 21st Century. It was the saga of greed and rebellion, scoundrels and saints, and a lot of people in the middle just trying to keep the rajyx from the door.
Cerebrus was so close to earth that it had been discovered in the early 1900s by astronomers using telescopes. A small planet with no redeeming scientific oddities, it was cataloged with a number, labeled as a “dead” planet and forgotten. There it remained, in the dustbin of astronomical archives for almost one hundred years. Then it reappeared for the basest of reasons: greed.
And the greed factor was not that deeply hidden. In the intervening century, the population of the world had more than doubled. The strong, centralized governments of the Soviet Union and China had vanished leaving in their wakes thousands of provinces and quasi-independent countries that had tried to buy their way into the future. Selling what natural resources they had, they stripped their land bare for a handful of dollars while their priceless natural resources flooded into Japan, the United States and the European Community. By 2025, the Fourth World, as it was called, was populated with nothing more than agricultural peons, while the first three worlds had a standard of living that would have boggled the mind of their grandparents.
But with the increase standard of living came two insurmountable problems. First, the breadth and depth of technological advance was so great that shortages of strategic minerals were commonplace. In fact, shortages were so pronounced that recycling became such a high profit industry that bands of mercenaries would tunnel into landfills on which cities had been built searching for whatever metal they could find. But still the demand for the metals rose and thus the price.
Second, the population explosion coupled with the turning of millions of square miles into agricultural belts, changed the weather patterns of earth and condemned thousands of species of animals to extinction. With food shortages looming, there came a colossal standoff between the forces of industry and those of the environmentalism. Industry needed the natural resources and agricultural products to sustain economic growth and jobs. The environmentalists saw the business community of the world as being so greedy it would fill its pockets this decade without regard for what would happen in the next.
A compromise of sorts was reached when it was agreed that the spread of agricultural development would be stopped. This would stop the decimation of what natural environment was left. In exchange, any industry wishing to supplement its stockpile of natural resources from planets other than earth would be allowed to operate that portion of their portfolio tax-free for 50 years. No company could claim any planet, no matter how small, but the company was free to exploit the environs as it saw fit as long as it was no inhabited by any life forms.
The success of the compromise stunned even the most seasoned of diplomats. Within a matter of months, space exploration had exploded into a high-tech boom industry. Like the gold rushes of a century before, every means of transportation was employed to get mineral and petroleum exploration people onto planets to rape-and-run on a scale unknown in human history. Ancient spaceships in junk yards were salvaged and refitted for passenger service. Launching pads and communication complexes virtually erupted from vacant land and so many geostationary satellite appeared overhead that the United Nations had to meet in special session to restrict the further launching of satellite and dole out the use of the ports of those already in orbit.
Far and away the leader in the race to rape-and-run was the European Community’s giant English Petroleum, a privately-owned company that was interested in anything that would make a profit. Petroleum was its primary interest on earth but no one knew what opportunities would arise when their mineral people landed on an unknown planet. For the purposes of their tax status, English Petroleum listed itself as a petroleum company so it could cling some of its earth-bound expenses to the tax-free status of its space exploration deductions. In space exploration, English Petroleum found an accounting nirvana. It could slough billions of its earth-related profits into the tax-free space-related category, even if it never found a drop of oil. All it had to do to receive the tax-free status was to sustain a colony.
So the accountants and engineers plumbed the archives for suitable planets to keep its tax-free status. They had to be close enough to earth to be easy to supply and far away enough to avoid the meddling of the United Nations. Thus was Cerebrus rediscovered and a colony established. Then the unexpected happened: after an initial visit, the English Petroleum geologist predicted that there was a good chance there was oil in quantities great enough to be economic, even considering the oil was 18 months travel from earth.
But the bad news was that there were life forms on Cerebrus.
And there were Basin Riders.
