CHAPTER 30

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U.S. Occupied Tijuana, Mexico
A Week Later

Luna Skye remembered how she arrived at her current location quite well. She had driven her twenty-seventeen Range Rover across four hours of lonely Mexican highway, passing a truckload of workers on their way to a farm, an old man driving a pickup that was older than her SUV, and a poor family on the side of the road walking a goat on a leash. Part of her journey had been over crumbling asphalt and some of it over dirt roads kicking up clouds of dust in her rearview mirror. All of the trip had taken place with her windows down, one hand on the wheel and the other free to run her fingers through her hair or pat the side of the door to the beat of the radio.

She had spent the past week collecting rock and soil samples in the mountainous region of southern Baja California—searching for trace elements of recent meteor impacts. Her study, a grant funded by the Next Gen Corporation, hoped to identify certain metals not found anywhere else on Earth. Valuable metals that could be mined from potential asteroids or comets in the near and far future. She could imagine an enormous spaceship traveling to the asteroid belt, setting up a mining station, and digging for precious metals that could be used for a variety of purposes such as tank armor, delicate electronic components, and even deflector shields for colonization vessels destined for interstellar space.

But to Luna, a rock was a rock, whether it be from Montana or Mars. The work was hot, tedious, and often unrewarding, but as a part-time professor in the geological sciences department at San Diego State University, this was a way of life, and a way to pay the bills. Truthfully, she'd rather be in the field than a classroom any day. Even though the college wanted her to achieve tenure and be more involved in teaching, Luna was looking to go another direction. She didn't know exactly what that direction was, but she'd know it when she found it.

After her week in the arid mountains, she made her trek north into Tijuana where she decided to stay for the night before heading back across the border to California in the morning.

To relax and unwind, she chose a bar on the widely popular main street, Avenida Revolucion. The Zona Rio district was packed with souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars. Some of the drinking hotspots were on the lower end of the respectable scale. Like this one. But Luna didn't care. She could handle herself, and the alcohol, and the men gathered around the card table, staring at her with wantonness eyes. That said, she still knew when to make for the exit door.

She stared over the top of her cards, spreading them into a wide fan to hide her—I need to get my culo out of this rathole—face. Besides her need for amusement, she didn't have a reasonable explanation for how she found herself playing five card draw with four men in this sleazy low light establishment.

The booze. Yeah...that's how.

Somehow, all the other women in the nicotene stained dump were wise enough to get lost after happy hour. Luna just wanted some extra spending money and a little entertainment after a hard day's work. But unfortunately, she was out of credit chips and pesos, and down to her last hand.

A pair of twos, an eight of diamonds, nine of spades, and a lonely king of clubs wasn't going to get her far. She chewed on the inside of her cheek while studying the expressions of her male counterparts. While keeping her eye on Juan, the man seated directly across from her, she took a slow and sensuous pull from the long neck bottle of a Corona. He smiled as his gaze traced the outline of her white tank-top. Then Luna, with a drawn out sigh of satisfaction from the Mexican beer tingling her throat, set the bottle down, and slapped her cards flat on the table, face down.

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