Bright Red Dot 9

Duran could see what Gent was talking about.  His personal computer was taking forever to connect to the Net.  He’d been out in the wilderness for days and he hadn’t bothered to set up his foldable satellite dish.  There were probably two or three messages from Yellow, wondering where he was.  Even her hacking skills couldn’t let her track someone who was completely offline.

It wasn’t until Duran noticed that his own computer was running slow that he knew there was a problem.  Holding up a hand, he started scrolling through menus.  If he hadn’t installed Yellow’s monitoring program, he never would’ve known.  There was a virus in his system, trying to tear through his firewalls.

Duran reached back and wrapped his fingers around the sword handle.  It came to life at his touch.  Static swept over the room and for a moment his computer shut down completely.  Gent’s satellite uplink shuddered and started blinking like crazy.  The bartender jumped backwards with a squawk.  In the next instant, Duran’s computer started up again and the uplink returned to normal.

“Moons of Jupiter, what just happened?” Gent said.

“I have no idea.”  Blackstone looked at Duran when he spoke.

Duran pushed his way out the door and into the weak sunlight.  Blackstone followed behind him.

“Do you think they found out you’re here?” he asked.

“I don’t know, but I need to get out of here.”

“I’m not going to ask you to go, but that might be for the best.”

“Don’t worry, most towns chase me out or try to arrest me.  It’s a refreshing change to be asked to leave.”

“Even on a new planet, the world never changes,” Blackstone said.  “Everyone’s trying to take what they can get.”

“I used to think it could be different, but not since…” Duran trailed off and pointed to the sword handle.

“You’re too young to be cynical.  Though I guess you’re too young to have grey hair too.  You’ve led a hard life.  Look on the bright side.  You did your good deed for the day.  Magenta’s Net uplink has never worked better.”

Duran chuckled.  If ever there was a name that didn’t fit, it was Magenta’s.  He could see why the man shortened it to Gent, even though he was anything but a gentleman.

They stopped in front of Blackstone’s home.  Duran could barely make out a faded ‘224-B’ stenciled on the side.  The open road beckoned out of town, at least until the road itself disappeared into the Martian landscape.

“Let me put something together for the road.  As long as you don’t mind protein gel.”

“Thanks, that’d be great.  I have some money.”

“If it’s digital it’s no good out here.  Hard currency and barter only.”

“I might need to owe you then.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I’m sure—”

Duran didn’t hear the end of the sentence.  The sound of gunfire silenced them both.

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