* * *
“You’ve been reading too much science fiction,” snapped Bandersnatch George as he jammed a hunk of rabbit onto the end of his pike and drove the other end of the metal rod into the brownish-yellow hardpan of the sulfur plain. “I’ll bet you grew up reading about little green men an’ spaceships and all them weird stories they published back in the 90s.”
“Well, . . .” The kid scratched a week of peach fuzz on his chin and then ran his fingers through his dust-filled hair.
“Listen, Kid. You want to know what’s real? Look out there. From those snow-capped Sulfur Mountains to the Gelatin Sea, that’s all real. That targor over there is real too. This planet is real. You’ve got to stop thinking that this is some kind of a science fiction place. It isn’t. This is Cerebrus, a hot, dusty planet. We’ve got winter and summer just like on Earth. We’ve got days and nights just like on earth — they’re just a bit shorter.”
The kid was obviously not happy with the reality of Cerebrus.
“This place might as well be earth. I expected something different when I signed on to come here. Like alien life-forms.”
George laughed pleasantly. “This planet’s got alien life-forms.’” He slowly rotated the spike, the flames from the campfire blistering the meat from raw to well-done. “What do you think that targor is?”
“No. I meant like people. Alien life-forms you could talk to. A targor is kind of a hairy horse with claws, a bear you can ride.”
“A targor can talk. It just doesn’t speak in a language you and I understand. I wouldn’t go calling a targor a hairy horse either. They’re a hell of a lot smarter than horses. Almost as smart as us humans. They communicate among themselves and build shelters with those claws, two or three high even, with running water no less — drinking water in, black water out. We’ve got fourth world people with less civilization than that.”
The kid shrugged his shoulders and George gave a shrill whistle. The targor sleeping at the edge of the fire’s glow snapped alert, its eyes hidden behind a thick mop of fur homing in on the sizzling meat.
“Come on,” George waved and the targor sprang to its four feet and padded forward. As the animal moved, it walked like a bear, bending its front paws forward, rather than back as would a horse. And it certainly ate more like a bear than a horse.
There was only one thing the targor feared, George knew, and that was fire. While scientists didn’t know for sure why, it was assumed the fear had to do with the fact that the targor’s body hair was supposedly flammable. This conclusion seemed strange considering that Cerebrus had more than its fair share of volcanos. More than likely it was because the targor couldn’t control man’s oldest invention. A human could start and stop a fire at will; the targor couldn’t.
Had it been 150 years earlier, George would have been called a cowboy or, more appropriately, a drifter. He looked like a cowboy. It was almost as if he had stepped out of a snapshot in one of the enhanced history book where the photographs were holographed and combined with others to give a truer image and depth of field. It wasn’t a true picture in the sense that the scene shown had ever occurred. Rather, it was a collection of historical images that existed on film and had been combined to give a single, in-focus, striking, historical image.
More appropriately, George would have been the perfect long rider. He wore a dark duster that fell to the top of his boots to keep the yellow-brown sulfur dust off his clothes and equipment and he wore a red bandana around his neck which he used to cover his face when he was astride the targor. A rabbit-leather hat covered his thinning hair and he had a pair of sun-and-sand goggles which hung loosely from a rawhide cord around his neck.
The only difference in appearance between George and a cowboy was that George didn’t pack iron. There was no reason to be carrying a weapon on Cerebrus. The only carnivores here were the targors and they liked humans.
But there was a great deal of difference between what George did and the cowboy of two centuries before. He was a wild-catter, a free-lancer petroleum engineer looking for oil. When he found oil, he made a claim and then sold it to the highest bidder. He’d been on seven planets and each one just as English Petroleum was moving in. He sold his claims for a modest profit and then moved on.
In spite of the fact that he sold petroleum claims to English Petroleum, everyone at English Petroleum thought he was a Basin Rider, an on-site mineral geologist. These men lived solitary lives in the planet’s interior, far from the colonies, searching for minerals. They were suspicious of everyone with whom they came in contact and for good reason. Most of the people with whom they came in contact worked for English Petroleum.
