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From: Simon and Fiona sfuller@******
Subject: Ganba (3)
Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 13:16:09 +1000
It was a drive of a few long, uncomfortable hours to reach the area Eddie
had chosen to spend the week. He was tired and in a foul temper, and more
than once he let the Land Rover’s wheels hit the side of a spinifex clump
just to shake up his sullen passengers. They were not morning people, and
whatever the time difference between here and Seattle, they did not enjoy
being woken at dawn. At last they reached the grounds. There was an ancient
well dug here, with a wide flat, rock covering the hole. Eddie explained
that while the surface was dry, underground there were huge systems of
caves, many that flowed with pure, clear water.
“Hey, “ said Cross, “I haven’t been spelunking in years, any caves nearby,
“Yeah, some big ones, but we’re not going in.”
“Why not? The land doesn’t like it again?” he said sarcastically.
“That’s right. More that that, though, is Ganba the serpent.”
“What, you have giant snakes out here too?”
Lily looked up. “Tell me Gambler’s not a dragon?”
“No no, Ganba is what the local Mirning people call the wild mana that
courses through the caves, they reckon it looks like a giant glowing serpent
from the Astral. The caves are just like veins and arteries, they go for
kilometers, join up, split off, the plain is crisscrossed with them. They
used to say it was because the whole plain’s made of limestone and the water
percolates through, but they say now maybe the mana caused it. Whatever, its
like a permanent mana storm down there.”
“And these Mirning knew all about it from before there was even magic,
“To tell the truth, I think they really believed there was a big snake in
the caves, they never went inland because that’s where they though it
“And inlands where the mana storms are. It’s an analogy. You ever wonder how
people knew this stuff about magic before there was any?”
“Not really,” said Eddie, who still had a short temper from lack of sleep.
He’d had the argument with more knowledgeable people than Cross in his time,
and didn’t feel like going through another one. Once the supernatural and
the beliefs of the Aboriginal peoples fascinated him, but after being nearly
killed by one of their bogeyman spirits on Cape York, he found the subject
much less enjoyable. Besides, his shoulder was really aching this morning.

That night, Eddie took Cross out hunting, since he didn’t much feel in the
mood for sleeping for a while anyway. At Eddie’s insistence Cross had Eddie’
s spare hunting rifle instead of his Uzi. They were on foot, travelling far
from camp. Every now and then Eddie would stop and crouch, looking at
something on the ground that Cross couldn’t see. They took a short break
after an hour.
“So, “ Cross said slyly, “Lily put the moves on you and you turned her down,
“Did she tell you that?”
“No, I’ve known her a long time, Cowboy. She needs to dominate men, she
thinks we’re all idiots. She figures that 99 per cent of us will fall for
her sexual favours. If that fails, she tries the best friend and confidant
routine, like she’s been using on you lately. She’ll try to make out as if
its you and her against everyone else, and she’ll turn you against everyone
until you need her just to survive. If you don’t become her willing slave
that way, she’s going to get really bitchy and try to verbally beat you into
submission. She’s a predator, Cowboy. A mean, cynical piece of work”
“That’s a hell of a way to talk about your wife.”
“Come on, Cowboy. You aint that stupid. Only reason I’m telling you this is
that its me she’ll try to turn you against, and things could turn nasty.”
“Listen, can you stop calling me Cowboy? It’s really beginning to annoy me.”
“Can’t do that, Cowboy.” Cross grinned.

After another long walk, Eddie stopped. He knelt to the ground, and sniffed
at some spinifex. “Look, kangaroo tracks, they’re somewhere close, stay
“Where? I can’t see any tracks.”
“Look, see how the dirt is crushed here, here, here?” Cross barely made out
a faint imprint. “That’s the marking they make when they are walking”
“Kangaroos hop, don’t they?”
“Yeah, OK, when they are hopping slowly then. They use their front paws as
legs when they’re going slow.”
“What were you sniffing? You have some kind of olfactory boosters?”
