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There is dust across the playa, and mirage rises to meet it, distorting the vehicle shapes coming from the west. Yelling in the town: some remnant of military discipline passing out worn rifles - most empty: a few with precious bullets. Some smart-mouthing back, but not much actual defiance: "fuck yer guns, fuck you sarge". Vehicles pulled into the center of town: armed civilians on the outside.

"All civilians," Ranger Ranger says when Hanna, clutching an empty gun, asks him. "We're no army."

"But you're a Ranger!"

"Means shit. We're not police, we're Rangers." They hunker down in the second floor of an abandoned house, broken window overlooking scrub, and the playa edge.

"Did they say who they are?" she asks, back flat to the wall. Ranger's sitting, his own gun still en holster. Not for the first time, wishing for an actual cigarette.

"Nope. Not answering on comms, could be anybody." Shrugs. "Could be Rangers with their radios out. Joy-riders. Sand people."

"So why the hell are we up here?"

"We don't know." He picks at a bit of splintered floorboard. "You tie shit down when the wind kicks up whether or not it's a storm."


Visitors, nothing more. Later, then, at the bar: "Could be worse," the pilot (sober for now) points out to a sullen Hanna.

"I'd feel better," she says, "if we had actual ammo."

Ranger Ranger carefully does not ask whether or not the girl has ever fired a gun. Is interested in picking a fight. Knows better. Sips his whiskey, eyeballs a few dusty local women, who eye him back. Bunking down is a bad plan: he won't have room in his truck come leaving. Still.

The girl, other end of the bar from him, the pilot, are closer now, staring into each other's eyes. The pilot's still on water.

Piss break. He kicks off the stool, no fanfare, out to the trough, then steps out of the stinking hole of a bar to stare up at the stars. Hears crunch, boots on gravel, looks: another Ranger, hat over a pair of pigtails.

"Well I'll be damned, Ranger Bob."

A slow, pleased grin. She says, "Ranger Ranger. We heard there might be trouble."

"Maybe. Trouble is the bar hasn't good beer for shit." She passes him a joint, half-burnt, and he inhales, greedy for a moment. The stars are brighter, briefly. He sights Hanna and pilot stumbling out down further into the town, attached at hip and lip. Watches for a second. "You didn't see trouble coming in, then."

"Quiet so far. Someone in Entire said someone else came over the mountains claiming there was some kinda explosion in the ocean. Said someone else had some hot debris wash up."

"Any proof of that?"

A shrug. Hits the joint again. "Who the hell knows? You hear all kinds of shit. I heard you picked up some baggage."

"A girl," he acknowledges. "Not my baggage. Might stay here. Might come with."

She laughs. Steps closer.

"Well, if she's not sleeping in your truck, I might." She takes the joint from his lips, presses a kiss there. "Given your consent."

"Why Bob, you brazen hussy," he mocks and takes the last lungful of smoke from her lips there in the alley.

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