Chapter One | White Lightning

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Cash was a woman of few needs. At the moment she was nursing the only one she was particular about. Time alone. The comforting and familiar clink of ice against glass paired nicely with the recording of ancient earth crickets she had on repeat to add a little ambiance to the evening. It was a bootleg disc that she had picked off of a dead thrill-seeking hiker stupid enough to come out this far away from the city of Lead Belly. Probably on some sort of personal awakening and too cheap or too proud to hire a guide. Now more dead and less enlightened than when they had begun. She felt bad about the corpse initially. But you can't protect people from their own stupidity, so she had not paid it much mind in the long run.

With a deep sigh, she lifted both of her booted feet in the air and set them along the rail that ran the width of the porch jutting jauntily from the hutch she called home. Smoke drifted from the cigar drooping just past the tip of her nose, burning brightly like an ember against the twilight sky. She hummed a lazy tune, heavy as the thick air around her. She could barely afford the energy bills on this place as it was, much less pay for coolant. The protective haze that danced just outside of her reach kept the oxygen she needed, in, and the deadly fumes of Planet al-Sufi, out. It regrettably did nothing to lower the temperature.

Dust kicked up on the horizon, billowing up against the brilliant orange sheen of the half-set sun. Cash narrowed her eyes. As if that were going to help her weak human perception see something more clearly at this distance and backlit. She licked her lips and waited, flicking some ash from her cigar expertly away from the rim of her glass as she brought it up for another drink.

The dust cloud grew gradually nearer and Cash felt a knot of displeasure weave its way into the lining of her stomach. With a grumble only she could hear, she reached down and plucked up the binoculars that sat vigilant beside her during evening nightcaps. Cash adjusted the many lenses with the map of buttons on either side. The picture through the glass blurred, cleared, blurred, and then finally clarified.

A large motor was making its way toward her home. Which she knew without a doubt because there was no other reason to be up here on the ridge. Cash being the sole source of civilization for clicks in any direction. She set the binoculars down and picked up her shotgun. Another item she had ready to go at a moment's notice. Resting the weapon in the crook of her elbow, she finished her refreshment and waited for her unwelcome guest.

The motor came to a grinding stop in front of her home, its treads sending up little sprays of rock that rattled through the haze-field and then fell back down the ground. Cash finished her cigar and dug the butt into the railing to extinguish it. The hatch to the vehicle slowly lifted into the air and a set of ostentatious boots planted themselves upon the dirt.

Cash gradually lifted her gaze from the footwear, up to the face of her visitor. His mouth and nose were covered by a loud bandana chosen carefully to match his boots. A white bowler hat topped off the ensemble, resting upon meticulously groomed dark curls. The color of the chapeau and the lack of stains or dust told her more about him than he probably would have been comfortable with. The man was watched by, what was obviously a guard, from inside the motor. When the muscle made a move to exit the young man lifted his hand.

"I got this."

The guard shook his head almost imperceptibly at the man's foolishness but planted his but back on the seat nonetheless.

"Are you going to let me in?" the man gestured to the haze that Cash had yet to stand down. It wouldn't have prevented him from passing through, but he was apparently too fancy to be impolite.

"You gonna introduce yourself?" She countered.

The man lifted his hat and tipped it ever so politely, then spread his arms wide so that his duster opened and revealed that he was, at least in any obvious way, unarmed.

"My name is Juri," he said in an accent so unaffected it must have taken him years to erase his planet of origin from his dialect. "But I'm not here representing myself."

Cash tipped her own stetson up with a single finger so that it rested jauntily upon the back of her head. "And in whose stead might I find you in?" she drawled.

"That's something I'd rather discuss inside," he said with another gesture at the nearly invisible barrier.

"I do most of my business on the porch," Cash said without so much as a blink. "And the business I do inside, well...we just met." She added a quick grin.

The man let out a surprised cough, the tops of his cheeks above the bandana flaming in embarrassment. "I promise I mean you no harm," he finally said, having recovered.

"I don't abide by promises," Cash said with a quick nod toward her shotgun.

The man sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"I'm here in an official capacity representing..." His voice drifted off as he glanced around. As if he expected someone to be eavesdropping here on the open arid plateau around them. "Representing Sweetwater Casino."

Cash smacked her lips together.

"I heard of it," she said simply. "That's that new place up in Lead Belly."

"If by new you mean thriving for oh, five cycles now?" The man seemed slightly put off.

"That's new in these parts, kid," Cash replied.

The man visibly bristled at the address.

"I am here," his voice was painfully pitched now, "representing someone I believe, you know as, Boss."

Cash nearly dropped her shotgun.

"I'm sorry," she said after clearing her throat, "I thought I heard you say, Boss?"

"That's because I did."

Cash's fingers trembled as she lifted the red bandana from around her neck and felt its macrofibers tighten protectively around her nose and mouth, creating a safe filter as she hit the button that lowered the haze.

"You better come inside," she grumbled. The man practically sauntered past her onto the porch. Before he could step over the threshold she purred, "But don't get any ideas."

His eyes darted toward her and she winked, hitting the button on the haze before the man's guard could get any ideas. With that, she blew the grunt a kiss and shut the door to her house behind her, relieving him of his protective detail for the moment.

"Now," she said, pouring herself another glass of moonshine as the visitor made himself comfortable on the singular chair that sat in her kitchen.

She turned and fixed both fists to the table, leaning over it so that her face was inches from his as he lowered his bandana.

"Why are you representing my ex?"

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