“Eh? No, smell. You can smell that the roo that rubbed past, kind of an old
carpet smell.” All Cross could smell was a dead clump of matted grass, and
he wondered if Eddie was playing some kind of prank. They moved a bit
further, and Eddie pointed out some more tracks. They didn’t look much like
footprints to him. Then, about a hundred metres away, a kangaroo stood
upright. Some low grey humps that Cross would have thought were more clumps
of grass if he noticed them at all turned out to be the backs of kangaroos
that were hunched down to feed. He grabbed for his gun, but even with his
boosted reflexes, Eddie had pulled a shot before he had time to aim. The
standing kangaroo fell, and the rest of them scattered, their long leaps
making strangely loud thumps every time they landed. Cross fired three
times, dropping one of the fleeing kangaroos, and then they were out of
range. Eddie’s kangaroo was a big one, he set to butchering it on the spot.
Cross watched in fascination. Each knife stroke was clean and precise, the
skin and flesh seeming to simply fall apart under the knife. In short order,
he had reduced the animal into so much meat lying on a bloody skin. The skin
made a good carry bag, and the pair went looking for Cross’ kill. There was
a deep red stain in the dust, but the carcass was nowhere to be seen. “It
happens, “ said Eddie, “There’s all sorts of things out here, I’ve lost my
share of hunting trophies.”
“What, something carried it off? I didn’t hear a thing.”
“You never do. Maybe they sink into the ground, maybe the spirits grab them.
All I know is we should get back to camp. I don’t know about you, but it
gives me the willies.” Cross didn’t argue.
They roasted the meat over the open fire on sticks, “Caveman style” said
Lily. She refused to eat any of it, despite Cross’ almost orgasmic reaction
to every mouthful. “So you live like this, Cowboy. Out in the quiet, in the
clean air, eating real meat while us poor slobs live in the wet alleyways of
Seattle eating fragging pig flavoured fungus and meat shaped soya. You know
the life, that’s for sure.”
Eddie’s spirits were lifted, by the thrill of the hunt, Cross’ newfound
respect, and the chance to scare the hell out of the big tough hardcase by
pretending not to be able to find the man’s kill. When at last he did go to
sleep, it was with a smile, and the sleep was deep and untroubled.

Three days went by, and Eddie found himself almost enjoying the company.
While Lily complained about lack of toilets, drinking water out of a hole,
missing all the trid shows, and general lack of civilisation, Cross had
embraced the outdoor life. As the days went by, his tension and edginess
melted away, and he became a changed man. He hardly even jacked into his
little box any more. The only thing was, he continually pestered Eddie to
take him out hunting or tracking. He was learning fast, he had finally
realised the smell of kangaroo that Eddie was talking about, and could
follow animal tracks almost every time Eddie pointed them out. After taking
him out twice or even three times a day, Eddie at last sent him out on his
own. It was dusk, and Eddie sat back on one of his folding chairs, sipping
billy tea and waiting for the stars to come out. Lily came over and smiled
at him. She had apparently lost interest in Eddie lately, but maybe she was
trying again. “What are you looking at?” she asked.
“The stars.” He answered without looking toward her.
“I can’t see any stars.”
“Look, stare just about that way. Keep staring, don’t move your eyes.” She
did, and after a moment a look of rapt wonder came over her face.
“I can see them! Just a couple, but when I look straight at them, they
“Some science guy explained it to me once, something about light bending or
something. There’s still too much daylight to see them directly, but out of
the corner of your eye, they’re there. All the magic in the world, and it’s
still the simple little things that have always been there, hey.”
“You don’t see the stars in Seattle. I’ve seen the stars maybe five times in
my life. Never as many as out here though. As much as I miss civilisation,
it’s almost all worth it for the stars.” She smiled, lost in thought. “You
know, this place has done wonders for Cross. Much more and he’ll lose his
“He enjoys killing, doesn’t he?” Eddie said.
“Too much.” She wasn’t talking about kangaroos. ”Look out for him, Eddie. It
’s when he’s quiet that he’s most dangerous. He could snap at any minute,
then Blam!”
Eddie considered this, and remembered what Cross had said a few nights ago
about Lily. “Why do you stay with him if he’s so dangerous?”
“Partly because he’s so good at what he does, partly fear. He beat me nearly
to death, once.”
“He did?”
“Yes. Afterward he payed for a healer, he was so sorry.”
“What, a magical healer?”
“There’s quite a few in our line of business, if your money’s good.”
“I’ve seen this kind of relationship before. You’re a bit different, but you
have to break away.”
“Its more complicated than that. It really is worth the risk, being with
him. It’s not an easy life in Seattle.” She was staring at the stars, which
were now coming out in force.
“You could stay out here. When you first came out, you never looked up. Now
look at you.”