Basin Riders were, to English Petroleum, were the bane of the universe. This was because of the marked difference between the oil and mineral companies. Oil companies wanted to find oil and extract it out of the ground as rapidly as possible and then move on to another find. What happened to the soil and environment was of no concern to them. After the oil was gone, the oil companies left.
On the other hand, the mineral companies needed a stable environment. They could not just plunge a drill bit into a copper deposit and suck out all the copper. Even with the most sophisticated ore removal systems, it would take decades to deplete the find. Ruining the environment made the mineral extraction process nearly impossible. The miners needed the grass and shrubs to hold the soil together so the wind wouldn’t turn the mine into a dust bowl.
When oil companies and Basin Riders met, it was bad news for the oil companies. The Basin Riders would use their own communications network to report to their companies what English Petroleum was doing. The best situation for English Petroleum was a planet with no environment. For the Basin Riders, exactly the opposite was true.
When English Petroleum and Basin Riders met, the consequences were not pleasant. Though never stated as official policy, once it was proven that someone was a Basin Rider, an open season on that individual was declared. A bounty was unofficially announced and no-questions-asked payments made. Unfortunately for English Petroleum, Basin Riders were not the kind of men who could be bushwhacked and many more bounty hunters disappeared than Basin Riders.
George knew that quite a few people at English Petroleum believed he may very well have been a Basin Rider and he didn’t discourage such thoughts. He kept saying he was a traveling wildcatter, but the Reptisoids in the main office in London were sure he was a Basin Rider. George liked it that way. It gave him a perverse thrill to know that someone somewhere was thinking about him, even if the thoughts weren’t the kindest.
Nightfall on Cerebrus was abrupt. With a rotation twice that of earth, there were no lingering, lengthy sunsets. When the sun set — or what everyone on Cerebrus called the sun — the dark side of the spinning planet went jet black immediately. Near the saw-toothed Sulfur Mountains, night came even sooner because the spine of the range cut the daylight by a good forty-minutes. Once the sun dropped behind the 30,000-foot crest of mountain peaks, inky black shadows, quite literally, sprinted across the canyon floor, filling the valley with darkness.
“Toss some more of that wood on the fire. I’m not going to sit in the dark just because the targor doesn’t like fire.”
The kid shuffled about in the dark. “Aren’t you afraid someone will see the fire?”
“Hell, no. I’m not a Basin Rider. Why should I care if anyone sees the fire?”
“Aren’t there a lot of Basin Riders out here? Have you ever seen any?”
“See ’em all the time. They’re skittish. Stay away from the main trails — and big fires like this one. They ride targors out in bush.”
“Why don’t they use trucks? They could move faster.”
George snorted as he felt through his saddlebags for some salt. In the darkness, he could hear the targor gently gnawing on the hunk of meat.
“No vehicle’s any good out here.” George leaned back against a sulfur boulder, careful not to put too much weight on it. “No gas stations to keep those trucks going. Once the pipelines go in there will be, someday, but not today. Until then, the only thing you can ride across the sulfur plains is a targor.”
The sulfur flats weren’t really pure sulfur, though they looked that way. Actually, there was quite a bit of what could be called “soil” mixed with the sulfur, enough to support grasses where water was close to the surface. Scrub grew everywhere else, its root networks digging deep for the elusive elixir of life. There were some sulfur dunes but, for the most part, the sulfur plain appeared more like the
Nevada desert with the only difference being the color of the soil on Cerebrus was a brown-yellow — and the dust tasted like sulfur.
“I saw some tread scars back about two hours ago,” the kid said breaking the silence. “That means . . . “
“. . . nothing,” George finished the sentence. “Using a vehicle of any kind out here, even those new-fangled solar-powered jobs, is out of the question. One bit of trouble and you die unless you know how to live off the land and where to find water. It would be a long walk back through this heat. No, a vehicle is only as good as long as it has fuel and oil and water.”
