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"Eathy money, you thaid. No problemth, you thaid."
I grunted and tottered into the cave, only too thankful to be in one piece. Shucking the heavy, tight-sealed, brown maxplas box and the large leather satchel I'd been carrying for the last eighteen miles, I sank down on the floor next to it. "There didn't seem to be any harm in a little well-paid courier work."
Harich dropped his box and satchel beside mine and began looking around the cave. "Tell that to our fan club."
We'd met a man in a bar, three Settlements back, with a daughter who was getting him noticed by everyone, for the girl was obviously radiation-affected. He'd wanted a couple of boxes carried to a farm. He'd given us boxes, map, even a couple of battered motorbikes. At the other end, two thousand creds. In addition to the thou that had come with the boxes. Harich had glanced at the map once and eaten it. I've got to cure him of that one. He'd seen it done in some ancient film, tried it once and got to liking the taste. Nobody who doesn't know him could believe he could remember a map after one glance. But he can. He does everything top speed.
Like looking over caves.
He'd done the walls already, now he was onto the ceiling. Hand-over-hand, upside down, thick-tuft bodyfur a mass of exclamation marks. He looked like an oversized spider with buzzsaw teeth. But shaggier.
He's a mutant, but I expect you've realised that. We got together during a fight in some bar so far back I can't remember where it is. Somehow, we'd stuck together. He comes in dead useful. He's also the only person I've met who's totally honest in a friendship, with no hidden agendas. Knowing he's completely on your side also comes in dead useful.
"Here. Over here. Thtash hole."
I picked up the boxes, grunting at their weight. I'm no weakling, but he's all rubbermuscle and sinew. I wished I knew what was in them.
And why a bunch of bikers led by a bodyshaved King Kong type would be so interested.
They'd picked up on us just outside the settlement. They'd nearly caught us straight off, but Harich found an impossible pathway down a mini fissure and I'd just hung onto his fur, manner of speaking, praying I wouldn't fall off my bike. I hadn't, the suspension had. Off both bikes. Which is why we were holing up here, useless bikes left behind. They'd go straight past, and we'd be able to carry on.
We can all dream. But we'd left tracks going on quite a way past the fissure, before we'd ridden the non-path back into it. We hadn't expected the bikes to fall apart. Now they had, we weren't too certain what to do.
The stash hole was behind a boulder, faking a shadow. Big though the boulder was, it was surprisingly light. Volcanic, I thought. Like the cave. Which accounted for the craters covering floor, walls and ceiling. Bubbles that had burst and gone solid. It pivoted back on an unburst bubble on its base, showing the shadow to be a tunnelmouth. Useful, even though we didn't know where it led. We put the boxes just inside the tunnel, rolled the boulder back and sank back down against it. Then we realised our satchels were still on the other side of the cave and we joined stares. I lost, but Harich must have felt sorry for me because he was there and back before I had time to push my shrieking joints straight. Or maybe he was just hungry. When you live in overtime as much as he does, you need your calories.
I'd patched my jacket with the leftovers from the last meal, I reckoned I could make myself a new one with what we had rolled up for this one. Not that the omniprod foodmaker from the satchel seemed to mind. Harich used razor fingernails to slice strips off to feed into it. He scratches himself a lot. It makes me shudder to think how tough his skin must be. Everything that machine makes tastes the same; hot, vaguely savoury and texture-free and chewy at the same time.
After that, sleep reached out and pulled down the shutters over our eyes. Last thing I remember was looking at Harich, who was lying back with his hands over his middle, looking like a pink-gloved baby furball. I picked him up and carried him behind the boulder, between the boxes. Using our satchels as pillows, we slept.
I was awakened by Harich's teeth, nipping delicately into my shoulder. I winced and he slapped fuzzball fingers over my mouth. "Lithen!"
I listened. "Thunder?" And remembered. "Omigawd. Bikes!"
"You thaid they wouldn't find us."
"I hoped they wouldn't..." I said to a fast retreating shadow. As usual, he was far ahead of me. He'd thought of this one last night, and was heading to somewhere he'd marked out for if this happened. I followed him...
Down through a large crater into a double-glazed space between the cave's false floor and the true floor underneath, its smoothness telling me lava must have flowed here sometime in the past. We curled small, in the gap. The boxes were behind the boulder. I hoped to hell the bikers wouldn't notice them.
