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Desert rangers, p.1
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       Desert Rangers, p.1

           Jack Stornoway
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Desert Rangers

  Desert Rangers

  Jack Stornoway

  Copyright 2016 Jack Stornoway

  The second Gabriel Esparza saw the riders in the chasma below, his heart-rate increased knowing what was about to happen. That had to be Ferderand Afuyog riding the green Italika bike, surrounded by the three other bikes.

  Gabriel twisted the throttle on his green Italika and the air-bike lurched forward over the edge of the chasma wall, and down towards Ferderand at near free-fall. The chasma was over five kilometres deep, and the walls were almost vertical the first two kilometres before slanting down to the small lakes at the centre of the chasma. A few minutes later Gabriel was pulling up next to Ferderand. The other three riders had seen him coming and converged in front of Ferderand. As Gabriel pulled up next to Ferderand he recognized Elías Medina, and the man looked annoyed to see Gabriel show up.

  "Okay hombres," Gabriel shouted over the sound of the bikes' turbofans. "Vamos!"

  The situation changed radically when Gabriel arrived, and Elías Medina's expression showed his uncertainty. The odds were still on his side, but Gabriel was a good shot, and Elías couldn't risk a witness surviving to inform the sheriff.

  "If they pull their guns," Ferderand shouted to Gabriel loud enough for everyone to hear, "I want to shoot Elías!"

  Elías' face jolted up towards Ferderand, but he hesitated pulling his gun. He'd seen Ferderand shoot a man in Rotterdam, a tweaked-out Sudamérican junkie who'd lost his mind and went on a shooting spree. Ferderand was a good shot and didn't flinch, the signs of a former soldier.

  Elías had never seen Gabriel Esparza in a gunfight, but the foreman of the Nueva Sirian crew had a reputation in Echus Region dating back to the war, long before he moved to Nueva Siria and somehow become the head of the Desert Rangers. The rumour was he'd been a Sudamérican Army sniper that had defected to the Eco Revolutionaries after being sent to take out their leadership.

  "Your ranger's over-stepping his authority Esparza!" Elías shouted over the sound of the turbo-fans. "He ordered us out of the lake-lands."

  "Why are you here?" Gabriel Esparza demanded.

  Justine Aalfs seemed to realize her position was precarious and started backing away from Gabriel.

  "Stay where your are Aalfs," Gabriel barked, "or I'll blow your bike out from under you!"

  Justine stopped her retreat and Elías looked back at Gabriel, "She can ride anywhere she wants!"

  "No, she can't!" Gabriel wasn't going to back down. If he hadn't come along Ferderand could already been dead. "You're not rangers, and you're not working for any of the Biotics companies. You have no business in the Lake-lands. We're working here, and we don't like poachers. Largarse!"

  Elías' hands began trembled he was so angry, "This isn't going to end well, Gabriel!"

  "This can go down any time you want," Gabriel answered quickly. "Want to do this now?"

  Elías Medina wasn't used to backing down, but he didn't think he could win this one. He didn't usually have to deal with men like Gabriel Esparza and Ferderand Afuyog.

  "Alright, we'll leave!" Elías shouted suddenly. He turned his bike flew off, with both his people following quickly.

  The two rangers watched until they were almost out of sight then Ferderand asked, "Want me to follow them?"

  "No," Gabriel decided. "Let's head back. We're running out of time."

  "You showed up at the right time," Ferderand glanced over at Gabriel with a grin. "A few more minutes and I would've had to kill them."

  "They were here to kill you," Gabriel agreed. "I don't get it. Had trouble with them before?"

  "Not until I ordered them out of the Lake-lands," Ferderand answered equally confused. "There's something strange about that group. Doesn't make sense to pick a fight with a group of rangers."

  They rode away, heading east back to the base-camp. The base-camp wasn't very large, just a few airship gondolas with their hydrogen envelops folded down, and an odd collection of air-bikes and auto-gyros, all painted the same shade of forest green. When Gabriel and Ferderand arrived at the camp-site they paused at the edge of the patch of green plants, with their white and yellow flowers. Gabriel adjusted his respirator-mask, looking down at the patch of flowering plants growing around the temporally thawed lake in front of them.

