My writer buddy Timothy P. Remp (@Tim_Remp_writer if you want to follow him) and I once wrote a story together titled "Claims" which was included in Absent Willow Review's Best of 2009 anthology (thank you very much).
Tim is writing episodes for a Pluto story, which when finished will probably become his first novella. He tied it to Mars, the setting for "Claims". A week ago (like a fool) I suggested that we both write separate flashes, but relate them to Mars. He was enthusiastic (manic!) about the idea and talked Mars with me all week. (Check out the "Prelude" episodes at The Event Horizon which he also writes in conjunction with 3WW and #fridayflash).
Well, I couldn't not write a story based on "Claims", but apparently, I couldn't write a flash either (1800 words and not finished yet). My offering will be serialized, if you will, over the next three, maybe four weeks. We'll all be surprised by the ending ;). Here's part 1:
Keith felt a feather's touch on his shoulder.
"You awake?" she whispered. Keith kept still. Her name began with an "S"? Sasha, Sarah... something like that. She kissed his shoulder again. "Keith?" It escaped him. He used his stand-by. "Hey Baby."
"The dust devils are scary," she said. She snuggled against his chest.
"They're just part of Mars. Sandstorms and iron grit and dust devils. I thought you said you've been here a while?"
She sat up and pointed out his window. Keith watched a couple cabs whiz past on Perimeter road. Tourists. They always opted for the scenic route. Insiders chose direct interior routes to get around Venture. Most structures had at least one view toward the dome and the Martian landscape, but that first dome view elicited awe.
Keith barely noted the looming silhouettes of Ascreaus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons below the twin moons. A red desert stretched between the domed city limits and the lesser volcanoes. Several dust devils battered the side of the dome.
"See what I mean?" she asked.
Sandy? Keith wondered. "Sandy" on Mars; Keith stifled his chuckle. Might as well name her Desert. Sierra! That was her name.
"Why are you smirking? I've never seen dust devils act like that," Sierra said. She got out of bed and searched for her clothing. Keith remembered more than her name. Yeah, he thought, I could do that again.
"Sierra, don't go. I've never seen dust devils form a pattern—" The pattern was familiar.
"I know! Watch." Sierra pulled her shirt over her head and walked to his window. He found his pants and joined her. The rust-colored sand gradually swirled into cones, aligned into precise rays—a sunburst pattern—and then en masse surged forward, ramming and collapsing against the dome. Transfixed, Keith watched several repetitions of this phenomena. Sunburst patterns niggled his memory. Where had he seen that happen before?
Sierra's voice interrupted his thoughts. "I've never seen dust devils together. They're supposed to be solitary. And random. This is bizarre." She leaned against the window to peer left, then right. "They're only doing it here. In this section."
The last time he'd seen so many dust devils was with the claims investigator. The insurance company that hired her also hired his company, K.F. Salvage Services to take her out onto the Arcadian Plains to locate Norman Solemn's lost labor bots and the Boyar master-mind. The labor bots had unloaded supplies into that pattern.
They had found pieces of those bots. He had kept the pieces for his salvage business and was able to get top dollar for parts. Settling the planet required almost an army of labor bots, and the grit did a number on them. He could have made a killing off the Boyar brain, even if it was fried, but he held onto the head and torso. I couldn't sell him—IT. I couldn't sell IT.
Keith remembered watching the event module with the investigator. The iron grit or something affected the Boyar. Instead of supervising construction, the Boyar abandoned the project after watching meteor showers. It had led the bots on a hike to a geyser. The retrieved holographic diary showed the Boyar frozen in terror as a wall of sand buried it alive.
"I've got to go." Sierra finished dressing. "Call me?"
"Sure, sure," Keith said. "Um, what's your last name?"
"I know. We wouldn't have done it if I didn't know your name." She stood on tip-toe and kissed the scar above his eyebrow. A couple hours ago, she'd licked it, told him it was sexy. He didn't tell her he got the scar falling on his beer bottle.
Keith returned to the window after she departed. He counted twelve separate dust devils. There had been twelve lost bots. He ran his fingers through his shaggy blond hair. Before he could convince himself twelve was a coincidence, he heard muffled thumps and scrapes.
Keith followed the sounds to his storage annex, swiped his uni-card. The door-panel slid up.
The Boyar placed its fists on the threshold, then lifted and swung its torso forward, propelling itself gorilla-style through the open doorway. The Boyar's eyes shone with green lights. "All accounted for Norman. Ready for our next assignment."