"Sixty?" asked Rita.
Rin had returned to the office from interminable deliberations with Haskins and the town fathers and found Rita finishing up the advisory bulletin as Rin had asked. Always nice to know I can count on somebody, Rin thought.
Rin unbuckled her sidearm, tossed it in her desk drawer, and flopped unceremoniously down in the chair next to her friend and deputy.
"Champlain says they've probably been there since the war, living off game bats and whatnot in the deeper canyons. I suppose he could be right. We were dead in the middle of the wet cycle when the fighting was happening. You know how the game bats boom like that every five years or so. But we've been in a dry crest the last two…"
Rin trailed off into a sigh. Screwed over by weather. I coulda protected the town better if I were a meteorologist.
Rita was staring, waiting for the other shoe.
"Anyway, he says if we keep indoors and away from the canyons, we're safe for a few more weeks. But at the rate they're pushing outward… We're evacuating Cliffside Rest."
"Gods, Haskins must be having kittens. What happens after a few weeks?"
Rin spread her hands. "We need firepower. Dominion's about as useful as a trapdoor in a rowboat. They won't admit their sanitation teams fekked up. We're gonna need mercs. But you let mercs into a town like this, you never get 'em out."
"Even with a marshal as tough as you, R?" Rita said with a wink.
Rin grinned and swiveled to face her friend. "Even then."
When Rin had been the rawest deputy on her dad's force, Rita had been a summer kid slinging club sandwiches at the Agave and spending her evenings gliding while her trust fund matured.
They'd met when Rita had called in a fight between a couple of drunk commodity traders. Rin and old Arco Bousquette had been the lawmen to respond.
Rita was the child of aristocrats who would've preferred that their little girl had been the toast of cotillion rather than the star ass kicker of the lacrosse team. Rin was the child of a stone-faced marshal who'd raised his daughter without ever appearing to notice that she wasn't a son.
The girls were a classic odd couple: elegant-looking Rita with her flame ringlets and olive skin, and rough-hewn Rin with blonde hair that she thought looked like an over-laundered bedsheet and a light complexion that burned and burned and never seemed to tan.
But they became immediate friends, Rin and Rita, braving endless jokes over the years from guys hoping to "get some R & R." Eventually the two of them made the dumb nickname their own.
When things finally exploded with Rita's folks, it was Rin and her dad who took Rita in, given her work on the tiny force.
When Marshal Shearon the elder passed, it was Rita who rousted Rin out of the darkness.
When Rita's entire family was exterminated in a zerg incursion, without ever reconciling with her, Rin repaid the favor.
And when Rita's five-year-old cousin, Jasper, was dropped off on the doorstep of his last living relative, Rin jumped in to help her friend raise him.
Like any good Choss girl, Rin had fooled around with the handsome summer folks, but none of them had stuck. What had stuck was Rita—closer than a sister—and Jasper, less Rin's son than she'd been her father's, but, like her father, she never seemed to notice. It was an odd little family, the orphan and the two lady lawmen, but it was what Rin had.
"What about your friend Pearly?" asked Rita. "Isn't he in a merc outfit?"
"R, he's in Raynor's Raiders. They don't make house calls to step on an anthill."
Rita was quiet for a moment.
"R?" Rin hesitated. "Keep Jasp inside for a couple days. Rent some holovids or something."
Rin saw Rita nod in the dim desk-lamp light. They sat in silence for a spell. Then, as Rin was thinking about calling it a night, Rita added, "I just thought maybe he'd know someone. He's got people on-world."