Knowing my luck, the volcano would choose now to take up gargling.
"Any sign?" The voice came from the cave above us, from a throat used to swallowing razors. "Nope. None."
"They've got to be around here. Their tracks stopped, only thing they could've done was double-back and go down that fissure. We found their bikes, little way back. They couldn't've gotten any farther."
"Reckon they stashed the shit around here somewhere?"
"Reckon... hey. Hey!"
Silence. Then the rap of a stick on rock. The cavity was nearly dark, lit only by what light came through the holes, but something briefly added to the shadow, and vanished. The next time it came through, it glinted. The point of a knife-stick, probing through the craters? I gulped.
We watched it coming closer, hypnotised by fear. When it was two holes away, we tried sliding backwards but the roof dipped behind us and there was nowhere to slide. It reappeared beside Harich and we gave sighs of relief. If it stuck to the wrong row, we'd be alright.
Its end reappeared directly above Harich, who did the only thing he could do. He grabbed just above the blade and twisted, holding it grimly away from him. From above, a gasp; followed by the sound of a large body falling down onto solid rock. Raucous laughter filled the cavern. I glanced at Harich, who was trying to push the end away from his stomach, and pulled him towards me. He was pinned solid, the end against his ribs, and his face turned scarlet as the stick's owner pushed down from above, to get himself back upright.
A huge engine roared to life and idled, its sound a cobra's glare. "Ah-hah! Steerike One!"
"They're under the rock?"
"Double ground, below this floor. Now hear this!" The stick twisted and I knew he was talking to us. "One of two things is going to come out in the next two minutes. You or your guts on the blade at the end of this 'ere stick. Your choice."
We looked at each other. He had us. "Alright. We're coming out." Slow. Casual. Keeping our one secret weapon hidden, until we had the chance to use it. I wormed it head-first from the nearest hole big enough, rough hands pulling me through and dumping me onto my back. When Harich came out, he was treated the same way. Which he'd hate. And remember.
The faces looking down at us were snaked with scars. One man pulled an inoffensive-looking metal rectangle from his pocket, pressed the button on its side. A flat blade clicked out and glowed; melting its way slowly through the pockfilled stone he picked up from the ground.
I smelt the big man, the man with the stick, before I saw him; his smell was the colour of hate. He was huge, though he wasn't fat. Arms, legs, were bent under their grotesque burdens of muscle; his face a mass of bubblemelted plastiskin and metal implants. Which moved easily as he swallowed. Living metal. I wondered where he'd found anywhere advanced enough to still be using it. He stopped in front of Harich, who looked up at him with 'To Let' signs in his eyes. A thin trickle of drool ran from the corner of his mouth and I almost smiled in spite of myself. The drool was a nice touch.
"What the bloody hell have we got here? A tramp and a mutt?"
"'Course, Jia, you idiot." Big Boy stomp-hobbled closer, hands hooked. Hell, even his fingers were creosoted with muscle. As he reached down to Harich, I made my mind up. Shit or bust. For our only weapon to have the best hope, I had to make Harich seem even thicker than he was trying to make himself look. "Don't bother with him. He can't talk."
Whatever had melted that face had left all the ashes in the eyes that turned to stare at me. "Where's the shit?"
"Look, I don't know who you think we are..." I jerked my head sideways as I felt the heatblade reach stubble-singeing distance.
"Don't gimme grief, 'cos we can give you a lot more. I want the boxes the bloke in the pub gave you. I want them now, or else you both get it and we find them anyway."
"You'll never find them where we've stashed them."
"So you are the right ones."
I tried not to look at Harich's face, and wished I could go back ten seconds and sew my mouth shut.
"Well, either you tell me or we see what that mutant rat looks like under all that fur." The stick lifted, the blade springing back out. "Might as well lose him a bit of skin, while we're about it. Make that pig easier to roast. Won't it, boys?" The laughter from the others was completely genuine.
Heatblade stood over me. "He's a Sperry, right?"
Sperry. Experimental. What they called the genemoulded soldiers, towards the end of the War. He was, but I daren't let them know this. I shrugged. "Dunno. Picked up on him a while back, haven't been able to get rid of him since."
"Why don't we just trash 'em?" Heatblade looked down at me, his eyes fitting me for a test tube. "End of problem."
