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Under a sky so pale it was nearly white, the desert of East Patagonia baked in the vicious Hadean sun. The planet was a failed terraforming experiment, one of many ... but still inhabited, as many of them were. The thin atmosphere could support life, barely. The planet boiled during the day and froze at night. Its people eked out a rough living as miners or by herding small, shaggy goats that were genetically adapted to survive in the harsh climate.
Nothing moved in the scorching afternoon sun -- until a brown lump that had hitherto appeared to be part of the rocks suddenly stood up and proved to be a skinny kid in a battered, wide-brimmed hat. Next to her, a long-legged scrub dog stretched and slowly uncurled itself from the shade.
The girl lowered a small pair of binoculars from her eyes. She carried an ancient, battered shotgun slung over her shoulder, and this she used to prod at the boy asleep in the shade beside the dog.
"C'mon, Esteban, I found something."
Esteban grunted. It was the hottest part of the day, and they had been out here since early morning. If he'd realized she was going to be this persistent about it, he would have stayed at home tending his uncle's goats, threats be damned.
"More broken glass, Jackie, most like."
"This is where you found the rifle, though, yeah?"
"Around here somewheres," he allowed reluctantly.
"Well then." That settled, she prodded him again with the tip of her shotgun. "C'mon, let's check it out."
Esteban groaned and hauled himself to his feet, picking up the three feet of polished plasteel lying in the sand at his feet: the reason, more or less, why they were out here at all.
In the days when their parents were children, this area had been the front lines of the Patagonia-MesaVerde war. The border, and the war, had moved on, and now it was just another lonely stretch of desert, much the same as any other.
Despite repeated warnings to stay away from the area, the children of the local ranchers liked come out here and collect souvenirs. Esteban Lertxundi had become the envy of the neighborhood, and inadvertently precipitated this hunting expedition, when he'd found an actual, functional Rhys-Madsen repeating blast rifle not too long ago. Jackie Lobo had nothing anywhere near so cool as that, just an assortment of shell casings and other detritus lining the windowsills of her bedroom. So she'd bullied and ultimately blackmailed Esteban into taking her out and showing her where he'd found the rifle. The ultimate leverage was obtained by threatening to tell his parents about the gun; naturally, military ordnance in the hands of a ten-year-old was somewhat frowned upon, even for the paranoid and secretive ranchers.
Trailed by her unenthusiastic friend and the panting dog, Jackie picked her way across cracked and broken ground, homing in on the reflective flash that she'd caught through the binoculars. The children passed the hulk of a destroyed vehicle of some kind, stripped by fire so that only its skeleton remained, rearing out of the sand. The years had scoured it to the color of the surrounding rocks. Esteban spared it a curious glance; Jackie's eyes were all for the elusive flashes among the rocks ahead. They reached the spot and stared curiously at the glimmers where the wind had moved sand away from the object buried beneath.
"Glass," Esteban said with the conviction of his six standard months' age advantage over Jackie.
"Nnnn." Tongue between her teeth, the girl reached out the tip of her shotgun to tap at the mysterious object, then paused and began gently using the gun's muzzle to shift sand away from the edges.
"What're you doin'?"
She worked in silence for another moment, then grinned. "Yup. Proximity mine."
Esteban made a small squeaking sound and danced several quick steps backward. "Don't touch
"Baby," Jackie scoffed, continuing to scrape sand away with small, gentle sweeps of the shotgun's tip. This was even better than Esteban's Rhys-Madsen; she couldn't believe her luck. "It can't work, else something would've set it off by now. Dud, gotta be."
"I notice you
ain't touching it," Esteban snapped from a good ten-meter distance. "If it's so safe, I dare you to touch it. Double dog dare."
Jackie sighed. "'Kay, fine, can't listen to you whining all day." She whistled to the dog, backed up a few steps and picked up a hand-sized rock.
"I'd get farther back, I was you."
"It's a dud." She tossed the rock.
The resulting explosion knocked her off her feet and showered both children with a cascade of sand and bits of shrapnel.
The dog, whining, hid behind Esteban. Jackie picked herself up, pale and shaken. Both of them stared at the crater in the sand for a few minutes.
"Dud," Esteban said eventually.
After another moment or two, Jackie adjusted her wide-brimmed hat atop her braids, and marched resulutely to the edge of the crater. Squatting, she began picking up scraps of metal.
"What are you doing?"
"Ain't leaving without my bomb."
Esteban laughed in disbelief. "You blew it up!"
"I know. It's still mine. Finders keepers."
The boy sighed and settled himself in the shade of the nearest boulder. The dog flopped down by his feet. He set the blast rifle carefully down beside him and lay back with his hands folded behind his head, resigned to stay out here for a while yet.
"You missed one over there."
"Shut up, Esteban."
"Lertxundi" is a Basque surname. This story was written for a writing challenge at a writers' community on Livejournal; the prompts I used were "desert", "explosion", and "arrogance".
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