“How about a plane?”
“Some of those old bush planes might make it, but why use a plane? What’s out here? Just a couple dozen wildcatters, a few Basin Riders and every once in a while, some of those Reptisoid, English Petroleum environmental people. You know, snake people.”
“You don’t seem to like English Petroleum very much; and you’re a wildcatter. You’re in the oil business.”
George took a deep breath and looked across the fire. For the hundredth time since he found the kid wandering around apparent lost he looked at the holes in the kid’s shirt where the English Petroleum identification badge usually was. “The kid’s damn lucky I found him before a Basin Rider did,” George thought. Then he answered the kid. “I don’t like English Petroleum at all. They did a terrible job on earth, polluting the environment to find oil.”
“They were only doing what everyone else was doing.”
“No. They were doing it better. As long as they weren’t in England, they didn’t care what happened. Remember that oil spill in Prudhoe Bay in 1998? There was petroleum goo four feet deep spread over 200 square miles. All English Petroleum said was that they were ‘sorry.’”
“Well, they were.”
“The only thing they were sorry about was that anyone made a stink about it. Now look what they’re doing to Cerebrus.”
“What’s wrong with what’s going on here?”
“What’s wrong with it?! When were you born? You don’t know what’s wrong with going to a planet and deliberately killing every living thing there?”
“English Petroleum is only killing those animals it can’t find and transport out.”
“Wake up.” George waved a chunk of flaming rabbit on the spike before dropping it on the kid’s plate. “Where do you think this rabbit came from? Do you think it jumped all the way from Australia. You think this little critter stowed away on a cargo skyrider? Then there are the shrews, hares, lemming, mice, voles and all those other plant-eaters. Those were brought here to eliminate the habitat.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Look. What does the rabbit eat? What do the mice and rabbits and voles eat? They eat anything green, right? Heat and cold don’t bother them, right? The only natural predators here are the targor and there aren’t that many of them at all.”
“Well, there’s plenty of food for everything.”
“Are you kidding?! Two years ago you could walk from the Celsius Divide to Sulfur Mountains and not see anything but grasslands and green brush. Look at it today. Those Earth animals are eating this land to dirt.”
“Well, if that’s true then the animals would be eating themselves out of house and home. It would be real stupid for a company to spend a lot of money to cargo in Earth animals that would eat themselves to starvation.”
The kid couldn’t see it but Bandersnatch George was shaking his head in disgust in the darkness.
“Kid, when you wandered into my camp two days ago, I figured you were just lost. Part of some of those research remote assignments. Eighteen months of cotton mouth to get here, two years on the planet looking at bugs and tubers and then another eighteen months of cotton mouth back to Earth. But a scientist you ain’t. You don’t know targor scat about what’s going on out here. You’re lucky we’re heading back toward a settlement. You’d never live long out here.
George continued, his voice rising in anger, “Shipping rabbits and mice here wasn’t a just a good idea; it was the perfect idea. See, there’s so much vegetation that the population of those animals just exploded. Now they’re eating everything in sight. If every targor on this planet ate nothing but mice and rabbit for the next ten years, that wouldn’t even slow down the population of mice and rabbits. Within two years there won’t be a green sprig left on this planet. Before anyone at the United Nations even knows there’s an environmental catastrophe here, there won’t be an environment. Then English Petroleum corporation can come up here and do what they want to do. Since there’s no environment, there’s no restrictions.”
“That’s a pretty cruel way of looking at English Petroleum. That’s implying that they know what they’re doing, that this isn’t an accident.”