“And what the hell would I do in the outback?” She said in a mocking tone.
“You could work with me.” Damn, she’s doing it again. What is it about the
girl, every time she gets close, my brain steams up.
“Very tempting,” she purred, “What kind of incentives could you offer?”
Eddie stood up too quickly, threw the dregs of his tea onto the fire, and
went over to the truck.
“What are you doing, sweet stuff?”
“The two-way was hissing a bit,” Eddie lied, “I think something’s come
loose. I’ll have to look at it.”
He spent an hour fumbling in the dark, wondering which of the pair was more
dangerous, and just what it was about her that put him on alert. At last
Cross came back, looking annoyed. He had a half grown kangaroo joey slung
over one shoulder. “Nothing. This little slag was the only thing for miles.
Cut it up, Cowboy.”
Eddie stepped from the truck and looked at the carcass. It wasn’t big
enough, Cross didn’t understand the hunter’s code at all. Besides, it didn’t
look healthy.
“I think its got parasites. I wouldn’t eat it.”
Cross exploded. “Frag! You can’t beat me you bitch!” he screamed at the
night, “I am your master!” He grabbed his Uzi and ran back the way he came.
Eddie watched, slightly shocked. Was he picking a fight with nature? As if
reading his thoughts, there was a stray gust of wind. Funny that there weren
’t any roos around, there were plenty this morning. Minutes passed, then
Cross came bolting back. “Get in the truck!”
Lily jumped up, but Eddie stayed where he stood. “Calm down, will you?”
Cross aimed the Uzi straight at Eddie “Get in the fragging truck and drive,
they’ve found us!” Eddie did not stop to ask who, when a madman with an Uzi
tells you to do something, you do it. He jumped behind the wheel and got
moving, leaving behind his camping gear. Cross told him which direction to
drive, it was up to him to pick out a safe path in the dark. Every time he
started to slow down to a safe speed, Cross would yell at him to speed up.
Lily screamed “They’ve fired missiles, get out!” She and Cross opened the
doors. “Move, Cowboy!” He followed suit, rolling hard in the dust as he fell
from the speeding truck, jarring his injured shoulder. As he rolled, he
heard a whistling, and an instant later the truck blossomed into a massive
fireball that seemed to swell out forever. Shrapnel rained down as the blast
reached him, the impossibly loud sound splitting the night silence. Even at
this distance, flying debris stung and the heat burned, but he was alive and
whole. As he lay in a heap, mentally checking all his body parts, Cross
appeared at his side and wrenched him to his feet. “Take this and follow
me!” he yelled, thrusting Eddie’s own hunting rifle into his arms. Cross
was fast, his mechanical movements sped up, like bad 20th century
stop-motion animation. Lily followed soon after, screaming in a voice that
held none of its former purr “Get going! Move!” Eddie did. Things were
happening way too quickly, he didn’t know what was going on. As they ran,
Eddie heard the sound of a helicopter rotor coming from behind. Soon they
came to an unusual depression that looked as if someone had dug a wide, deep
pond in the middle of the plain and then deserted it. Cross slid down the
dry slope, soon followed by Lily and Eddie. “What the frag’s going on?”
Eddie hissed. The pair looked at eachother. “Might as well tell him,” Lily
said, “We did a run against Ares in Seattle, and we stole a prototype
device. We got away, but Ares came after us, icing most of our team before
we could deliver it. Cross and I ran for it, taking the device with us. We
found out about that big festival in Sydney and decided it was the best way
to slip into the country unnoticed, and this old veteran told us the best
place to get lost is out here in the desert. So here we are, but it looks
like they found us anyway.”
Eddie was stunned “What was the device?”
“Don’t know,” Cross answered, “ Some kind of Battletac system, but I can’t
figure out how it works. I’ve been trying for weeks now.”
“The black box. You bastards! You dragged me into your crime world, to be
killed by fragging Ares, for some box that you don’t even know what it
“Be frosty, Cowboy, and you might just live.” The edge to Cross’ voice
filled in the words between the lines.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed reading about Ganba (3), you may also be interested in:


These messages were posted a long time ago on a mailing list far, far away. The copyright to their contents probably lies with the original authors of the individual messages, but since they were published in an electronic forum that anyone could subscribe to, and the logs were available to subscribers and most likely non-subscribers as well, it's felt that re-publishing them here is a kind of public service.