“Y-your money or y-your life!”
Zero raised his hands in the air, causing a few packets of plantain chips to tumble to the desert ground.
In his head, Zero made a quick inventory of everything he had on him. As always, the oversized brown coat he wore whenever he rescued stranded space travelers bulged with enough food to feed a small army of space trolls. The inner pockets of his coat were filled to the brim with packets of Jabba sweet and sour roasted cricket snacks. He had a slab of Dralaxian blue cheese whose smell caused most creatures with two nostrils and a working nervous system to give him a wide birth. Going down his right pant leg he had some ostrich meat sausages, and going down his left he had a Komodo and lettuce sandwich that folded over his knee every time he took a step.
In his knapsack, he had a first aid kit, and a Goober—a portable computer that allowed stranded space travelers to make emergency calls, for a fee. He also had a giant condor bone for fido, the guardian of the Temple of Ifanabe. This bandit would most certainly not be interested in that. But then there was the gold medallion shaped like a comb that he wore under the blue kente bandanna wrapped around his neck. The medallion was a gift from Zoe, his mentor and favorite person in the galaxy. The bandanna was the only thing he had from his mother. He also had his white-and-blue Abalo 12 sneakers, and he would fight if the bandit tried to take those!
“Can we talk about this?” asked Zero.
The voice seemed to consider it.
“N-no?” said the voice uncertainly.
Zero chanced a glance at his adversary.
To his right, the barrel of a hunting rifle poked out from over a boulder and winked at him in the early morning sunlight. Even from this distance he could clearly see the barrel was shaking.
“Bo, is that you?” said Zero.
“Zero, you dummy.”
A head popped out over the top of the boulder. Most of it was hidden by aviator goggles and a great deal of bandages. It was topped by leather flaps styled like bunny ears. He looked like a mummified rabbit.
“How do I know you’re really Zero and not some desert will-o’-the-wisp taking the form of Zero?”
“That’s actually a good point. You could take my word for it, or you could come check for yourself?”
Bo thought this through.
“Fine. But don’t move a muscle.”
Bo’s head disappeared, and a few moments later he looped around the boulder. When he was about a foot from Zero, Bo fished inside his pocket and pulled out a hideous pair of spectacles, placed them clumsily on his face, and squinted at Zero.
“Zero! It really is you!” said Bo.
“I know,” said Zero.
Bo threw his rifle aside and hugged Zero. Then he froze.
“What’s that smell?” said Bo sniffing the air.
“ Dralaxian bluecheese,” said Zero untangling himself from Bo’s embrace. “Bo,hat did I tell you about being friendly with your targets?.”
Bo smiled sheepishly.
“You’re right, Zero!” he said fumbling for the rifle he had dropped.
“Of course I am. Secondly, you should always wear your glasses. You know you can’t see without them—you’re holding your rifle the wrong way round’, by the way.”
“Sorry!” said Bo, turning the gun so the barrel was once more facing Zero.
“Thirdly, when you’re ambushing someone, you need to project confidence. Your tone and body language are important. Stand up straight. Don’t stammer. Don’t be indecisive, and definitely don’t hug people.”
With every piece of advice, Bo’s head drooped a bit more. His shoulders sagged, and the barrel of his gun sank lower and lower like a wilting flower.
“I’ll never be a good desert bandit, Zero! I’m terrible at this!”
“You’re being harsh on yourself. You’ve made a lot of strides. Besides, why would your brothers leave you out here on ambush duty all alone if they didn’t trust you?”
“You think so?” asked Bo brightly.
Zero winced. The Desert Bunnies were a gang of bandits who roamed around the Ankobi Desert and were famous for their bunny-themed attire and their formidable propensity for friendly fire. The Desert Bunnies were a family business, but Bo was so clumsy that his brothers had probably stationed him here hoping he would get eaten by a Komodo dragon or one of the giant condors that lived on the abandoned satellite field nearby.