“Your problem, son, is that you’re young. What are you? Maybe 24? You haven’t been around in the real world. Me, I’m pushing fifty. I’ve been on seven planets and seen it happen time and again. It starts when a company called English Petroleum shows up. They set up a communication network and control all the news that goes out. Next thing you know, there’s a dozen cargo skyriders loaded with mice and rabbit. A year later, we’re up to our armpits in plant-eaters and the environment is gone. There’s an uproar on Earth about environmental degradation and when the United Nations sends up a fact-finding team, they don’t find anything but a dead planet. They declare the planet dead; the oil companies don’t have to worry about protecting anything. They can drill where they want, build roads, run pipelines. Hey, with oil going for what it is, there’s one hell of an incentive to destroy environments on planets where you don’t live.”
“That’s a pretty dangerous charge to make.”
“That’s not a charge, it’s the truth.” George laid back his head and laughed a deep, hearty laugh. “That’s why English Petroleum is trying to wipe out the Basin Riders. Hell, they don’t care about a wildcatter like me. If I find oil, even if it’s for a competitor, they don’t care. I’m one of the good guys, looking for oil. But those Basin Riders, those guys are looking for minerals.”
Since the kid didn’t respond, George knew he had crashed for the night. That wasn’t unusual for newcomers to Cerebrus. George was used to the short nights on Cerebrus, each about four hours long. Out here on the flats, you had to learn to sleep in two shifts. Every Earth day — IE., 24 hours in a stretch — had two nights and two days. There was no way to sleep for eight hours in a row; that kind of sleep had to be broken into two sets of four hours each.
The kid probably felt he had just closed his eyes when George was kicking him awake.
“Sun’s up. Time to move. I’ll have you to a settlement before the sun goes down again. Robin’s Egg is only about four hours from here. Has some colonists and a landing strip. You can make it back to the main settlement with the next bush plane.”
George watched surreptitiously as the kid stood up, groggy from a night on the hard-packed sulfur. Thick yellow dust clouded as he beat off his jeans. The kid looked slyly in George’s direction, then casually let his hand run to the bottom of his satchel as he stuffed his solar blanket inside.
George pretended not to notice.
“Usually we’d ride but the targor’d get nervous with someone he didn’t know on his back. So we’ll walk. Here, hand me that. No sense in carrying a bag while the targor is carrying a load.”
Before the kid could protest, George snatched the satchel out of the Kid’s hand and roped it onto the top pile of bags on the targor’s back. The animal gave a satisfied grunt as it stood up and nuzzled its head against George’s side.
“Never see a horse do that, would you? Naw. These targors are the best riding machines ever made. They can go where a man can go, straight up a cliff if they want to. I’ll take a targor to a jeep or Treadmaster any day.”
With that George headed out across the sulfur flats. The sun was already beating down on the men, baking them dry even as they started to sweat.
Just as the jet black of night came quickly, so did the heat of day. One moment it was a cool and the next it was a solar oven. George pulled his rabbit hide hat forward and down over his eyes. The kid pulled a pair of solar-tinted glasses out of his pocket and propped them up on the bridge of his nose.
Two hours later, George smiled as the kid got his first shock of the day. Just as the two of them were cresting a rise, two men mounted on targors came out of the tangled scrub brush behind them. The kid immediately spotted them for what they were: Basin Riders. They both carried lasers laid casually across their saddles and had small satellite dishes strapped to the top of their saddle bags. They were dressed in the same long duster that George wore but theirs’ were camouflaged with uneven streaks of black, brown and grey, one of the reasons the kid hadn’t seen them until they had come out of the brush.
Without looking behind, George said “Say hello, kid. These are two of the Basin Riders you guys at English Petroleum want to kill.”
A kid’s voice cracked. “I don’t work for English Petroleum.”
“Sure you do, kid. You’re still wearing an English Petroleum shirt — you just ripped the badge tags off. Not real smart. But don’t, they’re not going to kill you. In fact, they sent for you.”
George turned around but kept walking backwards as he spoke. The Basin Riders kept a sharp eye on the kid from behind sun-and-sand goggles.
