Prompt: "He must protect the laptop"

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Bob had to protect the laptop. This was a problem on multiple fronts, physical and cyber. Not only were hackers after the information, but also spies. Assassins would kill him for it.

Out here in the desert of Pungaria, giant scorpions were another danger. Bob wiped the sweat off of his balding forehead and peeked out of the narrow cave entrance. Six of the beasts stood around the entrance. An ominous chattering noise came from the chelicerae of their mouths. Were they talking to one another? About him? He swallowed and stepped back into his refuge of darkness.

By now she must know where he was. That was dangerous. Even now she could be creeping up on him, getting closer. He didn't have time to be trapped here in this cave, but what could he do? He should have taken the boss, but no, he'd been too smart for that. "I can defend a laptop without firearms," he'd said, "That's what firewall is for." His boss had only laughed, portly stomach jiggling like gelatin. "Have it your way."

There was a screech then, and Bob felt like his heart had stopped. Whatever it was, it was in the cave.

He took off his belt, picked up the laptop, and stuffed it up under his shirt. Then he belted it into place and tucked his shirt in again. It was a white button-up. Somewhere on his journey he'd lost the red tie that marked him as a professional.

He picked up his staff and backed himself up into an [alcove?]. Whatever was here would have to come at him from the front, and while he could barely see the floor, it was better than being totally defenseless.

The wind picked up outside, howling into the cave. Sand blew past in waves, sprinkling the cave floor like sugar on a cinnamon twist at the office coffee station.

Minutes passed, then more. Bob was exhausted, but what could he do?

He was getting sleepy. His eyelids drooped. His arms relaxed, loosely holding the stick out from his body. His head tilted back.

He jolted awake to a symphony of flapping and screeching. He clutched his walking stick closer. The laptop! Where was the laptop?

He looked around the cave floor but didn't see it anywhere. They must have taken it!

Bob ran out of the cave, chased by a cloud of flapping bats. Night was falling outside, and most of the scorpions were gone. One remained, shaking its stinging tail menacingly, like a silent rattlesnake.

Bob shouted and struck it. It ran away across the sand. He ran after it.

There was a change in him then. He was the hunter, not the hunted. He would get the laptop back from wherever they'd taken it, or he would die in the attempt.

He roared and struck at the scorpion again.

It dodged out of the way, yelping.

"What are you doing to the dog?" a woman's voice demanded behind him.

The scorpion ran away, whining. Bob turned. It was her.

"What have you done with the laptop?" He held the walking stick above his head, ready to strike her if she tried anything. He took a step toward her.

Her eyes widened. "You mean the lump under your shirt?"

Bob looked down then, saw the lump and the tops of his bare feet on the grass.

"What have you been doing, dear?" his wife asked, carefully reaching for the stick.

Bob let go and sank to his knees in his suburban backyard. "I need a vacation."

"Without the laptop," his wife agreed. She walked over to the patio and leaned the walking stick up against the vinyl sitting by the sliding glass door.

"We're eating in ten minutes," she said, "You should clean up before dinner."

She disappeared inside.

Bob took the laptop out of his shirt and set in on the picnic table. His son's swing set creaked in the breeze.

[Dog name] came up to him, nosing the ground. Slowly, cautiously, he licked his hand.

"I'm sorry, boy," Bob said and hugged the animal to his chest. "I'm so sorry."

***

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