"Good idea. Jia?"
"Yep?" Heatblade looked hopeful.
"Start with the Sperry."
"Sure thing." Jia sauntered over towards Harich, whistling. The blade licked down like a lecher's tongue. I swallowed and threw a glance to Harich which I knew he'd seen, even though his eyes didn't move.
Now or never.
I reached up, grasped Heatblade's arm as he passed and pull-twisted, popping joints. He yelled, dropped the blade and I sheathed it in his chest, jerking down. His gut opened as though unzipped, spilling intestines. Pulling it free, I somersaulted to my feet; slicing at anything that moved. This was a hell of a weapon. It cut bone as simply as flesh. The one problem being its heat tended to seal the stumps, but the men were too busy yelling to notice. After I'd slice-roasted the first few, I was standing in the middle of a ring of men, all crouched, hands ready, all wary of the blade.
From behind them came a howl of shock and fury, and I saw Harich unleashing our secret weapon. His speed. He wasn't bothering fighting, he was just monkey-manning over them, and I wondered what his target was. Then they all came at me at once and I was too busy spinning and slicing to worry about him. Two fell, spewing blood. A third got a handful of my clothing on the way down, and I slipped on his blood and fell. A boot crunched my wrist, the heatblade dropped from numb fingers and I shrugged. I'd tried.
From somewhere in the cave, thunder roared. Followed by a yell of pure, disbelieving fury. Followed by dragontongue flames that licked skin lovingly from biker flesh. Harich. It had to be. Galvanised, I rolled and grabbed the heatblade with my other hand; ignoring stomping boots, pounding fists. Which faded back, away from me.
One of the largest trikes I'd ever seen pulled up, Harich astride. Its box-back seat was completely enclosed, and barnacled with muzzles. Harich had found the control buttons for all of them and was slapping them all at once, a happy smile on his face. Bullets cracked. Flame roared. Jets that looked deceptively like water melted new fissures in bodies and rock.
I swung on behind. Harich rev-turned the bike to full throttle and blasted the back boulder. We revved over the fragments, grabbing the boxes, not caring where the tunnel led. It led away from them, for the moment that was enough. Three minutes disco-dancing off craters and rocks and the tunnel's end was on us before we were ready for it, leading to a steep slope leading to the plain. I crouched down low, expecting bullets, but we'd left the gang with too many problems for them to bother about shooting at us. Yet.
Harich stayed at one-twenty plus until the cavemouth was a full-stop at the end of a sentence that felt like decades, not hours, long. When this world had plains, it meant 'em. Here the horizon was a good fifty mecrons distant; and you could see from horizon to horizon with nothing in the way; save for the odd pile of rubble that might have been a city, a few decades or so back. It kept its life in the valleys; fissures that started off small and emptied into unique worldlets; no two the same even though they led from the same plane. Why this was, I didn't know, though I suspected it had something to do with the way many of the valleys were partitioned off from each other, like massive, roofless caves. This might have been the way they'd developed. Starting off as caves which got deeper and wider until the roofs fell in. For whatever reason, many valleys had life in that couldn't survive in the valley next door. They also had paths you could only get down by foot; very, very carefully. Which explained why Harich was heading for the nearest at forty on a trike that had to be fourteen feet wide. "Stop! Harich, STOP!"
Harich grinned and revved the engine. I felt colour and life drain from my cheeks, cowering somewhere in my socks. Those corny stories about your life going before your eyes as you look into the abyss? They're true. Every one.
The thing about Harich's speed that's easy to forget is that it's completely natural to him. Even though he keeps himself at our speed, it feels to him like walking boxed in lead. As we reached the edge of the cliff, I reminded myself of this.
Problem was, my guts didn't believe me. As we went over, they tried to climb to safety through my mouth.
We hit the path and bounced, big time, over its edge. Harich hit the next with an expert flick of the handlebars that absorbed the impact, somehow; spinning us around the hairpin bend with one and a half wheels still on the slope. Brilliant driving, I thought. The thing that looked like a lizard-skinned cow didn't agree with me. It was standing on the slope, directly in front of us, rapidly becoming a rather sick shade of white, with absolutely nowhere to go.
Harich swore and span off the slope.