“See, we had a problem. We needed a credible witness, preferably someone from English Petroleum to see what’s going to happen today. It had to be a human too, not a Reptisoid. So we set me up. We planted the seed that I was a Basin Rider. Then your people were kind enough to swallow the bait. We didn’t know who they were going to send; we just knew they were going to send someone. You arrived right on schedule.”
With that George turned his back on the kid again and kept walking. Within five minutes the four men crested a rise and there, in the distance, were a half-dozen geodesic bubbles.
It was a small settlement, a supply base actually, one of the far-flung spots of civilization where food and water was stored for the oil exploration engineers. There was a main building with robin’s egg blue panels — clearly the reason the settlement was called Robin’s Egg — and two smaller geodesic domes on the far side of a narrow landing strip.
As they drew closer, George and the Kid saw something else as well: two dozen men and women who could only be described as Basin Riders. From the looks of it, every Basin Rider on Cerebrus was here. Four others had come out of the scrub brush behind George and the kid by the time they made the yellow, pothole-strewn landing strip in front of the collection of geodesic domes.
As George held the kid on the far side of the landing strip, the Basin Riders cleaned the support staff out the supply base with military precision. They entered each dome quickly and removed all the occupants, no more than ten men and half that many women, at laser point. The prisoners were lined up shoulder to shoulder well back from the landing strip where they held them under guard.
“Well, kid, here’s what we went to all the trouble to have you see. You just stand right here beside the landing strip and report back to English Petroleum exactly what you see here today.”
“What am I going to see?”
“That I should spoil your surprise?” George put his hands to his chest in mock surprise. “No. No. No. I want you to savor every moment of this. It will be something you can tell your grandchildren.”
As George was speaking, a soft throb could be heard in the distance. Everyone turned to the source of the sound and suddenly, from behind an outcropping, an English Petroleum cargo skyrider could be seen skimming along just above the surface of the sulfur flats. The kid looked at George and then at the Basin Riders showing surprise that no one was particularly concerned. Cargo skyriders were sometimes troop carriers. But this possibility did not seem to concern the Basin Riders. They just stood silently in their black, brown and grey, streaked long coats.
As the kid looked from the skyrider to the landing strip, George could read the kid’s mind. The landing strip was obviously too small to handle a skyrider of that size. The aircraft itself was one of the larger, newer cargo models, 400 feet long and 40 feet wide. Built for speed and carrying capacity, it would only be able to land if the pilots were very good. But it could never take off again. For whomever was onboard, this was assuredly a one-way trip.
The skyrider pilots were very good. They hit the sulfur plain just before the beginning of the airstrip, taking out ten feet of scrub before the skyrider hit the actual strip. Those pilots were going to use every foot of air strip they had — and then some. As the skyrider roared by George and the kid, tons of sulfur rose and swirled in billows of yellow dust coating the men.
George had his face covered with the red bandana he kept around his neck. The kid didn’t have a bandana so he choked on the biting sulfur dust. Not having a bandana was a sure sign of a tenderfoot on Cerebrus.
As the skyrider passed George and the kid, the engines suddenly reversed, the blast piercing their ears. Clearly whoever was flying that crate certainly knew how to land. The craft slowed quickly and even as it ploughed off the landing strip into the shrub, it was apparent that it would not be damaged. The minute the plane stopped moving, the engines cut off. Instantly the plain was silent.
“OK, kid, let’s go.”
George, the kid and three Basin Riders walked through the settling dust clouds to the back of the cargo craft. When they arrived, the huge belly door was just settling and low enough for the five men to step inside.
“We’re calling this Noah’s Ark.” George waved his arm around the interior. “What you see here are our secret weapons: coyotes, rattlesnakes, dingoes, hawks, and weasels. Animals that eat animals. This is how we’re going to fight English Petroleum. We’re going to beat you at your own game.”
“I don’t get it,” the kid was scratching his head as the five of them walked the 300 feet to the end of the cargo hold. “You’re bringing more animals here to die?”