  When the Nueva Sirian government had bought the plants from Arreola Biotics Unlimited, it looked like a win-fall. Long ago Gabriel had fought along side the owner of the company Cecilia Arreola. That was long before the Nueva Sirian government had decided to setup the Desert Rangers, and hired Gabriel to lead them.

  In all the years he'd known her, Cecilia had seemed honest and reliable, so when she showed Gabriel her records claiming over 50,000 plants Gabriel had vouched for her with the Nueva Sirian Terraforming Office. The price was reasonable, but now the number of plants was coming up far below 50,000, and Gabriel could not understand it. He couldn't believed that Cecilia's count was fraudulent, it wasn't in her nature.

  "The count's short, isn't it?" Ferderand asked. He knew Gabriel was worried. "You think Medina knows anything about that?"

  "How could he? Our people are doing the count. Medina hasn't even been in the Lake-lands until today," Gabriel answered.

  His vouching for Cecilia had allowed the Nueva Sirian Terraforming Office to move forward with the purchase before the audit, and begin the transplanting the plants to the Noctis Labyrinthus before the end of the three month thawed period. If the plants didn't take in their new home before the beginning of the eighteen month frozen period, the investment would be a waste. Now the count was off, and it could cost Gabriel more than his job.

  The project to transplant some of the plants from the Hebes Chasma to the Noctis Labyrinthus was controversial enough. Only one plant species was known to grow out in the thin freezing Martian atmosphere, the Ranunculus glacialis from Greenland. It only grew in a few locations around the equator at the bottom of the chasmas, where the atmosphere was thick enough to trap sufficient heat that the frozen lakes were able to thaw for a few months each year. There were no lakes or plants in the Noctis Labyrinthus, but during the last thawed period in the Lake-lands, prospectors in the Noctis Labyrinthus found a stream of liquid water. That was nineteen months earlier, and the debate had raged in the Nueva Sirian senate for most of that time. The government of Echus Region wasn't excited about loosing the plants, however their attempt to block the sale was was vetoed by the Confederate senate, who didn't want the regional governments interfering with the global terraforming mission.

  Now tens of thousands of the plants were missing, and someone would need to be blamed. Gabriel was feeling that weight coming down on him. Roelof Van Den Andel and Hai Ruan looked up as Gabriel and Ferderand rode into the base-camp. Roelof was from Hebes Chasma, a pail-skinned descendant of one of the old mining families that had been in the chasma since the Corporate Era. Hai Ruan was born in Nueva Siria, also a descendant of miners from the Corporate Era, in the old Chinese colony in Arsia Mons. She had been recruited to the Nueva Sirian Desert Rangers by Ferderand, who had fought beside her in the war. Ferderand was also born in Nueva Siria, at the old Filipino mining colony in Noctis Labyrinthus.

  The two mining colonies had ended up in the Sudamérican Colonial Zone after the Mars Treaty, and Sudamérica united them into the Colony of Nueva Siria, named after the Syria Planum. The deep Hebes Chasma and the vast but shallow Echus Chasma to the north of it had fallen under the Sudaméricans as well, who established their own colony in Echus, and placed the old Dutch mining colony in Hebes under Echus' authority. Nueva Siria and Echus were two of the five Sudamérican colonies to revolt from Bogotá's authority during the war, to become part of the Arean Confederacy. To the north, the rest of Sudamérica's colonies rema
ined firmly under Bogotá's control.

  "What did you find?" Gabriel asked after landing his bike at their base-camp.

  "Four thousand in that last patch," Roelof answered.

  "Any unmarked plants?" Ferderand asked.

  "Not one," Ruan answered.

  "That's strange," Ferderand observed. "There should still be first generation plants growing in the chasma."

  "The biotics companies could have pulled them up to use there locations for seedlings," Ruan suggested. "They would have been in the best locations to place their own plants."

  "Still, there should be some unmarked plants," Ferderand argued.

  "Still there should be 50,000 plants with Arreola's bio-marker in them," Gabriel interjected. "What are we at?"

  "We're still short 15,000," Ruan answered.

  "Is that Nibhanupudi Biotics guy still around?" Gabriel asked.

  "Ashok? No, he went back to Rotterdam a few hours ago," Roelof answered. "Said he had some business."

  Nibhanupudi Biotics Unlimited was the chief competitor of Arreola Biotias
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