We bounced down the rest of the fissure on a series of one wheel wide paths, most of which I would have sworn were shadows on the rock. Every time I shrieked Harich's smile became more devilish, the next path more theoretical. Every time we bounced I looked into the abyss with a feeling of complete certainty that this was the final swandive to oblivion.
We landed on the ground with a jolt that shivered the springs all the way through my spine to my teeth. Harich killed the engine, picked up a bit of twig from the ground and nonchalantly picked his teeth with it. I slipped from the seat and tried to stand on boiled spaghetti legs. They gave, I sat and embraced the earth like a lover. "H-Harich, don't you ever, in your wildest nightmares, do that to me again. Where in Power's name did you learn to drive like that, anyway?"
"First time. Easy. Wanna find feed." He slid from the bike and began ambling along a break in the grasses.
I took a deep breath and stood; my experience already becoming a memory. With Harich, that's a knack you learn, fast, or else you age even faster.
Remember what I said about Harich's speed? It's deceptive. He'd already reached the end of the path by the time I'd kicked my brain back into gear. "Harich. Wait!"
"They'll be after us."
"Loth of crackth on way here. They'll have to check 'em all."
"We've got to keep together. And keep the bike with us. We don't know what's in those boxes..."
"Bor-ing!" But he knew I was right. He went back for the bike.
The path had high grasses on either side. Not having Harich's reflexes or knifelength fingernails, I kept my eyes switching as we rode. Though what I could have done if a springsnake or a stranglefish had decided to come at me, I didn't know. My gun and knife were on the outside of my shoulderbag. Which we hadn't had time to pick up. It was in the hollow boulder in the cave full of bikers we'd just left.
The high grasses dropped away from the path's edge, down a sharp slope. Massive stalagmites rose from the ground like the jaw of a monster with a bad tooth day. On them, around them, between them, life, an uncivil war in a nuthouse.
Crusting the stalagmites, round, furry globes. A parasail - a skein of membrane like chewed skin left out to dry - floated past and a globe leaped up on a jetloaded tongue, wrapped it around the parasail and was munching happily by the time it hit the ground. As was the thing whose arms were lined with needles that injected into and ripped apart the globe creature. Two more of the globes, wiser, waited for a couple of oversized budgies to scraggle past and hitched a ride, waiting until they were over trees before stranglebiting heads from necks. Caught by the branches, they munched in unpredatored peace.
Harich pulled my arm and pointed to a long, wide wake in the grasses, a little way from us. The briar thickets tensed; arched branches, needles twanging ichor as all those on them, or hidden by them, prepared for a mass bundle onto the approaching feast. The ichor was pointless, because everything that lived in those thickets had to be immune anyway. But we weren't, and I didn't feel like going close enough to get splashed by it.
"Meatballs. Yum!" He stopped the bike.
"Harich? What the wrag..." I stopped, because I couldn't believe what I was seeing... it was Harich. I could. He'd held out his arm like a free lunch counter, waited for a bunch of the tongueballs to wrap themselves around it and peeled them off; their tongues thickly covered by his bodyfur. He sheds all the time anyway. Now he was holding them by the tops of their tongues, using a knife-like fingernail to neatly slit their skins and peeling them like bananas. And biting holes just large enough to drink 'em before eating the flesh. If I tried that, I'd be dead before morning of whatever toxins they held, uncooked. Whoever had engineered Harich had given him antibodies capable of anything.
"Want thome? Loth. Look!"
"Um... maybe I'll cook myself a few later."
"Sure." He shimmied up the nearest stalagmite, ripped a few free and tied them together around his neck by their tongues. Which tried, once, to unravel themselves, pulled the knot tighter and just quivered helplessly. "Now we hide, yeah?"
"No, Harich. Now we get the heck out of here. Those bikers aren't going to take what we did back there lying down. They'll be after us."
I could feel Harich's eyes rolling up in exasperation, even though they didn't actually move. "Thath point. They come after uth. They go patht uth. We wait for them to go long patht, then go different way. Back. To get our thoulderbagth from the cave."
"Harich, you're mad. We get away from them, we head straight for the farm and dump these things. With your half of three grand, you can buy whatever you want."
"Only at platheth where they take money. Thome thettlementh only use barter. Thath why I want my thit."
"If they've left guards?"
Harich held his hands up and gave me a happy dog grin.
"Harich, that stuff wasn't worth that much. We could get shot. Blasted. Even you ain't bulletproof."