“No. We’re bringing animals here that will check the populations of mice, rabbits and voles. There is so much food here for these predators, thanks to English Petroleum, that their population is going to skyrocket.”
“So, 18 months from now when the United Nations environmental observers finally get to Cerebrus, they are going to see an environment. It won’t be the original environment that was here but they are going to see an environmental balance nevertheless, one that has to be protected.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t have to. The only reason you’re here is to see what we’re doing. Then you report back to your headquarters.”
As George was speaking, the Basin Riders stood in queues and began unloading the cargo. Larger animals that could run or fly great distances were simply released from their cages. The Basin Riders maneuvered the pallets with the cages toward the open tail gate and pulled up the trap door. The coyotes and wolves exploded out of the cages, took a single jump off the tail gate and disappeared into the brush. Eagles and hawks erupted out of their open cages and disappeared over the horizon in every direction as fast as they could fly. The kid counted well over two hundred carnivores before he decided to stop keeping tabs on the different types of animals.
“What are in the bags?” the Kid asked George as Basin Riders began collecting burlap sacks and tying them to the targors.
“Those are the smaller carnivores: rattlesnakes, badgers, weasels and the like. They can’t cover the country the way the larger animals can. Every Basin Rider is taking a collection of them as far from here as possible, dropping them off where they know the mice and rabbits are thickest. These predators are still drugged from the trip but in a day or two, they’ll be fine. Sure, we’ll lose along the way, that can’t be helped. But those that survive are going to eat and eat and eat. Then they are going to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce. Like I said, by the time the United Nations environmental observers get here, there’ll be a balanced environment to protect.”
George led the kid out of the cargo skyrider bay and back to the loaded targor. Only then did George toss the kid his satchel.
“Here’s where we part company,” George said as he mounted the targor. “You just report what you saw. You’ll get a promotion. They can’t fire you.”
“Why are you doing this, George? You’re a wildcatter! One of us!”
“Got a conscience, Kid. I like the world in a balance, with fuzzy and scaly animals all around me. This is my seventh planet and I’ve seen what your people will do for money. I just want them to know that it’s not going to happen anymore. You did notice that the cargo skyrider was an English Petroleum plane?”
“Yeah. THAT I did notice.”
“Well, the company’s is starting to rot from the inside. There’s a new world out there. Not that science fiction stuff you’ve been reading. This is the real Frontier and we’re saving it, one planet at a time. It may be slow but it’s effective. Even using your company’s property to do it.”
“Where are you going, George? You can’t get away.”
“Already have. As soon as you report back, English Petroleum will abandon Cerebrus. I’ll bet on that. Six months from now, this will be a habitation colony again, good people looking to start new lives here. Naw, I’ll be OK. I’ll be able to retire here, maybe even open up a targor dude ranch. The targors will love it.”
George turned his back on the kid and slowly started riding up the hill. All around the kid were Basin Riders, their targors loaded with bulky burlap sacks, heading off in different directions. The cargo skyrider was empty now, sitting abandoned on a runway too short for a takeoff. There’d be an spotter plane along soon; no one could take off with a English Petroleum cargo skyrider and expect to disappear into the badlands. Someone was bound to come looking for it.
George turned around one last time and looked at the kid unconsciously reaching toward the bottom of his satchel.
“By the way. I emptied that tranquilizer pistol you’ve got in there. Those guys at English Petroleum loaded it with an adrenaline booster, not a poison. There was enough in that capsule to give me the strength of two targors for about a minute. Just enough time for me to tear you to pieces before I died. They’re not expecting you back. After you report in, you should take retirement. Get out of the company. You might even think about coming back here, being a Basin Rider. You could be real valuable having been on the inside. Think about it. You found me once. You can find me again.”
With that George turned his back on the kid and disappeared. One instant he was there and in the next, all that was left was a cloud of yellow dust where he and the targor had been before they were swallowed by a curtain of scrub.