Excerpt– the beginning of ‘Upfall: Sand Demons’ (Novella)

Finch slumped back into his seat. “Darby,” he said, “if I ever see you even look at a pack of cards, I’m going to rip off your arms and stuff them down your throat.”

Flick nodded in agreement. He looked like the type of man who could do that type of thing as well, in case Finch needed some help. The big man’s face and bald scalp were black with grease but there were two white circles where his goggles had been and a strip around his chin and mouth that had been covered by his mask.

Darby grunted. “You remember when we got to spend a week at Lakala?” The foreman magno-clipped a toolbox to the floor and took his seat as well as Cody fired up the engines and got the cruiser moving.

“Yeah, I remember,” Finch conceded.

“Well, there you go. Can’t have one without the other.”

“That was a week after I joined the crew, Darby.”

“So?”

“So one win in a year is hardly enough to make up for the losses.”

“Just wait, my luck’s about to turn. I can feel it.”

Finch shook his head and looked at the final two members of the crew. Blake and Travis were brothers who couldn’t be more different. Blake was barely eighteen, small, slim and given to thoughtful silences that could last a whole day. More often than not, he had a book in his hand and a couple of spares in his pockets. Travis was ten years older than his brother and the life of any party. Most of the time he was the man who started the party. He was overweight but could out work anyone Finch had ever known.

“You two have been around a while,” Finch said. “Did Darby ever actually win anything before damned Lakala?”

Blake didn’t say anything. Travis laughed.

“So maybe I don’t always win,” Darby responded. “But we’ll all be getting paid a big bonus for this job.”

Finch had to admit that it didn’t actually bother him all that much. His bank balance didn’t really need any assistance but he probably would have been sitting at home otherwise. The satellite rigs were a pain in the arse but coming up with solutions when you only had half the parts you needed was a challenge he enjoyed. And it was all just work in the end and kept him away from places where he might be recognised.

The cruiser hummed on. Travis clamped on some headphones and sang along with some pop princess ten years out of date. Her tinny voice drifted around the cabin like a lazy black fly. Blake was reading and Flick was already asleep. Finch leaned back against the wall as well.

“Are you going to come and have a drink with us tonight, Finch?”

Finch’s head snapped up. He didn’t know how long he’d been sleeping but the shadows angling in past Cody suggested the sun had dipped well down towards the horizon. He looked at Darby and shrugged. “Maybe.”

The foreman grunted. “That means no.” Then he smiled. “I guess I’ll just have to find someone else to play cards with.”

“We’ll see,” Finch said. And he discovered that this time he really meant it.

Darby grunted again. “Even Blake’s been joining us recently. I’d send Flick around to your place to drag you down to the bar if I knew where you lived.”

Finch laid his head back again. “Darby, If you knew where I lived I’d move. You can’t borrow money off me if you can’t find me.”

Up in the driver’s seat Cody swore and the cruiser slid to a stop.

“What’s going on, Code,” Darby asked.

Finch got up to have a look for himself, leaning in through the door and looking over Cody’s shoulder. He swore as well. “I think your luck may have just turned, Darby.”

“What? A caravan of rich widows is coming out to meet us?”

Finch shook his head. “No, but we’re alive, and if you hadn’t lost that damn card game I’m not sure that would be the case.”

Dapinka was burning. A dozen plumes of smoke rose into the still air, thick and black at the refinery and lighter around the township, but all the same in the end. Flames were licking at the security wall.

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