"My thit. I want it."
"What if they've found it?"
"It'll thtill be in cave. With guardth."
"No. We'll be able to get more, once we're out of this."
"I want it! I want it! You go on, chickenthit, I go back."
We'd had this argument before, at other times, and as before I was tempted by it. But only for about five seconds. We were in this world together, Harich and I, and we would stay together. And, I supposed, he was right. Some of that stuff had pretty high value, back up on the Plains. The bike did have blasters of its own. "Okay. Okay, you're right. We'll see how many come after us, then we'll go back, if we both think its safe enough."
"Settled." The bald land immediately in front of the briar patches was briefly filled with a multicoloured surge of creatures, all eager to feed on whatever had been making the bow wave through the grasses. The bow wave broke up into a mass of smaller waves and, from the shrieks, it was the would-be predators that were being eaten.
Evening came, surprisingly, without us being spotted. They must be having more trouble searching the other worldlets than I'd hoped. Which meant they'd be even madder by the time they reached this one. The meatballs, cooked, were marvellous. Harich was sitting in the box-back seat of the trike which, we'd discovered, stretched out into a completely surrounding box with transparent sides. And curtains. And a soft, well-padded base. Harich grinned up at me. "Bird-boxth."
That old devil of an overmuscled biker. I nodded from outside, scraping brittle, blackened Harich-hairs from freshly cooked meatball tongues and restoking the flames. "Sure is. But it'll keep us safe."
"Be gentle with me." husked Harich, batting his eyes as he climbed out. We laughed and fell to, chewing the meat and watching the surroundings. I'd seen a dancer with a dress like that, back on Elysium, where they like their women big. Except on her, the glitters were sequins. Here they were eyes, between vines that thought they were trees and trees that thought they were single, oversized leaves, waiting for the fire to die down, waiting for their chance. The air was filled with sounds like glass breaking in twenty different keys. Every so often the grasses shook, and there was a brief squeal.
I think I said before that every fissure was different. The last couple we'd been down, pre-cave, hadn't had much in the way of predatory life at all. Apart of course for Harich, who'd been like a kid at a free lunch counter. He'd lived in overdrive for a week after each of 'em, just to burn up the extra calories. This one was a jungle in microcosm, its boundaries the mountains rearing up to form the Plains on either side. I'd no idea how come the fissures always led to these great bowls, but this one was sure overdosing on the violence the ones on either side lacked.
A bird flew a little too low and a springsnake coiled and leaped upwards, engulfing it whole in rubber jaws. Harich caught the springsnake on its way back down and neatly strangled it. I looked at him in disbelief. "You're not gonna eat that thing now, are you?"
"Put it in the emberth. Under the fire. By breakfatht, be cooked tender."
I gave up. "You take first watch, Harich. Wake me when it's my turn." With the amount of energy he'd built up from all he'd eaten, chances were he'd be awake most of the night anyway.
My turn came just before first light, when the night-time feeders were going to bed and the daytime predators were waiting just in front of their burrows, to greet them. I was hungry by then, so I waited for Harich to doze off, then gingerly took his snake from under the fire and looked at it. Sure enough, it was done. I peeled the skin back, took a sniff. Then a bite, and decided Harich's taste wasn't so bad after all. I left him the bird the springsnake had eaten, and hoped he wouldn't mind too much. Not that he'd notice for awhile, anyway. He'd put the shutters up the moment he'd woken me, and when Harich turns out the lights it takes a lot to waken him.
I picked him up and just held him, looking down at him. For his strength, he was surprisingly light. He burned calories like a nuclear reactor when he was in overdrive; even in ordinary he burned 'em up fast. He was a refugee from an experimentation centre, yet I called him my brother. He'd been through a lot before I met him, a lot more, perhaps, than most people would have been able to stand. For this world, like so many others, hated mutants; whether or not they were intentionally created. He'd been created to be some kind of soldier, I was certain; he was too fast and too good with weapons to be anything else. When I first met him, he'd been in a bar. A group of bored locals had spent the evening taunting him, and at the end of it he'd hit overdrive and stayed there. By the time he'd finished, there were two things left intact. Him, and me. I smuggled him out of there in a bin-bag, before the barman's friends woke up enough to want another go and we'd been together ever since.
Everyone called him stupid. After his speed of body and thought had suckered them, they still called him stupid. He traded on that. It had kept us alive, more than once.
As I cradled him, he began awakening. When he realised I was holding him, he just laughed and sucked his thumb. A little embarrassed, I put him down and he searched the embers for his breakfast. Finding only the bird, he raised an eyebrow. "Bird eat thnake?"
"It was hungry."
He ate the bird in great bites, spitting out the bones, grease glinting on his fur.
We heard them about an hour later, in the distance, in the trees. Harich and I looked at each other and made our way towards the trike. Freezing as we realised the slight hole in our masterplan. To use the bike, we'd have to start it up. They couldn't fail to hear us. We'd never stand a chance of getting back through them, blasters and acid-pistols or not. Harich tapped my arm. "Go into foretht. Make them follow you."
"What'll you be doing?"
"I won't know which way they'll be following me."
"Jutht trutht." He winked and went. I mounted the bike, readied the weapons and started the engine. It sounded like a volcano with a headcold, but I cut in the thrusters, called myself an idiot in eleven different languages and headed straight for the oncoming engines.
They'd swept up a few strays on the way, there were more of 'em than there had been in the cave. A lot more, I realised as I crested the hill. In fact, a small army. All heading directly towards me.
I gave a quick burst of fire from everything, turned and headed down the safest forest path I could find. Unlike Harich, I had to see potential disasters before they happened. Bullets and beams framed my departing shadow. One gave my hair an extra parting and I cringed, flattening myself even farther down on the bike. Their engines grew ever louder and a huge, black bike pulled alongside me. I looked up, Death smiled back and welcomed me in friendship.
Bigman biker, from the cave. I gulped, span the trike and fired twin blasters directly at him.
Or rather, where he had been. His bike was spinning in a shivering circle. He was doing the dervish from a rope of lianas that had mysteriously wrapped itself around his neck. Harich dropped down onto the bike, righted it and revved alongside me. "Next fork, you go left. Keep on edge of field. Jump thream nextht to cactuth." I nodded. Whatever he'd done, it would be worth watching.
I turned left, he turned right at the fork and bikers flooded after each of us. My front wheel hit a half-buried log that threatened to throw me. I winced, kept my eyes on the path and told myself to stop thinking about Harich. He could look after himself. Bullets whined from the metalwork, and I felt furious at Big Biker for not thinking of putting stuff on this bike that fired backwards. But there weren't that many bullets, and I didn't have to think much to understand why. I had a trike, and I was having hell's own job keeping balanced. On their bikes, it was pretty amazing they were still there at all.
The path widened into a field, and I immediately saw why I had to keep to the edge. It was lined with briars; giving a wide, bald pathway alongside. The rest of the field was filled with cacti, wheel-height. Tyres burst machine-gun style, flipping riders spectacularly. I felt like stopping, giving marks out of ten. But I didn't. I headed for the stream and the grandfather of all cacti, gorged to beergut fullness on water, at the narrowest point of its edge. Revving, I leaped the stream; rattling to a stop on the other side. And turned, guns ready, to mow down my chasers.
Not needed. The fish were saving me the bother.
The bikers who hadn't got flipped had ridden through something sticky and brown that had squirt-coated the bikes. It smelled like a burning graveyard. I paled, but the fish loved it. So much that they were leaping from the water in waves, showing teeth that would have made even Harich look at them with respect. They landed on bikes and bikers, biting straight through tyres, jackets, shirts and burrowing into flesh. I rode on, forgotten about. The bikers had other problems.
Somewhere along the wide, white path leading away from the stream through the frond- filled fields I heard an engine rev. I looked up and grinned at Harich, who jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Fith are biting well."
"They seem to be hungry." I laughed.
"Perhapth thomeone had eaten their thnaketh, too."
I rolled up my eyes and shook my head. Living that one down was obviously gonna take a while.
Before us, the end of the worldlet. And a path, leading back to the plain. At the other end of the plain, the farm. And our payoff.
I looked at the slope and resigned myself to Fear. "Harich, you drive us back up there."
He gave me the most evil grin I'd seen from him. "My pleathure."
As the bike sped up, I gripped whatever I could in the box-seat; my knuckles already turning white. The way he drove, we'd be at the farm before sunset. We'd get our cash. He'd see that girl again.
With any luck, we might even find out what's in the boxes.
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